In a special retail supplement to Modern Materials Handling’s October 2018 issue, Editor-at-Large Sara Pearson Specter included extensive comments from Gary Cash, VP of Solution Development at Pyramid, a part of Matthews Automation Solutions in “E-Commerce: Retailers Flex to Meet Expectations.”
The article outlines the challenges faced by e-commerce and omni-channel retailers, including customer expectations for a broad variety of items and virtually endless selection—thanks to Amazon. Those who do not accommodate those demands face closed stores and bankruptcy in several recent instances.
Cash explains, “All the growth in retail right now is on the direct-to-consumer side, and companies are finding e-commerce has grown a lot more than they thought it would a decade ago. This has made it difficult for an operation trying to both replenish stores and fill e-commerce orders while using a single warehouse management system (WMS). In many cases, the software has not evolved to manage many different fulfillment processes.”
He also notes that large, well-established retailers with nationwide networks of distribution operations can easily split direct-to-consumer and store replenishment fulfillment into separate facilities. “Conversely, medium-sized retailers, who have smaller networks, tend to operate both e-commerce and store replenishment out of the same facility,” he continues. “This presents the challenge of balancing very different order flows and volumes in real time.”
As a result, notes Cash, retailers are increasingly implementing a mix of automation and software to cope. “We’re seeing more warehouse execution systems (WES) like ours being added to fill in the gaps of an existing WMS to achieve these types of single facility/multi-channel fulfillment goals,” he explains. “A WES enables a facility to become more flexible by adding functionality to build different types of picking waves and balancing workflows to fully use every area at all times.”
With regard to the most often selected hardware, retailers are specifically looking for solutions that allow them maintain maximum flexibility, particularly throughout peak seasons.
“Put walls are relatively affordable and can be staffed as needed to handle fluctuations in volume, and autonomous mobile robots are gaining traction because of their independence in completing tasks while reducing seasonal staffing challenges,” he says. “Additionally, automated finishing systems with bar code readers integrated to packing slip and label printers are being increasingly deployed to accommodate and verify compliance labeling and ensure accurate direct-to-consumer shipments, while minimizing the amount of labor required to complete these tasks.”
The full article can be accessed, here.