Mobility Market Trends: Direct Store Delivery Challenges and Opportunities

Brother_Nick DAlessio.jpgDirect store delivery (DSD) suppliers are increasingly leveraging mobile and wireless technology to meet the CPG industry’s time-sensitive needs and complex technical requirements. The product inventory, delivery status, pricing changes and shelf labeling coordination required between CPGs, retailers and DSD suppliers is a technological challenge affecting profit margins across the supply chain. To address the challenges of this fast-paced industry, VDC Research reports many DSD suppliers are planning on migrating from the aging batch-processing method to real-time processing within the next two years.¹ As this transition takes place, DSD suppliers are quickly adopting rugged tablets and handheld barcode scanners for automated data capture. This real-time information allows DSD suppliers to more efficiently communicate with their drivers and with retail partners regarding inventory, payment, delivery status and customer support services – all in real-time. Once onsite, drivers are taking further advantage of rugged mobile devices integrated with mobile printers to provide more accurate and timely shelf labels, delivery/return receipts and invoices. With retailers running at paper thin margins, DSD offers them a means to reduce inventory carrying costs and their operating expense.

Brother Mobile Solutions offers a wide range of mobile printing and mobile and desktop labeling solutions designed to help improve performance and efficiency on the road and in the retail environment. We recently spoke with Nick D’Alessio, Sr. Business Development Manager at Brother Mobile Solutions to discuss trends in the shifting DSD landscape.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge in direct store delivery today?

A: Many DSD operations still face a large challenge of efficiently connecting the dots between DSD personnel, the retailer, HQ and store staff. To say that this coordination is a challenge would be an understatement! In an ideal world with DSD route accounting, drivers receive order manifests and route for each day at a distribution center, load and check the orders on their truck or van, deliver the order to the customer and pick up any returns, and provide delivery confirmations and invoices before moving on to their next stop. Most of these activities would be communicated from and to the driver’s distribution center via rugged handheld tablets carried by drivers, and printed materials are generated from these handhelds through mobile printers.

Q: How are rugged mobile devices and wireless printers helping to solve this challenge?

A: The wider adoption of wireless and cloud technology has enabled DSD suppliers to take fuller advantage of rugged tablet solutions and wireless enabled printers. These technologies are helping to streamline operations and increase efficiencies for the DSD industry in two distinct activities: delivery and receipt. By providing drivers with a connected mobile device, they now have instant access to GPS, routing management, product inventory data via barcode/RFID scanning, pricing and promotional alerts and customer history logs, increasing efficiencies and in turn boosting customer service. Mobile solutions can alert store employees to a delivery’s arrival and when paired with a wireless-enabled printer, they can produce delivery receipts, shelf labeling, inventory/price lists and invoices right on the spot for proper oversight and loss prevention. This real-time data allows the driver to quickly and accurately complete the job at hand and move onto the next location. All these capabilities are further automated with mobile devices and printers that allow immediate and accurate entry of data and reconciliation. When information is real time and visible, sales and production planning can be coordinated with consumer demand.

Q: What are the most common mobility devices your DSD customers are using with Brother mobile printers?

A: Because of the demanding environments these drivers work in, day in and day out, they cannot afford consumer-grade mobile devices. These drivers need enterprise-grade devices built for field workers. I’ve been out with these drivers and seen first-hand the inevitable drops that take place in and out of the trucks. It is crucial that DSD drivers use reliable and rugged mobile devices that can take a tumble on concrete, while also functioning in extreme weather conditions – from intense cold and heat to rain, dirt and dust. These rugged tablets need to function in the harshest conditions, because a broken device can be disastrous out in the field resulting in lower productivity, fewer deliveries in a day and poor coordination with store staff – all of which will affect the bottom line.

DSD businesses should look for rugged devices with daylight readable screens, designed using MIL-STD-810F environmental testing procedures for drops, shocks, altitude, vibration, dust and water resistance, and high and low temperature resistance. Devices with low failure rates will help keep drivers and store staff connected and communicating at all times for maximum efficiency.

Q: What mobile printing trends do you foresee for DSD operations?

A: For mobile route accounting printers for drivers and pre-sales account managers, there is a move toward faster, more durable devices ranging from 4″ to 8.5″ that can be hung from a belt or shoulder strap, attached to a hand-truck, or mounted in vehicles. Faster print speeds mean less time needed to complete transactions before moving on to the next stop. Better durability means less time lost to device failure from accidental drops or bad weather conditions. We are also seeing increased use of handheld tablet barcode scanners combined with mobile printers due to the small form factors.

Q: How has mobile printing changed DSD operations?

A:Although adoption of the mobile tablet and printers is still an emerging market in DSD, the potential for this technology is tremendous. When paired with rugged and reliable tablets, mobile printers can help in a multitude of functions that bring together DSD operations including: receiving order manifests and routes for each day at a distribution center, loading and checking the orders on their truck or van, delivering the order to the customer and picking up any returns, and providing delivery confirmations and invoices before moving on to their next stop. From a retail front of house perspective, mobile devices printers tied into the store’s POS system can quickly facilitate shelf labeling changes when there are pricing or promotional changes.  Thousands of retailer hours can be saved by reducing shelf-tag and scan errors by  printing new or promotional price labels in the aisle, directly at the shelf.  

As these mobility tools continue to grow in the DSD market, drivers, CPGs, and retailers can help improve accuracy, reduce shrinkage, manage inventory, increase productivity, reduce hand-written errors and improve cash flow by migrating to a highly automated and rugged data capture and output system including tablets, handhelds, and mobile printers. For more information on Panasonic mobility solutions for field service workers, visit us online. For more information on Brother Mobile Printing Solutions, visit them online.