Explosive growth in Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) and ecommerce, turbocharged by stay- and work-at-home, has permanently shifted buying habits. Customers aren’t excited by creative delivery and next-/same-day shipping – they expect it. In response, WMS automation technologies are focused on delivering what the customer demands – what, where, and when.  

The problem on the business side is constrained resources – financial, personnel, and hardware. The focus is squarely on ‘do more with less’. How will companies strike the right balance?

High-growth firms are stepping up to answer that question. We’re seeing an explosion of innovation in the Supply Chain and Logistics space and many of them are not far from being in your warehouse.

Here are 5 warehouse automation technologies leveling the playing field between incumbents and emerging brands.

#1: Mechanization, in any warehouse

Automation and facility-wide mechanization have always been a little bit beyond reach. The average automation project is easily north of $5M when adding up consulting, engineering, site prep, installation, and more!

That can quickly exclude midmarket firms that need the help but can’t afford it. Pio, an AutoStore firm, has a mission of creating small-scale, lease-to-own deployments. This will be a game changer for brands that need to scale quickly, as they now have an onramp to advanced conveyance and storage systems.

#2: Robotics, wearables, and augmented reality (AR) – Oh my!

In the same vein as the warehouse itself, strong products are coming to market around improving the worker experience itself.

Robotics of all shapes and sizes are being deployed by firms like 6 River Systems. For example, their mobile CHUCKs – a warehouse automation solution using machine learning and AI – speeds put-away, picking, counting, replenishment, and sorting tasks integrating robotics into racking and storage. 

Semi- or fully autonomous vehicles are also coming downmarket and even midmarket will start seeing a path to adopting them.

Rufus Labs, for example, has focused on the ergonomics problem of bulky scanners by deploying integrated gloves. Movement is one of the hardest Lean Wastes to eliminate and it directly impacts your team. Reducing worker strain drives both job satisfaction and labor effectiveness in equal parts. 

OX has deployed glasses with audio and AR support to streamline the process with live process and workflow automation. Reducing decision points on the floor streamlines the work while reducing errors.

All of these WMS automation technologies are being deployed in the small business and midmarket as well. Firms of any size will bring in technology that completely uplevels their workers’ time on the floor. Reduce strain, reduce errors, drive business – you can have it all.

#3: Choice over speed; customers demand options

Shopping’s fast delivery race is slowing down, according to WSJ.com. Consumers are expressing a preference for certainty over speed. But in its place is an expectation of informational transparency in your warehouse operations. 

Shoppers want to be presented with the trade-offs. Do I want to pay for it faster? Can I slow it down? Supply chains have often juggled with what is truly Just-in-Time, but now customers consider it when giving their business.

Advanced enterprise order management software and DOM (Distributed Order Management) will become essential to surviving in this market. Customers are expecting full omnichannel options. 

  • Do I buy it online or pick it up in-store?
  • Do I buy it in-store and ship it home?
  • Do I slow the order down online and get a price break?
  • What are my mode options? Parcel, Air, Ground?

Order management systems and DOM needs to support this and the front end needs to present it to the buyer. Consumers will expect greater control and presentation of a la carte options during the buying process. We expect more end-customer orders to take on execution factors of B2B orders. 

#4: Artificial intelligence (AI), enterprise-grade

When we talk about AI in operations, we’re not thinking about the generative type that’s grabbing headlines. AI has been maturing for years, but access to powerful models means that many techniques can be deployed for lower production costs. This AI will be the silent kind that guides complex decision-making and rapid consumption of large, complex, not naturally correlated data sets.

Fraud Detection should receive a large boost by being able to sift through mountains of data and consider outliers in near real-time. These can be traditional threats from the outside – identity theft, and financial fraud. But, many things are on the inside – shrinkage, time theft, embezzlement, and espionage. 

Often, these go undetected for years because detection methods were slow and lacked horsepower. That won’t be the case, and many firms are looking at supply chain and financial risk, inside and outside. Big data and scalable, on-demand processing power and memory have never been cheaper.

Prescriptive Solutions are coming to the market at an increasing pace. Largely focused on removing decision points by performing multivariate analysis, these WMS automation solutions operate quicker and more consistently than an individual could. Operations can speed up as real-time optimal responses are presented or a list of trade-offs is articulated between options.

Don’t think on the floor; go where the lights tell you. Cycle count your products if demand patterns change. 

System-directed work, with less analysis paralysis, will have an immediate impact on the value of any organization’s supply chain.

#5: Frictionless shopping – omnichannel is everywhere

Omnichannel retail is hitting its stride in the market. Instead of retail dying, it is becoming a critical piece in unified commerce. To do that, we’ve noted some significant changes that have had to happen to deliver on that ‘every sale, anywhere’ approach.

The retail store is now an extension of the online experience. So inventory management everywhere must be handled as one entity.

Stores are no longer bound by the inventory they have on hand. It is in the store’s best interest to short-circuit the showroom effect by capturing that sale immediately. 

Couldn’t find what you wanted? We’ll ship it to your home. 

Was the size or color you wanted not in stock? Point you to another store or ship it home. 

Best-in-class retail experiences will do everything they can to satisfy your demand, immediately, because they know if you walk out, someone else will satisfy it.

What warehouse management automation technologies do you need?

Warehouse operations are poised to benefit from an absolute renaissance of WMS automation technologies. In nearly every functional area, there is some additive or disruptive advancement that can be deployed regardless of the firm’s size, people, or finances. 

This will enable serving customers how they want, as well as leveling the playing field between emerging brands and large-scale incumbents. Depending on your market and needs, there is a combination of hardware and software that can create your ideal supply chain. 

It’s either here now, or right on the horizon.

Need help mapping out your WMS automation technologies for next year? How can Deposco’s platform simplify and accelerate your growth? Let’s talk.