By Axel Schmidt, Principle Communications Manager at ProGlove

In today’s ever-evolving retail landscape, increased products and changing consumer demands present retailers with both opportunities and challenges. The heart of this transformation lies within the supply chain. Costs have surged, and predictability has waned, making the warehouse the focal point of many operations. To thrive in this dynamic environment, retailers must address three critical areas: 

·         Ensuring a seamless customer experience 

·         Meeting the demands of multi-channel distribution 

·         Enhancing the accuracy of inventory management 

One of the ways retailers can tackle these challenges is by implementing fine-tuned solutions in their warehouses. Solutions that integrate human collaboration with automation technology to create a CollaboMation strategy. 

Ensuring a seamless customer experience 

Customers expect a seamless experience from the moment they place an order until the product is in their hands. Increasingly, retailers need to adapt to this expectation or risk losing customers to competitors who can deliver on this promise. To meet this demand, however, retailers must overcome some challenges. Workforce shortages, inventory issues, and macroeconomic barriers in recent years have all impacted retailers. Therefore, a seamless customer experience requires seamless interaction between humans and machines on the warehouse floor.  

Fully automated systems aren’t feasible everywhere. This can be due to their restrictions, their cost or the need for human oversight. Technology and human workers are both integral to the smooth functioning of the shopfloor. But they need to work hand in glove. So, how can retailers strike the right balance? A key step is to undertake everything you do with the human worker in mind. After all, they are not only indispensable but also the most valuable asset in an organisation’s repertoire. So, there is a need to augment the human worker, connect them to the technology that they work alongside, and orchestrate the interactions and the traffic that make up the workflows that build the customer experience. In such an arrangement, you can utilize the respective strengths of both robots and employees while prioritizing the well-being of permanent and temporary staff. 

Along those lines, it is worth noting that many businesses may be better off deploying partially or semi-automated systems. This will allow them to build upon the operations they have in place and mitigate the risks that come with a total makeover. Needless to say, the latter is what they need to do when they decide to go for full automation. 

Partially automated solutions like automated guided vehicles (AGVs), autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), and collaborative robots (cobots) already work alongside human pickers in a warehouse setting. For example, they can identify and retrieve items, package them, and move them around quickly and accurately. Human workers oversee the process, ensuring quality control and addressing anomalies that require human input.  

This collaboration allows for faster order fulfillment, reduced errors, and increased customer satisfaction. With CollaboMation, retailers can ensure that the customer experience remains exceptional despite volatile demand. Furthermore, retail organizations aren’t asking too much from their staff, allowing innovation to compensate for the shortfall rather than risking worker wellbeing.  

Leveraging operational data  

To get the most out of CollaboMation, it is essential that organisations begin to capture and leverage their operational data. Modern technology can help to achieve this objective. For instance, hardware on the warehouse shop floor can be equipped with IMU-sensors (inertial measurement units). This will allow software applications to contextualize and refine the collected data points. As a result, managers can learn about how their operations can be optimised or which areas are underperforming. This is particularly helpful in an environment that often has auditors with clipboards gaining partial insights into warehouse operations. Instead, data driven decisions based on a reliable bottom-up picture can offer a fast path to more productivity, savings and improvements such as worker wellbeing.  

However, the technology stack needs to be non-intrusive, compliant and allow for easy pairing with the traditional warehouse technology and automation systems. It needs to be human centered and easy to deploy. The latest industry wearables can meet these requirements and thus allow for comprehensive CollaboMation systems to be deployed. 

By combining the strengths of automation and human expertise, retailers can effectively meet the demands of multi-channel distribution without compromising quality or efficiency. They may even be able to improve it. 

Increasing the accuracy of inventory management 

A recent survey from ProGlove revealed that 42 percent of warehouse workers believe inaccurate inventory is a major concern. These figures underscore that inventory management is a significant issue for many retailers and warehouse operators. However, through CollaboMation, automated technology reduces human error, and humans can oversee and improve the technology’s accuracy. This provides checks and balances that will improve inventory accuracy and help to improve a long-standing warehouse dilemma.  

In conclusion, the retail industry is enduring a period of squeezed margins and high customer expectations. Furthermore, with the proliferation of innovative technology, warehouses are at the center of its potential transformation. The meaningful collaboration of human workers and automation technology is key to addressing the challenges retailers face today. By optimising inventory management, building multi-channel capabilities, and creating a seamless warehouse environment, retailers will thrive in a dynamic, customer-centric marketplace. As we move forward, embracing this innovative approach will be essential for retailers looking to stay ahead of the curve and deliver exceptional customer experiences. 


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May 2024 issue

2024 A1 Buyers Guide