Robot for hire: How automation can help retailers' supply chains

Shopping is sometimes an unpleasant but necessary evil. Depending on what you need to buy, the outing may be the last thing you want to do. The fact that the whole ordeal is a process doesn't help matters. You'll have to travel to the store, search the aisles and racks, and then wait in line to pay. It may take a lot longer than anticipated.

However, the Internet has revitalized the shopping experience. Without ever leaving home, you can purchase whatever you need with the click of the mouse. It may take a while for you to receive the item, but it'll be simpler and more convenient to do it online.

Unfortunately, if you're on the retailer side of shopping, the Web doesn't necessarily make the practice easier. Sales and revenue will increase, but you'll have to find the extra help to process the orders. If you want to keep up with the multitude of customer requests coming in, you'll have to automate parts of the operation.

Automation offers high quality and speed
According to the UPS Industrial Buying Dynamics study, 81 percent of consumers purchase their products online. While many other people buy items in person, via email or over the phone, they also use the Internet. The majority of customers who chose another method would resort to online ordering as their next choice. Combining the high demand of online sales with consumers' desire to have same-day or next day delivery, retailers and distribution centers have their work set out for them.

This is where automation can help, BetaNews claimed. Machines can be used in nearly every aspect of the supply chain. Manufacturing, sorting, packaging and weighing can all be done by automation. By replacing human employees with machines in certain areas of the company, distribution can go much faster with potentially more accuracy. The process also eliminates the need for large warehouses and in-person customer services. Procure-to-pay solutions ensure that customers and retailers are invoiced correctly for items they order from suppliers, the source explained.

With everything online, there is little need for manual labor. Automation eliminates inefficiencies in the workflow, simplifies the supply chain and produces merchandise at exceedingly high rates, according to Multichannel Merchant. With basic off-the-shelf software, any business can meet these goals.

Employees needed to oversee machines
Automation may make ordering and distribution methods more efficient, but it can still make errors. If something is labeled wrong or located in the wrong place, mistakes could easily be made. This is why human employees are still crucial to the distribution center. While machines may do the heavy lifting, people are needed to check for quality and accuracy.

In fact, because of the high volume of orders that come in with e-commerce, more workers are needed than in a regular brick-and-mortar store, Multichannel Merchant reported. Because of the speed that these orders need to get out, the Material Handling Institute encourages training technical school students in order fulfillment and material handling. There aren't enough employees who can perform these tasks, so schools are pushing for distribution-based educations.

Once these students have made it into the real world of employment, they are able to compensate for the jobs automated processes can't handle. People act as the final obstacle merchandise must overcome to go to their new owners. These employees double check orders for accuracy and ensure nothing has been damaged between the time it was made and when it ended up in the distribution center.

To compete in today's fast-paced society, supply chains need to implement automated processes. By sharing the work with machines and employees, distribution will be much easier.

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