The emergence of COVID-19 has introduced challenges and unprecedented complexities in distribution center (DC) and retail store operations. Concerns over the spread of the virus triggered a rapid surge in the demand for e-commerce and click-and-collect capabilities. That effectively accelerated e-commerce adoption by three to five years due to both the increase in new online and click-and-collect consumers and higher revenue per order. Not only do fulfillment operations have to increase productivity to meet this demand, they are also tasked with implementing new measures aimed at worker and workplace safety.
Addressing these challenges will require new strategies to meet rising consumer expectations and create safer work environments. As consumers turn to e-commerce and click-and-collect for groceries and general merchandise, many now expect next- and same-day delivery or curbside pick-up. In fulfillment centers, employees need assurances that they will have the necessary equipment and protocols in place. DC operators and retailers are committed to enhancing workplace safety while also seeking solutions to increasing output and productivity to keep pace with high order volumes.
Here are 11 strategies to help retailers create safer and more productive DCs:
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers. DC workers need access to masks, gloves and essential PPE to instill confidence in the workforce.
- Thermal scanning for contactless building access. Facial recognition and thermal scanning technologies enable workers to gain hands-free building access while giving operators the ability to detect elevated temperature levels of employees reporting for work.
- Smart devices for productivity and safety compliance. Hand-held or body-worn devices such as scanners, printers and voice-directed systems can be combined with smart software and device-tracking capabilities to help DC managers achieve compliance with new safety guidelines, establish cleaning procedures, and ensure proper device check-out/check-in management.
- Building monitoring and analytics software. From clean-air recirculation, ventilation and filtration to contactless access and monitoring of facility occupancy rates, DC operators need comprehensive building solutions to reduce risks and optimize the flow of people. Connected infrastructures, robust analytics software, autonomous building controls and centralized dashboards provide managers with key worker and workplace analytics, visibility to trends, safety alerts and procedure compliance.
- Labor management software (LMS). Drive worker productivity and procedure compliance, manage and measure employee engagement, and retain top-performing employees with modern LMS solutions. LMS helps DC managers make informed labor allocations based on order volume, available resources and service level priorities.
- Voice, mobility devices and software. User-friendly mobility devices deliver measurable productivity and accuracy boosts and enable DC managers to deploy new hires rapidly to meet demand surges. Integration with advanced software that provides data collection, automated documentation and analytics capabilities helps DC managers to continually optimize workforce productivity and safety measures.
- Remote maintenance and training. Augmented reality glasses enable remote audio and video collaboration with experienced support experts who can provide step-by-step instructions. Distance-learning programs enable key DC staff members to continue training at their own pace and access the information they need to excel in their roles.
- Robotics. Repetitive picking, packing and truck unloading tasks are more difficult to fill in today’s labor market and challenging fulfillment environments. By leveraging robotics into a variety of DC processes, operators can reduce their reliance on manual labor while driving productivity and improving overall workplace safety.
- Micro-fulfillment center (MFC) utilization. Utilize highly automated, high-density, small-footprint MFCs where they are needed most to shorten last-mile delivery times and reduce cost per package shipped. Deploy MFCs in stand-alone facilities, dark stores or warehouses, or within existing retail stores to address in-store, e-fulfillment models.
- Asset monitoring and insights. Connected, internet of things (IoT) infrastructures leverage the power of operational data to gives DC operators access to actionable insights pertaining to asset conditions and/or related processes. Operators receive real-time notifications of issues impacting operations to predict and prevent unplanned downtime while increasing utilization of individual assets and throughout a facility. Combined with on-site and remote maintenance and parts support, operators can take a proactive approach to maximizing uptime.
- Advanced warehouse execution software. As order cycle times shrink, DC managers need warehouse execution systems (WES) and software capable of orchestrating, automating and optimizing order fulfillment processes. Advanced data science techniques give DC managers intelligent decision-making capabilities to oversee various order priorities and address ever-changing fulfillment demands.
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