Taking Stock: Brave new world

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by Emily Atkins
Inside Logistics editor Emily Atkins.

This pandemic isn’t showing any signs of giving up. The so-called second wave has morphed into a growing series of scares over mutant versions of the coronavirus. As the old and new version keep circulating, vaccine distribution is hitting serious challenges. People are locked down again, travel is not rebounding, and everybody is getting pretty tired of it all.

But there continues to be a bright spot in all this with the lockdown-fueled surge in e-commerce. Consumers who have adopted online shopping in an effort to stay safe from the Covid-19 virus have discovered they like the convenience and choice afforded by shopping on a screen and having their purchases delivered to the front door, or at minimum to the curb for pickup. A survey by Canadian e-commerce enabler Shopify (see page 9 this issue for details) demonstrated that, around the world, almost 45 percent of people will hesitate to return to in-store shopping, even after the pandemic is over.

Click here to see the full February 2021 print edition of Inside Logistics.

This shift in habits is having a tremendous effect on the companies involved in fulfilling online orders. Omni-channel commerce has trickled down to your local mom-and-pop shop. Small independent businesses that want to survive lockdown closures are being forced to embrace e-commerce, learning how to take orders online and fulfill them from their storefronts, and then offer local delivery or curbside pickup.

And, while that’s a significant challenge for a small organization, for the larger enterprise, the scale and speed required to keep up with growing, pandemic-fed e-commerce volumes are frequently necessitating a radical new approach to order fulfillment. When volumes mount and speed increases, process designers are looking to automation as a means of keeping up.

However, as we found in our feature, “Rebooting after the pandemic”, on page 22 this issue, adding automation or robotics isn’t always simple or quick. The variability of the e-commerce distribution centre environment, where every order picked consists of a different mix of SKUs, makes the task of automating much more complex. It’s a challenge that both process designers and automation providers are working hard to solve.

If your company is in the midst of an automation implementation or is thinking about embarking on an investment, please drop me a note at emily@newcom.ca. We’d love to share your story!