Consumers’ buying habits have changed dramatically during COVID-19, driven in part by government-imposed mobility restrictions and prevailing social distancing mandates. Many have taken full advantage of the fast, “contactless” fulfillment options that retailers have started offering, such as buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, and home delivery.

Recent figures from Salesforce’s Holiday Insights Hub and 2020 Holiday Predictions report showed Australia and New Zealand’s e-commerce growth were the highest across the globe at 108% in Q2 2020 and 107% in Q3 20201. This observation is consistent with Zebra’s 2021 Global Shopper Study findings, which revealed that 72% of surveyed shoppers used mobile ordering in 2020.

Retailers who accelerated their digitalisation efforts have found themselves better equipped to adapt to these changes, but nearly all businesses have struggled to meet the skyrocketing demand.

Stretched thin, smaller supply chain organisations turn to technology for help

The erratic demand and supply experienced in recent months have significantly impacted supply chains across the globe and forced businesses to alter operations to offset rising procurement and fulfillment costs. Some have pivoted toward new business models, sought alternative product manufacturing sources, and adjusted sales activities to survive in the current environment and position themselves to potentially thrive in the ‘New Normal’ – especially small and medium-sized businesses (SMB).

Those that still rely heavily on manual processes are starting to realise the value that technology solutions can bring to their business. Technology has become the great equaliser that allows these businesses to operate at the same capacity and speed as their larger counterparts and create a sustainable, growth-centric operating model.

For instance, SMBs are boosting fulfillment efficiencies by managing inventory in real time. Wireless-enabled technology solutions such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and augmented reality (AR) provide real-time visibility into the exact location of each item they sell so workers know exactly where to go to pick items. This allows them to fulfill orders in the fastest and most cost-efficient manner possible, as they no longer waste time or steps browsing aisles to find what they need.

Real-time inventory management solutions also allow business operators to uncover trends in the ordering process that can aid them in shielding their supply chain operations from unexpected disruptions. For example, they can quickly uncover when a supplier is not meeting its delivery dates and shift their orders to alternative providers accordingly. At the same time, the heightened rate of inventory accuracy resulting from 24/7 monitoring helps mitigate shortages and overstocks.

Technology can also help increase employee efficiency and productivity, reduce the time and money spent on training new workers, and improve employee retention rates, especially in Australia and New Zealand where qualified warehousing labour is scarce. For example, equipping front-line workers with smart glasses, wearable or handheld mobile computers, and ring scanners that are integrated with a robust and accurate warehouse management system can help speed up pick times and reduce errors. 

Digital transformation is time sensitive

Small businesses form the backbone of the Australian and New Zealand economies and deserve to flourish, even in difficult times.

That’s why it’s important they implement technologies that increase visibility, improve accuracy, and enhance operating efficiencies to optimise labour as soon as possible. They need to be able to see, understand and respond to what is happening within their four walls and their entire supply chain if they are to accelerate their recovery and be well-positioned to compete in a post-COVID-19 business landscape.

Royston Phua is vertical practice lead for supply chain at Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific.