How to Use Mobile Devices to Enhance Warehouse Management

Customers want their orders faster than ever while labor and transportation costs continue to rise. To improve operational efficiency and work more productively, companies are embracing the integration of mobile solutions throughout the supply chain. Here are four ways this technology is helping organizations achieve these goals, operate profitably, and keep customers happy.

We’re in the midst of a retail revolution, with companies rethinking how e-commerce, omnichannel distribution, and rapid fulfillment can elevate and streamline their warehouses. This is a critical shift in a world where customers want their orders faster than ever—right down to individual orders for pencils or tubes of ChapStick. With the next competitor literally one click away, organizations have to manage orders, shipments, and returns as quickly and accurately as possible, all while staying both productive and profitable.

This is a big change in today’s business world, where e-commerce sales are going through the roof (to the tune of $453.46 billion in 2017, up 16% over 2016) and omnichannel distribution is putting new strains on existing warehouses and distribution centers (DCs). Fortunately, technology is evolving quickly and helping companies keep up with—and even stay ahead of—these evolving demands.

“From retail to warehousing, all industries are relying on mobile devices and applications to get the work done. The warehousing industry has particularly embraced the recent boom in mobile technologies,” Joe Scioscia writes in The Impact of Mobile Technologies in Warehousing and Distribution. “Designing mobility into everyday work processes is a natural evolution for warehouses in order to bring more accuracy and speed to tasks within supply chains.”

Under pressure to improve

In a recent report, VDC Research says that 53% of IT decision makers that support warehouse operations view their mobility deployments as immature or outdated. Consequently, VDC’s data also showed that 56% of organizations plan to upgrade their existing fleet of mobile devices due to end of life or age. “Organizations in the warehouse and logistics industry face significant pressures to improve their warehouse performance,” VDC points out.

These efforts are often driven by demand for on-time or faster shipments, labor cost reductions, better perfect order rates, improved storage utilization, and lower cost of errors. As the heart of the modern supply chain, warehouses and DCs are on the hook to deliver these and other benefits. Yet research shows that many fail to meet the expectations of today’s consumers, leading to shopping cart abandonment and lost revenue. To deliver the best possible customer service, maintaining the latest warehouse technology and planning for future upgrades are essential.

Boosting efficiency, cultivating happy customers

A recent Panasonic research study shows that executives understand the value of mobility in the supply chain, yet many aren’t making the necessary moves to enable their own operations. The survey found that while 94% of respondents see “constant connectivity” and “24/7 data access” as important for their employees, another 69% admit that their organizations still rely on basic connectivity capabilities.

This simply won’t cut it in today’s logistics environment. Companies that want more efficient fulfillment operations are bucking that trend and equipping their workforces with enterprise-grade smartphones, mobile handhelds, rugged tablets, and laptops integrated with technologies like voice picking, barcoding, and cloud-based apps that boost efficiency and deliver better customer service.

Here are four ways that they’re doing it:

Flawless packaging serialization at the point of manufacture. From the first to the final mile, all points on the supply chain can be traced back to the point of manufacture, where a connected, real-time, and collaborative supply chain is vital to gaining competitive advantage and supporting brand promise. For example, an ideal scenario would be implementing a packaging execution system that provides quick and easy item identification, serialization, and aggregation on the packaging lines, and captures and stores that information in a cloud-based application system. The system is also mobile-enabled, so shippers and other stakeholders can gain quick and easy access to product identification and provide full traceability. This also helps them comply with current and upcoming regulations, such as the DSCSA (Drug Supply Chain Security Act) and Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), all the while combating counterfeiting and securing production and distribution channels.

Reducing order fulfillment and delivery error to lower operating costs (while improving customer satisfaction). There’s nothing worse than having a customer open up a box only to find the wrong size, wrong color, or wrong product. This not only impacts customer satisfaction but also kicks a costly chain reaction into gear. The company must issue a return order, take the product back, reintroduce it into the supply chain, and send out a replacement. Using a multi-modal solution of voice picking, barcoding with mobile, and wireless technology, companies can effectively automate order picking processes to get closer to “perfect order status.” For example, voice instructions are given to pickers that are equipped with a handheld device that displays a picture of the item. The employee picks and scans the item’s barcode and the mobile device sends a confirmation that they picked the correct item. The system then voices directions on what the next item is and where it is located. A multi-modal system provides quick, easy directions and better quality checks.

The “Holy Grail” of fulfillment: reliable, traceable delivery. Customers expect next-day and same-day shipments as a rule and have made “last minute” the new normal. If by chance, their orders aren’t as timely as expected, those consumers at least want to know where those items are in the supply chain and how quickly they’re going to get them. Using a mobile-enabled app, for example, companies can confirm truck loading at the dock and generate an ETA (estimated time of arrival) to the customer. The driver then captures proof of delivery via mobile, and orders an email delivery of an invoice. With this level of transparency, organizations save money on what could have been lost products and/or sales while gaining the trust of customers who receive real-time data of where a driver is and when a product will be delivered.

Maximized performance and sales at the retail level. The fulfillment process goes beyond the four walls of the warehouse where, by making a few simple changes, companies can significantly improve their store processes and on-shelf availability—something all retailers are striving for in today’s Amazon-led sales environment. Using a mobile-enabled, in-store solution, retailers can manage key tasks and processes efficiently. Their stores, therefore, run more smoothly and their customers are happy. For example, store associates are equipped with mobile devices that give them real-time information and alerts. With the full product inventory and in-store pick-up data at their fingertips, employees don’t have to keep customers waiting and risk losing sales.

The road ahead

With the world’s supply chains becoming more interconnected, the warehouses that support them will need more mobile technology to effectively manage these complex systems of constantly moving parts.

Because mobile technologies improve the overall customer relationship while helping warehouses do more with less, the business case for such investments is both strong and well documented. “In the ever-so-complex industries of warehousing and distribution,” Scioscia concludes, “the implementation of mobile technology is a must for continual growth, added value, and customer satisfaction.”

Want to know more about the supply chain evolution? Explore how emerging tech will shape warehouses of the future. And if you will be at NRF 2019, stop by the Panasonic booth #2264 to see some of these solutions and discuss how they can work for your business.