Leveraging Mobile In the Supply Chain: A Key to the Apparel Retailer's Success

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Leveraging Mobile In the Supply Chain: A Key to the Apparel Retailer's Success

By Richard Keever, Director of Sales, Infinite Peripherals, Inc. - 08/08/2016
Amidst intense competition for store traffic and growing customer expectations, more apparel retailers are adopting mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) solutions, which offer multiple benefits. These devices facilitate line-busting and checkout anywhere in the store, which expedites payment and helps to eliminate abandoned sales. Associates can assist customers in the aisle for greater engagement, and the devices impart a high-tech "hip factor" that coveted Millennial shoppers appreciate.

Beyond monetary transactions on the floor, however, mobile solutions also add value throughout the retail supply chain, fostering greater efficiency and accuracy. From receiving at the warehouse to checking out at the store, mobile devices, such as an iPad®, iPhone® or iPod touch® equipped with a barcode scanner and magnetic stripe reader, run on robust software to automate numerous workflows. By streamlining supply chain operations with mobility, major retailers have reaped valuable cost savings and sales increases.

As apparel merchants face rising omnichannel expectations and pressure from Amazon, which is growing its fashion and apparel business aggressively, mobile solutions provide a competitive advantage. According to the global research study, "The Current and Future State of Digital Supply Chain Transformation," 75 percent of executives from large retail and manufacturing organizations said that digital transformation of the supply chain is "important," with 50 percent indicating it was "very important." Seventy percent noted that they had started a digital supply chain transformation effort.

Although transitioning the supply chain from manual/analog systems or dated RFID equipment is a significant change, the ultimate benefits of mobile technologies far outweigh any challenges, and these systems eventually will be mandatory to stay profitable and competitive.

Supply chain applications
Comprised of many different areas that require constant communication, coordination, agility and accuracy to run efficiently, the supply chain is a great fit for versatile mobile devices, whether handheld or wearables such as headsets, wrist-mounted units or rings.

Warehouse/distribution center
For receiving, mobile devices equipped with a powerful warehouse management system (WMS) offer quick and accurate barcode scanning to accept inventory shipments, with immediate confirmation against orders and real-time updates into inventory databases, along with visibility for management into dock and yard activity. Barcodes also can help streamline product stocking and storage to minimize extra footsteps.

For order fulfillment, mobile devices help to ease this labor-intensive task using barcode scanners to select and verify items, arrange wave-picking routes and provide a visual confirmation (image) of the correct piece selected. Packaging, bundling and labeling orders is quick with mobile solutions and a printer. And quality control/management approval of orders no longer has to be a time-consuming manual step but can be conducted immediately with access to order data from the mobile unit. 

Furthermore, the familiar interface and ease of use of mobile devices running on iOS minimizes any learning curve and simplifies adoption of this technology for new employees and for seasonal warehouse workers, thereby improving productivity.

Warehouse workforce management, including clock-in and clock-out, labor scheduling, shift changes and vacations and task management, also is facilitated conveniently and is easily adaptable with staff and supervisor access to mobile devices.

With so many cogs in the wheel of shipments and transportation, mobile solutions add instant visibility to truck capacity, route options or delays and status of inbound and outbound shipments. Drivers can use analytics to help improve navigation, helping to decrease idle time and fuel costs. And managers can analyze precise data to further capitalize on efficiencies to reduce transportation and labor expenses.

Constantly traveling, buyers can capture images of new merchandise options using the camera on their mobile devices and can access inventory and sales data from the road to estimate quantities for new, seasonal or special collections. Communication across the supply chain team is immediate and as broad as necessary with email, phone and text services.

Category managers/fulfillment managers
Maximizing shelf space is easier for mobile-equipped category managers to improve in-store merchandising, boost product availability and ensure compliance with plans across multiple store sites.

Fulfillment managers can track and analyze key metrics, including product availability, individual orders and overall fulfillment planning and execution.

In-store functionality
Back at the apparel store, associates can use the barcode scanners on their mobile devices to receive, stock and display items from the warehouse, as well as to automate reorders of merchandise.

On the sales floor, mobile-enabled associates can access in-store stock if a customer seeks a different size or color of a clothing item or accessory. If available, a runner can bring the product out, so that the associate never leaves the customer and thereby improves the shopping experience.

In addition, as stores compete with online retailers, mobile solutions offer access to an endless aisle, so if products aren't available immediately in house, associates instantly can check other store locations or order from the warehouse for direct shipping to the store or a customer's home. This feature is particularly helpful as more customers engage in showrooming and affords associates a valuable way to save the sale. Apparel retailers have reported saving hundreds of sales weekly this way. 

Moving to mobile
Despite the myriad business benefits for transitioning supply chain operations to a mobile solution, some retailers may be hesitant based on the magnitude of the change and the unknowns. However, for those apparel merchants who have already deployed mPOS, they should discuss with their supplier the necessary steps to implement a digital system in the warehouse first, and then throughout the supply chain.

Apparel merchants just beginning the process should research solutions providers to identify one that will study their workflows and provide a customized system. Common considerations throughout the supply chain are infrastructure needs (Wi-Fi), software optimized for mobile use, device deployment throughout the organization, mobile device management (MDM), staff training and ongoing service and support. Smart providers will walk retailers through each step and provide recommendations and references to ease the transition.

Mobile has infiltrated the enterprise and is now an expectation on the retail sales floor. By adding mobile capabilities throughout the supply chain, savvy apparel retailers will realize valuable ROI and maintain a competitive edge.

Richard Keever is director of sales for Infinite Peripherals, Inc., a provider of mobile solutions and technology.