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Is Wearable Technology the Future for Pick & Pack?

Posted on 07/05/15, filed under 3PL, News, Pick and Pack, Supply Chain Logistics | No Comments

Managing a warehouse can be time consuming and expensive.  The success of efforts to streamline processes and provide an excellent customer service can be jeopardised at any time by human error when inputting data or picking products.

Scanning technologies are improving warehouse efficiency and robots are making the handling of incoming and outgoing shipments a simpler process.  But could wearable technology – or ‘smart’ eyewear – represent the future of truly efficient logistics?

One thing is certain – large corporations believe this technology can be applied to much more than the photo-taking, video-recording and direction-finding of the first wave of Google Glass head-mounted devices and are investing accordingly.

Delivery company DHL recently tested ‘vision picking’ glasses.  Ten order pickers at a Dutch warehouse were given head-mounted devices, including Google Glass and VuzixM100.  Graphics displayed on the glasses guided the pickers through the warehouse, showing them information about product location and quantity.

The employees picked over 20,000 items, fulfilling 9,000 orders within a prearranged timeframe.  DHL reported that the glasses made the picking process 25% more efficient.

Transportation and last-mile delivery are among the areas which will gain from these developments in ‘augmented reality’, according to DHL, along with the potential to add value to other services.  But it is in the warehouse that the technology will really come into its own.  Estimates suggest that warehouse operations, especially picking, account for around 20% of all logistics costs.

Many warehouse staff are temporary workers who are more mistake-prone, unless the company is able to spend a considerable sum in training them to be more efficient.  But a digital, wearable tool helps even inexperienced staff to reduce their walking time and find the quickest route to the item they need to pick.  Barcode scanning and image recognition software checks that the worker arrives at the right location and picks the right item.

The glasses leave the wearers with their hands free to pick up items (most warehouse work is traditionally performed by workers carrying sheets of paper – a slow process liable to error).

If smart glasses can help businesses to see more accurately what they have in stock there are obviously useful gains to be made in terms of improving stock organisation. One such gain could be avoiding ordering more products when stock levels are still sufficient.  In addition, the information provided by vision-picking software can be integrated seamlessly with a business’ Warehouse Management System (WMS).  The resulting package has the potential to make stock management and order fulfilment processes even more accurate and streamlined.  The customer would enjoy an improved experience: faster delivery along with less chance of receiving an incorrect order.

Smart glasses for warehouse staff are still at the prototype stage but if you would like to use the best in existing technology to optimise your warehouse space or find out more about our dedicated warehousing services call the team at RT Page today on 01903 736300.

What Blind Spots Do You Have in Your Supply Chain?

Posted on 23/04/15, filed under 3PL, Supply Chain Logistics | No Comments

Faults in the supply chain become most apparent at the customer’s end.  In 2013 a survey into the ecommerce experience of 14,000 people in the UK by consumer watchdog Which found that a third of all complaints related to delivery.

In the two Christmas periods since the survey was conducted ‘late delivery’ problems were prevalent, even though the weather was generally clement compared to some other years.

Last Christmas, customers of a well-known UK retailer complained that deliveries to their homes, which usually take three to five days, were taking up to ten days.  It is probably no coincidence that the company’s December sales figures were disappointing.

Here are some reminders of a few points to watch out for – assuming that, as an ecommerce retailer, you wish to keep costs down and protect the hard-won reputation of your brand.

The customer likes to be kept updated.  Try some proactive communication.  Send a text message offering a delivery slot (of around one hour if possible), giving the customer the option of changing the slot if it doesn’t suit.  It is also a good idea to offer a clear, straightforward online tracking service.  The customer can check on the progress of their order and, with fewer phone calls to field, it frees up staff time.

Are deliveries going astray because customers’ addresses are vague or misleading?  Ensure your website form allows the customer to type their address accurately, with a manual entry alternative (for more complicated addresses) to the automated lookup system.

Options for depositing the package.  Let the customer choose the place they would like their purchase left, for instance with a specified neighbour.  Some companies have been known to leave boxes containing laptops on doorsteps!

