NRF 2020: How Mobile Tech Improves Retail Operational Efficiency

Here’s how mobile technology is helping to improve operational efficiency on the retail floor, in the warehouse, and across the supply chain.

In the race to stake their claim of the $3.5 trillion global e-commerce pie, retailers are working to balance this growing opportunity with their existing brick-and-mortar sales channels. From product sourcing to fulfillment to logistics, the process requires a well-thought-out approach that factors in the complexities of both online and offline selling.

With e-commerce sales accounting for 14.1% of global retail sales in 2019 and on track to reach 22% in 2023, the channel presents both opportunities and challenges for retailers. “A shift in retail formats are forcing retailers to monitor the supply chain and ensure high-quality products,” SpendEdge points out. Other obstacles include country-specific politics, trade and tariff laws, international relationships, and the need for better quality control. 

To tackle these issues head-on, more retailers are turning to mobile technology for help. In their stores, for example, they’re harnessing the 71% of shoppers who use mobile devices in-store by offering self-scanning mobile apps and working to allow customers’ mobile devices to act as point of sale (POS) devices via apps.

In warehouses and fulfillment centers nationwide, retailers are equipping workers with forklift-mounted tablets, voice picking capabilities, and handheld barcode scanning that enable more efficient warehouse and shelf stocking. On the road, drivers use mobile devices to determine optimal routes, provide proof of delivery, and keep customers up to date on delivery times.


Exceeding Expectations

The need for speed, accuracy and a good customer experience is real in the retail supply chain, and retailers are using mobile technology to respond. At the Nike House of Innovation OOO, customers can reserve shoes online, grab them out of a locker, try them on in-store, and use mobile checkout without ever standing in line or even speaking to anyone. At some Zara stores, customers can skip the line and use a tablet-equipped kiosk instead.

Expect to see more retailers adopting these practices in 2020. “While shopping through a smart speaker, working with a chatbot, or walking out of a cashierless store may still be perceived as a novelty,” RetailDive notes, “retailers are getting the message that convenience is paramount when it comes to obtaining goods.”


Investing in Technology

Mobile innovation is also being deployed in retail warehouses and DCs nationwide. According to TotalRetail’s 2019 Retail Technology Report, today’s retailers are investing in order and inventory management systems that facilitate omnichannel fulfillment. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of retailers are planning to increase technology spending in the next 12 months. The biggest increases in spending are planned for inventory and order management, as well as marketing automation — driven by increases in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

As stores leverage more decentralized distribution models (aka, micro-fulfillment centers) they gain the ability to stage products closer to consumers, thus enabling faster delivery times. For example, companies like Shopify are utilizing collaborative automation technology to improve efficiencies and meet changing customer demands. “Logistics capabilities are key when it comes to merchants competing effectively with Amazon,” Forbes notes.



As brick-and-mortar retailers look for ways to improve their competitive positions, more of them are using their stores as both distribution and transaction hubs. Programs such as buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), buy online, return in-store (BORIS), and ship from store have proven to be popular with consumers and retailers alike, SpendEdge reports. “They help to get orders into customers’ hands faster — a growing need in a world of same-day and next-day shipping — and save both parties on shipping costs.”

For BOPIS and BORIS to run smoothly, retailers need the right inventory and order management systems to ensure the right inventory is in the right place at the right time. Mobile technologies like barcode scanners, voice picking, and forklift-mounted tablets help retailers hit these marks without breaking the bank.  


Returns Support

Mobile technology can also speed up returns processing, an area where speed and efficiency equal better profit margins in a world where shoppers returned $50 billion in merchandise during the 2019 holiday season. Hoping to reduce return shipping expenses, retailers like Target and Walmart now allow customers to use in-store kiosks to return their merchandise. 

“New retail-specific mobile technologies can drive efficiency and productivity in store operations and improve the customer experience,” Honeywell points out. “Managers can determine clear accountability, with software tracking both the assignment of tasks and acknowledgement by employees and take advantage of greater inventory visibility by tracking products from dock to shelf.”


A New Retail Frontier

As mobile devices and apps continue to make the retail supply chain more efficient, expect to see more companies investing in the technologies that support these efforts. From equipping floor staff with mobile tools to giving truck drivers high performing mobile devices that enable high levels of tracking and visibility, to providing warehouse workers with voice-picking capabilities, the opportunities are virtually limitless and expanding every year.

If you would like to explore more on some of these new technologies, stop by the Panasonic booth #3647 at the NRF 2020 event in NYC, January 12 -14th.  

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