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4 Fulfillment Trends to Pursue in 2021 and Beyond

Over the last year, retailers have had their resiliency and supply chains tested in response to COVID. As online orders surged with stay-at-home mandates, companies struggled to meet demand with a decreased workforce and broken supply chain. Over a year later, as cities open back up, many retailers are wondering "what's next?"

Retailers aren’t sure whether to invest more into their fulfillment strategies, like BOPIS and curbside, or cut the cord. What if consumer behavior course corrects and all that time and money goes to waste? 

It’s a valid concern, but it’s not the right question.

Many retailers I talk to are falling into a “wait and see” trap when it comes to expanding their BOPIS and curbside strategies. But big kids on the block aren’t leaving it to chance. Smart retailers are doubling down on their fulfillment strategies by adopting wearable picking technology. They’re making it a pivotal part of their long-term strategies. In fact, in a recent survey, 93% of respondents expect to have adopted wearable computing devices by 2028.

Those that don’t are going to be left in the dust. 

With more employees fulfilling an ever-rising number of orders, if you’re not optimizing for efficiency and speed, your problems are likely going from bad to worse. Consumers aren’t going to go back to the way things were. They’re not going to suddenly enjoy waiting in line at the grocery store with their kids crying and grabbing at candy. They’re going to order what they need online and pick it up when it’s convenient to them.

So here’s what to expect over the next year in BOPIS and other fulfillment strategies:

1 | Wearable Picking Tech

Order picking accounts for over $30 billion in annual warehousing expenditures in the US alone.

I did some research on how pick-by-paper and handhelds are costing your business money and customers and the numbers are shocking. Hands-free order picking is up to 88% faster than traditional pick methods. Retailers and warehouses are adopting this technology in droves because not only are they faster, they’re way more accurate. 

93% of respondents expect to have adopted wearable computing devices by 2028

I think something like "Fulfillment speed and accuracy are the most important metrics being measured by big names like Amazon and Walmart. This fact makes pick-by-paper an outdated and expensive practice that can't meet the rising standards of order fulfillment in as little as 30 minutes.

An employee's focus and hands should never leave the product. Pick-by-paper does exactly that as it requires both the hands and focus to shift. Ox's solution is addressing this by being as hands-free as possible and all hand interactions being minimal and requiring the absolute least amount of time to do. Now instead of having an employee take time to show others, you can just hand them our glasses. They will instantly be able to know the route, location, place, and more.

The combination of Ox vision + voice picking technologies gives your company the competitive edge it needs to meet rising demand in speed and customer satisfaction. Heads-up, augmented reality technology decreases onboarding time dramatically - as much as 37% faster - by using simple-to-understand prompts to guide pickers where they need to go. 

Imagine what that would mean for your peak season productivity.

2 | Smart Substitutions

Retailers with BOPIS and curbside delivery solutions are feeling the pain of out-of-stocks. Many retailers haven’t been able to figure it out and the logic is left up to the associates juggling dozens of priorities and tasks at once. This has been a major pain point with a lot of retailers I’ve spoken to. 

Smart substitution technology - like Ox’s - that use customer preferences and machine learning is going to be a game-changer and competitive advantage. Not only will you keep your customers happy, but you can also reduce labor costs, returns, and increase revenue.

3 | Cloud Stores

The concept of a cloud store is where multiple brands in one store sharing a brick & mortar presence. Doing so can reduce costs, increase reach, and reduce fulfillment time.

As eCommerce grows and real estate and workforce become more expensive, I think more retailers will have to consider the validity of cloud stores. 

4 | 3rd-Party Micro Fulfillment Centers

We’re all familiar with third-party logistics. Millions of retailers throughout the country do this through Amazon and other retailers already. Micro fulfillment centers in another not-so-foreign concept and have been on the rise over the last year. But what if you married the two?

What about having a network of MFCs all across the country that SMB/MM brands and retailers can send their inventory to and the MFC will handle the entire pick, pack, and ship process? Similar to cloud stores, 3PL MFCs can reduce costs, increase reach, and reduce fulfillment time.

Conclusion

From cloud stores to wearable tech, retailers are going to be looking for solutions to reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction. While, perhaps, some of these true next-generation solutions might be years out, some trends like wearable tech and substitution solutions are certain - and frankly, already happening. 

So to the folks thinking, "this is the future" right now have missed the point entirely. This is now.