Avoid making delivery promises you can’t keep.  It is better to be honest about timescales rather than say you will deliver in two days but fail to do so.

Stay on top of demand and forecast demand accurately.  This can be difficult, but you will find it easier (and less costly) if you don’t have to store everything the customer might want on your own premises.  That’s why it often makes sense to outsource your operations to a logistics provider, who can employ the latest in warehouse technology, such as software for monitoring shipments.  Flexibility doesn’t only apply to a storage solution that can cope with spikes in demand, important though this is: it’s also key to the success of your whole supply chain and order fulfilment processes, which have increased in complexity as online orders are routinely placed anywhere in the UK, or indeed the world.

Consolidating your logistics into a streamlined operation spanning the entire supply chain will enable you to offer the service your customers expect.  RT Page has the 3PL experience and resources to help you with this.  To find out more, contact us on 01903 736300 or info@rtpage.co.uk.

Can Your 3PL Provider Meet the Challenge of the Changing Market?

Posted on 10/04/15, filed under 3PL, Pick and Pack, Supply Chain Logistics, Warehousing | No Comments

Multi-channel retailing was all about managing each channel – physical store, mail order catalogue and so on – separately. Forecasts regarding demand, or even decisions about pricing, might differ depending on the channel.

But now multi-channel has become omni-channel. Technology gives companies more information about their supply chain, and they make more informed decisions as a result, using data and trends from across the business. Crucially, every component of the business works together – from purchasing to planning to restock – to reduce costs and produce a seamless customer experience.

What do the changes mean for third-party logistics (3PL) providers and how must they adapt?

  1. The expectations of 3PL customers are greater than ever. When it comes to choosing a logistics partner, online retailers and other ecommerce businesses are more aware of what is available in the marketplace and are more demanding as a result – driven by the desire of their own customers to shop and order at any time of day and use the technology that most suits them.
  2. Flexibility is important. The pace of change makes predicting what will happen next rather difficult. Logistics providers have to be ready to face whatever the future holds. For instance, will they have the capacity to deliver on their promises if the client’s business trebles in size in a short space of time or if the business wants to deliver overseas? Will they still be able to provide a cost-effective service?
  3. 3PLs are increasingly judged on how they will improve their client’s performance, not just on their efficiency in moving goods from A to B. This deeper involvement in meeting corporate targets inevitably means discussions about solutions will take longer and involve more people (see point 4 below), but this collaborative approach adds a valuable ingredient – the logistics provider’s specialist skillset – to the mix.
  4. 3PLs need to adapt to being part of the front-end solution and not just a ‘back office’ operation. The supply chain is now, in many cases, integral to the company’s ‘offer’ – for instance, providing next day or even same day delivery to a customer’s home, or giving the customer the facility to customise their own product (and 3D printing takes manufacture-on-demand to a whole new level). 3PLs are doing much more than ‘delivering’ – they are working closely with their clients to look at the whole supply chain. This inevitably means more people from both parties need to liaise than in ‘simpler’ days, with warehousing, transport planning and more entering the equation.

Omni-channel is complex for retailers – but the logistics provider is there to help them towards the solution. By calling on the expertise of the right 3PL partner, an ecommerce business can speed up delivery, reduce waste and costs, and concentrate on its core concerns – such as growing its business.

With over 50 years’ experience in logistics, RT Page has the expertise to help you face the challenges of the future. Contact us on 01903 736300 to find out how we can handle your supply chain process for you.

7 supply chain shortcomings that could be losing you business

Posted on 26/03/15, filed under 3PL, Supply Chain Logistics | No Comments

Excellent customer service is impossible without effective management of the entire supply chain.

A supply chain problem will take the shine off a customer’s experience and possibly gift your competitors a new customer.  At any rate, it could dent the hard-won reputation of your brand.

Here’s seven supply chain shortcomings that could be losing you customers:

During purchase:

1.    Not displaying the customer service phone line and email address clearly.  Some companies only put their phone number on their home page, forgetting that the customer may land straight on one of the internal pages.

