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Viewpoint: Anything, anytime, from anywhere

By Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
June 01, 2013

There’s a very good reason that Logistics Management (LM) devotes an article every month to the growing importance warehouse and distribution center (DC) operations”>warehouse and distribution center (DC) operations are playing in transportation and overall logistics management—especially when you consider the revolution that’s going on inside the four walls of facilities operated by U.S. retailers.

In the new world of e-commerce—now super-charged by the proliferation of smart phones and wireless networks—retailers are pressured to fulfill anything, anytime, from anywhere. But the sense of “urgency” that fickle U.S. consumers experience when ordering online now needs to be realized on the delivery side as well.

We don’t want it next day, we want it today—and in some cases we want it delivered where we are at that very moment, be it at your office or the Starbucks. In fact, same-day-to-person delivery was a subject discussed at a recent roundtable I took part in. Most on the panel, consisting of material handling equipment vendors and software providers, believe, as do I, that we have the capability to make this happen.

The panel asserted that to get there we must optimize and squeeze every ounce of functionality we can out of the technology and resources we already have—something few, if any, companies are doing.

It’s quite clear that the multi-channel (or omni-channel) order fulfillment challenge has amped up the importance of piece picking. In fact, it’s had a game-changing effect on how quickly retailers are turning to software and related automation equipment to do more with less—in many cases picking and shipping right from the brick-and-mortar retail store to accommodate next-day shipping.

By adding and optimizing automation, retailers are able to fill the variety of complicated orders more accurately and collaborate with transportation management systems to solve new freight challenges that come with anything, anytime, from anywhere. But to do it better, faster, and same day, we need constant innovation.

LM offers two articles this month, both authored by Contributing Editor Maida Napolitano, to help retail logistics professionals fine tune their operations to eventually conquer the full spectrum of multi-channel challenges. On page 42, Napolitano has gathered three front-line warehouse and DC thought-leaders to answer four questions that brick-and- mortar retailers will face as they go through their “same-day”
transformation.

“A while ago everyone was talking about the death of the brick-and-mortar store,” says Napolitano. “But now these operations are transforming into mini-fulfillment centers and are able to support next-day and eventually same-day shipping. ”

Then, Napolitano takes us inside Staples’ Secaucus, N.J., facility for an exclusive look at how the #2 online retailer has addressed its excessive packaging.

“Staples’ sophisticated network of fulfillment centers can deliver next-day to 98 percent of the population, but the issue of oversized boxes was perplexing,” says Napolitano. The solution they found is nothing short of revolutionary—an on-demand packaging system that creates an almost limitless number of custom, right-sized boxes.

“This is a case where e-commerce has forced a retailer to change its operations and push away any fears of technology adoption,” adds Napolitano. “Now they have set a goal to reduce packaging by 20 percent by 2020, and they have innovation to thank for it.”

About the Author

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Michael Levans
Group Editorial Director

Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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