ECommerce has changed the retail sector. Retailers of all sizes have now moved to omnichannel fulfillment as customers have come to expect online ordering capabilities. The move online has come with challenges, however. Specifically, the supply chain and its visibility have grown more complex.
With customers engaging across several platforms and sales channels, and with the shipping crisis showing no sign of letting up, order fulfillment is challenging. Maximizing your supply chain visibility is the need of the hour, as stakeholders are leveraging real-time shipment condition data to make smarter decisions and provide customers with much-appreciated transparency.
Here’s how eCommerce companies are using technology to realize the benefits of supply chain visibility.
IoT applications have been a boon to eCommerce companies. These days, IoT presence in manufacturing lines is standard. Sensors attached to assembly-line machinery track output, part performance, and needs for automated maintenance. The result is a lean manufacturing line that can not only maintain itself but also provide insight into how it will cope with increased volumes.
For instance, when planning an increase in manufacturing output, the data gathered from manufacturing facility sensors help companies model output realistically. In turn, these datasets inform marketing and sales campaigns to create seamless communication between all departments.
IoT is also useful for condition monitoring sensors attached to in-transit shipments. These sensors track light, humidity, temperature, and shock, giving all stakeholders visibility into the status of their shipments. Pinpointing the root cause of damage is also simple, thanks to automatic audit trails.
Overall, IoT presence in sensors throughout order fulfillment lines helps companies create a seamless picture of an order’s lifecycle. Identifying inefficiencies is simple, and companies realize better ROI on their investments.
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As companies began gathering more data than ever before, storing these datasets became an issue. The initial approach was to build server farms in-house and install complex infrastructure and resources to maintain them. However, this approach diverted companies away from their core businesses.
Cloud service providers offered a great solution. For a monthly price, companies now outsource their infrastructure needs that can scale with their business. For instance, applying for an upgrade is no longer a messy affair requiring system downtimes. Cloud service providers automatically execute upgrades with minimal disruption. Security is also assured since cloud service providers are technically built from the ground up.
Cloud access has also simplified data dissemination. Stakeholders can now log into a system on the cloud and view necessary data. For instance, a B2B eCommerce seller can log in and view shipment storage conditions as it reaches the retailer’s facility. They can alert the retailer of improper storage conditions or any factors that might damage goods.
Thus, visibility into the supply chain is simplified. Even better, analytics reports are easily distributable since everyone has access to supply chain data. The result is every stakeholder gains visibility into processes that affect their portion of the supply chain and acts accordingly.
As more stakeholders gain access to supply chain data, communication becomes a challenge. Manufacturers and logistics partners sit at different points in the chain from retailers and end customers. A critical issue for a manufacturer might not carry the same weight for a shipper, and vice-versa.
The development of communication standards has been a boon for the supply chain. Metrics are standardized and defined in SLAs before goods are ever shipped. For instance, stakeholders might agree on critical condition-monitoring KPIs to ensure everyone is referring to the same data when discussing statuses.
Standardizing inventory communication is also a central approach in the eCommerce supply chain. Shippers and downstream stakeholders won’t know a manufacturer’s product catalog inside and out. Thus, referring to a product by name can cause miscommunication. The solution is to refer to products either by SKU or part numbers, simplifying communication.
Assigning product labels also simplifies storing these data for future analytics. Data retrieval is fast and real-time insights are readily available.
One of the biggest bottlenecks in the eCommerce supply chain is locating items within warehouses, picking, and packaging them. Traditionally, these tasks were manually executed, with workers checking inventory stacks and returning to assignment tables. Not only did these tasks cost time, but they also placed an undue amount of stress on workers due to tight SLA deadlines.
ECommerce firms have modified their processes by using robots to pick items and deliver them to assignment tables. Thanks to inventory stacks being digitized, robotic systems access a central data repository to determine an item’s location. These robots travel along predefined paths to simplify routing and don’t need breaks or pauses due to fatigue as human workers do.
The result is a safer warehouse that nonetheless works at a high level of efficiency, with complete visibility into delivery and picking processes.
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The eCommerce warehouse system is an integral part of the supply chain. Given the breadth of products that companies sell these days, errors in storage can create bottlenecks in delivery. To combat this risk, companies install pick verification processes before packaging, to ensure the right item is being shipped to the right buyer.
While robotic picking minimizes errors, the sheer volume of orders that some warehouses need to process means that errors can still overwhelm human pickers. Resolving an error is a tedious process since the employee has to return the incorrect item to its right position in the stack, locate the correct item, and notify the warehouse management system of the error.
As errors compound, these processes cause even more delays, leading to loss of revenue. Hands-free verification is changing the game since human employees need only read a two-digit number at the item’s location to verify the pick. Once done, the robots take over and package the product. Hands-free picking also ensures that employees can pick batch orders faster, process reverse picks, and reduce picking time.
While hands-free isn’t the norm as yet, it’s quickly changing the way eCommerce companies think about picking efficiency. Although picking currently offers the widest use case for hands-free tech, there are additional benefits. For instance, the process of inventory updates can be much faster with a voice-based hands-free system.
Instead of scanning the barcodes of every new item in the warehouse, workers can read verification codes to instantly update inventory levels. In turn, these updates seamlessly change item availability quantities on the shop’s front-end, providing users with a more precise ordering experience.
Best of all, voice-based systems don’t need huge technical infrastructure, thus delivering maximum ROI. Thanks to their seamless nature, hands-free technology improves the visibility a company has over its inventory.
An eCommerce company’s warehouse is its nerve center. It’s where the largest numbers of its workforce spend the day and where customer experiences are fulfilled. For instance, delays in shipping from warehouses will negate any design upgrades the company executes on its website.
It should come as no surprise that eCommerce firms have heavily invested in analytics platforms that help them create more efficient processes. For instance, warehouse analytics help companies create better storage spaces and utilize them to the extreme. This allows companies to store more goods and reduce picking times.
Analytics can also pinpoint expansion possibilities while maintaining optimal efficiency. These platforms help companies model scenarios while predicting efficiency outcomes. The result is that eCommerce companies constantly scale their operations at sustainable rates while maintaining efficiency and worker safety.
Another area that analytics impacts are evaluating inbound supply efficiency. As B2B eCommerce continues to grow, an increasing number of eCommerce companies are manufacturers, and delays in raw material supply can impact bottom lines. Analytics helps companies model demand and create supply schedules according to vendor performance.
For instance, if a company is looking to run a sale on a few items, they can analyze historical vendor efficiency data to model supply and delivery times. These insights help companies predict risks and mitigate them before launching campaigns. Best of all, these insights can be shared with stakeholders throughout the supply chain, thereby improving insights.
For instance, a vendor could offer additional insights that can make the model’s predictions more accurate, changing the outcome of the planned campaign.
Analytics have far-reaching effects on the eCommerce ecosystem. Everything from warehouse utilization to delivery timing is impacted. As the use of AI in analytics platforms grows, eCommerce firms get confident to derive greater insights into their processes.
Visibility hinges on all systems in a supply chain talking to each other. Integration is a technical issue that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. Without the right integration, stakeholders will be limited to their portion of the supply chain and cannot account for upstream or downstream disruption.
In this sense, APIs are central to eCommerce supply chain visibility. Many service providers offer APIs as standard. Thanks to this service, stakeholders can connect their systems to logistics platforms and import data for analytics. For instance, a manufacturer can import logistics data to their order management platform and evaluate vendor performance.
These vendor ratings prove useful when modeling future demand. Manufacturers can use historical performance data to predict the volume of goods reaching customers and the condition they’ll arrive in.
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Technology and a rethink of business processes have boosted visibility in the eCommerce supply chain. Thanks to the methods listed in this article, eCommerce companies can now conduct business smoothly, ensuring a great customer experience every time an order is placed.