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Retail Success Hinges on Supply Chain Superiority

James Dempsey is Senior National Sales Manager – Panasonic TOUGHBOOK.

By infusing the supply chain with game-changing tech retailers can ensure products are where they need to be, when they need to be there.

Leading retailers are planning major investments in both foundational and next-gen supply chain and fulfillment solutions to ensure they can meet the demands of need-it-now consumers. The lion’s share of that investment is being allocated to mobile devices designed to keep retail workers connected and informed from the road, sales floor and distribution center.

To uncover how retailers can supercharge their supply chain performance Panasonic TOUGHBOOK's senior national sales manager James Dempsey sat down with RIS for an exclusive Q&A on the topic.

RIS: Where are you seeing the greatest technology investment? And where do you think retail tech spending is headed over the next few years?

James Dempsey: Retailers are investing in order and inventory management systems that facilitate omnichannel fulfillment. Research indicates that nearly three-quarters are planning to increase their technology spending in the next 12 months and the biggest increases are planned for inventory and order management, as well as marketing automation — driven in part by growth in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Retail warehouses and distribution centers are also investing in mobile solutions, so their employees can work faster and more accurately, for managers to track the flow of goods from any location and to directly tie the front of the store or e-commerce website with order and inventory management systems.

RIS: What are some of the top obstacles you have seen in the market? And how can retailers overcome them?

Dempsey: Every step of the supply chain, from warehouse or distribution center to store shelf or customer doorstep, is an opportunity for retailers to reduce costs that cut into profit margins. Mobile solutions improve productivity and accuracy, facilitating a more efficient flow of goods. Retailers are harnessing shoppers’ increased use of mobile devices in-store by offering self-scanning mobile apps and allowing customers’ mobile devices to act as point of sale (POS) via apps. In warehouses and fulfillment centers, 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.

RIS: Creating a connected and seamless experience across touchpoints continues to be a challenge. How can retailers merge their physical and digital experience to produce a truly omnichannel path to purchase?

Dempsey: 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 because they eliminate or reduce shipping and returns costs. For these programs to be successful, retailers must tie together their supply chain, warehouse, e-commerce site and stores. While mobile technologies such as barcode scanners, voice picking, and forklift-mounted tablets capture inventory availability and location, the results can be seen on the e-commerce site or by an in-store sales associate helping customers in real time. Sales associates can help shoppers order items online that are not on the shelf for home delivery or free store pickup, satisfying customers and avoiding a lost sale. Returns are expensive to process and retailers like Target and Walmart now allow customers to use in-store kiosks to return their merchandise.

RIS: Out of stocks are retail kryptonite. How can retailers ensure that products are where they need to be, when they need to be there?

Dempsey: Out of stocks lead to lost sales. Retailers can avoid this by keeping a close eye on the supply chain, monitoring deliveries and tightly managing inventory. Shipment variances, misplaced product, returns and even stolen goods — all impact availability across both store and e-commerce channels and the ability for retailers to anticipate how to replenish items. For instance, capturing receiving data electronically using barcode scanning, using RFID technology to track inventory as it moves around, and utilizing points of sales (POS) that automatically modify inventory levels at purchase can help retailers minimize out of stock items. As forward-thinking companies equip their store associates with modern handheld devices, coupled with real-time business analytics platforms, they are better positioned to proactively respond to out of stock situations.

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