Many leading retailers are exploring and implementing smart devices to improve order fulfillment processes in response to the continuing rise in e-commerce.
Smartphones come with a wide array of features. These offer the opportunity to bring speed, accuracy and intelligence to order picking and the wider order fulfillment process.
This guide aims to help you understand how the order fulfillment process can be improved with smart devices. It covers everything from app design to examples of retailers who have implemented it in days.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is order fulfillment?
Order fulfillment refers to the process of receiving, processing, and delivering customer orders in a timely and accurate manner. It involves picking the items from inventory, assembling the order, and then either shipping them to the customer’s address or making them available for collection.
Ensuring that the right order is delivered on time, every time is essential for customer satisfaction and loyalty as product availability and speed are differentiating factors for retailers. The use of smart devices can play a big role in ensuring order speed and accuracy.
Common approaches to order fulfillment
The 3 approaches most commonly used in retail order fulfillment are: in-house fulfillment, third-party outsourced fulfillment and dropshipping. Choosing an approach or a hybrid model will depend on several factors including products sold, the size of the business and order volumes.
In-house fulfillment: This approach involves retailers managing their order fulfillment process, typically using their warehouses and stores, workers, and logistics systems. In-house fulfillment gives retailers greater control over the process and allows them to offer customized solutions to shoppers, but it can require significant investment in infrastructure, technology and personnel and be a challenge to scale.
Third-party outsourced fulfillment: With this approach, retailers partner with third parties to manage their order fulfillment process. The outsourced providers take care of everything from warehousing and inventory management to order picking and delivery. It can offer retailers a good way to deal with peaks in demand but it can also mean a loss of customer data and control over prices.
Dropshipping: This approach involves retailers selling products without actually holding inventory. The retailer focuses on the web storefront and marketing while a partner handles the whole fulfillment process, shipping products directly to the customer. This approach allows retailers to limit the costs of holding lots of inventory but they have very little control over the fulfillment process and logistics.
How smart devices improve the end-to-end in-store order fulfillment process
Scanning and capturing data from barcodes is a huge part of retail in general. Retailers have different options when it comes to what devices they select for their workers to use. But the choices tend to sit in two areas – dedicated scanning devices and multi-functional smart devices.
Recently, the flexibility and ease of use of smart devices are tipping the balance in their favor. With large and aspirational retailers like Walmart giving smart devices to each of their 800,000 store associates, the trend is set to continue. Let’s explore each part of an in-store order fulfillment process and see how smart devices and an order fulfillment app can play a crucial part.
3 key components of the in-store order fulfillment process
The in-store order fulfillment process usually contains the following 3 steps: picking, order assembly and customer collection or delivery.
1. Order picking
The rise in online shopping has put retail stores under increasing pressure – and it is the workers that feel this pressure. Order picking for click-and-collect and home delivery can be a tough job. Workers are often managing huge orders and picking in store to a deadline. All while keeping out of the way of customers.
Having sufficient resources to meet demand and deadlines is a pain point for retailers. On the one hand labor shortages mean that attracting and retaining workers is difficult.
On the other reducing delivery slots would put revenue at risk as customers shop around to make sure they get their items when they want them.
Finding a way to be more efficient and fulfill the same amount of orders with existing resources is one solution. And smartphones enabled with the right technology are an excellent way to boost efficiency and alleviate pressure.
Smartphones are instantly familiar, and their touchscreens and feedback provide an ideal interface for an order-picking app.
One of the biggest challenges in creating a data-capture application for order pickers is creating a user experience that supports the process in both an ergonomic and efficient way. Three priority areas need to be considered:
- Scanning performance: Picking can be a scan-heavy task, especially for groceries where basket sizes can be well over 100 items. Scanning the item and the bin each time. Failed scans and mis-scans cause delays and frustrations so top scanning performance is integral to the app’s use.
- Process and user interface: The picker needs to be able to see the current and following items they should pick. The picking app should include the product location, image, and other information for easy identification. The bin number should be visible once the item is scanned. Lastly, the picker should be able to see a progress indicator for that order.
- Ergonomics: Take advantage of the smart device touchscreen and haptic feedback (advanced vibration patterns convey information to a user or operator) capabilities. Use haptic feedback for pickers wearing headphones or working in a loud environment. Pickers are constantly handling products. So they need to be able to operate the device with one hand. There should also be clear feedback to distinguish between correct and incorrect scans.
2. Order assembly
Once orders are picked and stored back-of-house ready for delivery or collection, the right order must be assembled. A customer’s order may contain multiple items that are stored in different locations. Especially grocery orders which will include frozen and chilled produce that need to be stored under certain conditions.
Finding all the correct elements in the staging area can be a slow process. Scanning or visually inspecting labels one by one.
Here, smart devices with the right data capture capabilities can transform this process. Scanning multiple items at once and receiving immediate on-screen guidance via augmented reality allows workers to speed through and ensure the order is assembled as fast and as accurately as possible.
3. Delivery or pickup
The final stage in the order fulfillment process is delivery or pickup. In both cases, a check will need to be carried out to confirm that the right order is being provided to the right customer.
Checks can be as simple as scanning a barcode or QR code when the order is handed over but for high-value or age-restricted goods an ID check may be required.
ID scanning can streamline this process. Powered by the right data capture technology, smart devices can scan driver’s licenses, passports, visas and identity cards to automate ID verification. Other advantages include:
- Flexibility: a single device can be used for ID scanning as well as other retail tasks.
- Speed: there’s no need for manual data entry, scan an ID in less than 1 second.
- Security: data can be processed directly on the device, keeping customers’ Personal Identifiable Information (PII) secure.
- Accuracy: it removes human error when verifying ages.
- Reliability: retailers can rely on accurate information and data records.
Automating the age verification process, especially for age-restricted goods, can ensure regulatory compliance and mitigate against potential human error or fraud that could lead to fines and penalties.
Order fulfillment example: The Warehouse success story
Back in 2020 – like many retailers worldwide – New Zealand’s The Warehouse, a sports goods, electronics and fashionwear retailer, had to close its stores for lockdown. In this case, stores were completely closed for a month.
After that, it was able to sell online.
In the first three days, The Warehouse was hit by a 600% increase in online orders. At this point, it was attempting to fulfill orders using a paper-based solution.
Speaking in a recent Scandit webinar, The Warehouse chapter lead devops Trevor Jones said: “Our online team is pretty capable. They’ve managed to build up a whole bunch of capacity over the years, but they’ve never really had anything quite like this.”
As a result, they built a picking app for mobile devices the staff already had. Orders would be sent directly to store associate devices.
Here is the workflow of how The Warehouse achieved this in a matter of days.
Jones added: “Thank goodness for mobile devices. One of the nice things about the user interface on my smartphone is you can display lists and scrollable lists and everybody knows how to use it.”
“The dedicated devices that we had couldn’t do that sort of thing. So we put together an app that displays a bunch of orders [so store associates can] go over the toy department and pick these things and go over to the hardware department. It just made life so easy. And we’ve been rolling that out and everybody loves it.”
Beyond in-store order fulfillment
There are many advantages to using smart devices for in-store order fulfillment. These include better UX for staff, the ability to increase workflow efficiencies (with the right SDK), and durability.
And with Scandit, it can also be implemented quickly.
Moreover, smart devices can be made readily available to employees throughout their shifts. This means the device can carry out numerous other back-of-store tasks.
These could range from shelf management to clienteling. Our SDK also enables you to implement advanced technologies like augmented reality to make your store associates even more productive.
Get in touch if you want to find out more about this and set up an order fulfillment system using smart devices powered by Scandit.