2.    Failing to keep in touch.  Set a target response time for email enquiries – and stick to it.  This is as much a marketing strategy as an administrative chore: it can win you loyal customers.

3.    Not flagging up your after-sales support.  You may well provide a great after-sales service, but the customer has to know you do.

During fulfilment:

4.    Not streamlining your supply chain.  These days a ‘cradle-to-grave’ approach is expected.  The more complex your operations, the more you need to find a logistics partner who will carry out a range of functions from the beginning to the end of the supply chain.  Choose a reputable partner who takes the time to understand your business and marketplace.

5.    Not keeping tabs on customer orders.  An ecommerce business must have the facility to track the status of each order sent, whether fulfilment is dealt with in-house, via ‘drop ship’ (see below) or by a logistics firm.  There needs to be a method of spotting delayed orders, or those which are only partially shipped.

6.    Insufficient focus on reliability.  Robust inventory management matters, if your goods are going to be in stock when your customer wants them.  Engineer your logistics systems to ensure fast turnaround times: today’s shoppers are less prepared to wait.

This doesn’t mean you have to stock the goods yourself, of course.  Drop shipping is becoming more common, a reflection of the increased complexity of supply chains.  The business splits the shopper’s basket into separate orders, each one relayed to the relevant product supplier who ships the item straight to the customer.  As a retailer you are relieved of the costs and risks involved in having the items in stock: it also gives you the ability to offer a greater range of products.  Better still, turn to a third party logistics (3PL) firm who will manage the entire supply chain process – from warehousing the goods to picking and packing them.

During delivery:

7.    The wrong packaging.  When an order arrives with tears in the packaging, the customer’s first thought is often ‘will the item inside be in good working order?’  Not an auspicious beginning to a relationship.  But customers dislike excessive packaging almost as much as too little.  Fortunately, smart packaging innovations are offering plenty of alternatives to unwieldy wrapping.

RT Page has a highly knowledgeable logistics team ready to help you achieve excellent customer service.  Call us today on 01903 736300.

Why Are Ecommerce Sites Still Losing Customers at the Checkout?

Posted on 12/03/15, filed under 3PL, eCommerce tips | No Comments

A sobering statistic for any owner of an ecommerce business appeared recently. Apparently 40% of online customers ditched their baskets before they had completed their purchases during the peak Christmas shopping period.

This finding, from research by courier company Hermes, echoes that of similar surveys conducted over the last couple of years. So what is causing online shoppers to spend time filling up their baskets only to abandon them at the checkout? Top of the list of shoppers’ complaints were delivery charges that were only revealed at the checkout stage and frustration using the website.

Here’s some advice on how to ensure your customers enjoy a straightforward shopping experience and don’t become lost opportunities:

Make your delivery costs and timescales clear at an early stage
You needn’t worry about putting customers off: the Hermes survey found that online shoppers are quite happy paying for delivery, proof that they value the convenience factor over high street shopping or collecting orders in person.

Address technical issues to make sure your web pages load quickly
More than a few seconds and it may be too late – the shopper will have vanished.

Ensure your website is mobile-friendly and works on all screen sizes
Shoppers are increasingly turning to their smaller devices for researching and buying presents, and a sizeable proportion complain that retail sites are fiddly to use.

Make the payment process as simple as possible
Don’t make forms too long or ask for extensive personal details, or force the customer to register before buying. Remember that not every web shopper is web savvy. Ensure it is easy to edit the shopping basket too.

Consider offering a price guarantee
Shoppers often get cold feet when they start wondering whether the item might be cheaper on another site.

Send personalised emails to the basket-droppers
You will normally have secured an email address from the customer who abandoned their basket at the payment stage. So fire off an email a little while later: as well as using the customer’s first name you should go further by adding some details about the products they left in their baskets, perhaps with some reviews and testimonials.

Follow the actions above and you should have fewer abandoned baskets – or, if the customer does give up, you may still be able to win them back.

It is important to maintain a streamlined operation across the whole business, including supply chain and logistics: this will go a long way towards delivering the service your key customers demand. To find out more about how we can help you with this, contact RT Page on 01903 736300 or info@rtpage.co.uk.