Here, we’ll explore whether technology has altered how companies make supply chains more efficient, what has changed, and how retail will utilise technology in the future.

What do customers expect?

Customers buying items online demand convenience at every stage. When they’ve received one service from a business, the bar is raised, and they expect that all their other favourite brands will do the same.

Whether it’s a custom-made men’s blazer or a personalised piece of jewellery, getting a product to their front door the next day and being able to check online for its delivery progress is vital for many customers. For businesses, this means that an efficient supply chain with a well-managed inventory tracking system is essential. And, when it comes to getting in touch with the business, customers expect instant contact through the channels that they’re most used to — Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging platforms.

How does the supply chain begin?

The production of goods is also changing with the evolution of technology. In the Digital Age, more products are being tailored to the buyer due to their love for personalised purchases. However, customers still expect fast manufacturing and for their order to be delivered quickly. So, how has technology created more of an efficient supply chain?

First, the developments in cloud storage allow data to be stored wirelessly. Since automatic backups and uploads can now take place, there are fewer crashes and lost data occurrences, which is great news for retail companies.

Then, there’s 3D printing — a form of ‘additive manufacturing’.  This is where there are no wasted raw materials, and via this technique, this type of printing creates products with time and material efficiency.

Robots are also growing in importance and use. When it comes to customised products, using robots means that they can be created on demand, providing an efficient creation and delivery service.

The importance of AI

One major technology advancement is artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, according to 2017 findings by McKinsey & Company, taking an AI approach to the supply chain could reduce forecasting errors by up to 50% and overall inventory reductions of between 20% and 50%. Chief executive of Platform Thinking Labs, Sangeet Paul Choudary, claims: “Having a direct link between the actual data being gathered and conveying that back up the supply chain means that designers and developers in the business can come back with the right products in much shorter lead times.”

AI is designed to behave as a human would, which is why it can be so useful. In the supply chain, AI can assist with packaging, research and development, and inventory management to make processes more efficient.

AI will help retail companies identify emerging trends and monitor changes in consumer behaviour. Machines with AI abilities can also gather information on location so that warehouses in certain areas can stock more of a product that’s popular in the area. This goes on to improve delivery times and customer satisfaction.

What’s more, keeping an eye on stock levels and collecting key data regarding operations are also AI attributes. This process removes the potential error of miscounting inventory or recording inaccurate information, which could then go onto lead to the wrong amount of stock being replenished.

Going-out tops retailer, QUIZ, has an 180,000 square-foot distribution centre in Scotland and uses live data and insights to analyse product performance — resulting in the ability to make “informed and speedy key buying decisions”. The brand also implements a test and repeat approach to its supply chain so that it can “introduce new products to stores and websites within weeks of identifying trends and reorder successful products quickly.”

Human jobs and the effect of technology in retail

Are human employees at risk of losing out to technology? Computers seem to have been given crucial roles that were formerly filled by humans in some retail companies. At Amazon, employees who were once in charge of securing major deals have been replaced with software that can predict what shoppers want and how to set prices.

But not all jobs can be taken over by machines. One example of this is John Lewis, which opened two new distribution centres in Milton Keynes in 2016 that created 500 new jobs.

A computer isn’t sympathetic to a customer’s plight, nor can it offer personal after-sales services as adequately as a human. So, does this mean some jobs are safer than others?

Technology and retail in years to come

Retail business owners need to be at least aware of emerging technology and new services for supplying customers. When it comes to AI, any platform that has access to customer insights and data has the ability to connect directly to manufacturers to integrate and better inform the process.

Delivering an item quickly is an essential feature of any good retail business. As more people want the same amount of choice at a higher speed, this means that warehouses must stock a wide range of sizes, colours and styles at each of their locations — in close enough proximity to anyone who orders. In fact, there are already massive distribution centres, equal to the size of a town, which logistical networks that pick products from the shelves and send them on their way to customers.

Take a look at your supply chain and determine where areas could be enhanced with technology. Why not implement autonomous electric vehicles that operate through the night or intelligent algorithms that can predict the most efficient routes for customer delivery? Both will make your supply chain much more efficient and consumer-friendly!