The past two years have brought on monumental change for the ecommerce industry which has had to adapt to meet booming demand brought on by the pandemic, whilst simultaneously navigating major product and talent shortages. However, as the ecommerce industry booms, people have failed to notice that it is causing a huge change in the industry – that is, the flattening of the traditional retail calendar. 

Bottlenecking supply 

Ecommerce was an obvious solution when the pandemic first took hold of the world as restrictions forced  people to stay home and brick and mortar stores to close. In Australia alone online retail skyrocketed to $22.9 billion of the economy in 2020, up $7.6 billion from 2019, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development. 

Whilst this  sudden spike in demand for online retail was welcomed, the supply chains were taken by surprise, and we rapidly saw knock-on effects in the form of bottlenecking. This then snowballed into major delays for order fulfilment and international shipping, as well as shipping costs in some cases increasing by 6-7 times their pre-pandemic prices. 

For warehouses, the biggest challenge in keeping up with demand has been simply finding enough workers to keep things running smoothly. With border closures blocking international hires for the better part of 2020 and 2021, as well as waves of infections sending entire workforces into isolation at a moment’s notice, maintaining service levels has been more challenging than ever. 

To combat this, fulfilment providers like eStore Logistics have invested heavily in technology to maintain service levels and make sure stock is able to move through warehouses. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) massively speed up the product picking process by physically bringing shelving units of stock to the employee packing the order. This reduces the time needed to pack the order, as well as the likelihood of time wasted on human error, proving indispensable in particularly busy periods.

Flattening the retail calendar 

Historically, the retail industry has always been dependent on peak shopping periods throughout the year.  From the January sales period to the Easter holidays through to Black Friday and the lead up to Christmas, retailers’ profit have been primarily defined by their performance during these periods.  

However, data collected at eStore Logistics shows that this trend is changing. For several years we’ve been noticing consumer preference slowly shifting away from brick and mortar in favour of online retail as consumers become increasingly tech-savvy and convenience-driven. 

The pandemic has accelerated this shift as consumers turned to online retail out of necessity, leading the traditional trend of online shopping peaks to flatten. We’re finding that although volume remains higher in the holiday periods, consumers are shopping more consistently online throughout the year as a result of how quick and convenient it is. In other words, instead of having to allocate time to physically travel to a store and browse the products, consumers can search for and purchase an item within minutes of deciding they want it.  As a result, retailers are no longer tightly bound by specific retail peaks and can rely on a more consistent stream of income. In the coming years we will see the decline of the traditional retail calendar as more and more shopping is done online and all the time.

Technology is king 

In an era where the shopping process is becoming increasingly digitised for consumers, the same should be true for supply chains and order fulfilment. This is yet another learning that we’ve taken from the pandemic – i.e. consumers already have the power to rely entirely on ecommerce, yet supply chains had not yet seen the technological advances they needed in order to keep up. 

With this in mind we expect to see supply chains becoming increasingly digitised over the next couple of years, with risk mitigation being an area of focus. Technologies such as the cloud, data analytics and mobile platforms will all be utilised to maximise efficiency and ensure that errors made during the pandemic are avoided in the future. Warehouses will also increasingly rely on support from robots to maintain speed and accuracy in the order fulfilment process. 

What comes next?

Often, when we talk about the end of the pandemic we refer to a ‘return to normal’. The reality for the ecommerce industry is that there is no going back. As merchants and consumers alike have become accustomed to the convenience of the online model, technology will continue to be the hero of the industry by improving the efficiency and experience of online shopping at both ends of the exchange. 

Leigh Williams is founder & CEO of eStore Logistics.