Online retailers need greater automation in the warehouse to help meet delivery schedules during peak periods and to improve customer service, shows independent market research from Conveyor Networks.
Surveying the views of 100+ mid-tier online retailers, Conveyor Networks, a leading provider of warehouse automation and software solutions, found that 83% believe that automation will drive future online retail growth. 76% claim to be handling up to 50,000 orders per day, with this rising to 75,000 orders per day for some during peak periods, putting pressure on warehousing and delivery and increasing the likelihood of errors.
Online retailers admit they're facing big challenges and are feeling the pressure to deliver on time. And almost half blame a lack of staff to fulfil orders (45%) and order errors (42%) as hurdles to meeting delivery schedules.
However, in spite of these common obstacles almost three-quarters (74%) of respondents have less than half of their warehouse management processes currently automated, and almost half (49%) are planning to further reduce manual warehouse processes before their next peak spell.
The majority of online retailers claimed that customer expectations on delivery have risen significantly over the last five years, with 59% admitting that meeting these expectations is the biggest challenge they face. And with the UK, leading the way when it comes to online spend per household, retailers are keen to ensure that the customer ordering experience is seamless.
Almost three quarters of online retailers believe that increased warehouse automation will help them improve their customer service capabilities. Just under half are planning to change their order fulfilment processes in the future with 49% believing that increased automation will enable them to handle orders more quickly and efficiently during peak periods. In addition 41% said it would help them to respond to orders more quickly; while 38% said it would help reduce picking and packing errors.
The survey also shows that online retailers believe that customers are more concerned about the ability to track their order online than they are about next day delivery, with just over half planning to offer tracking service capabilities to their customers in the future.
Commenting on the research, David Carroll, managing director, Conveyor Networks said: "Today's savvy online shoppers have high expectations when it comes to deliveries. They want to receive their goods quickly and conveniently and if they don't want to keep them, return them just as easily.
"As a result, online retailers can no longer suffer order delays or errors, or difficult ordering and returns processes because shoppers will take their business elsewhere.
"Many are also concerned about the impact of customers leaving negative comments on their social media channels if they've received bad service, so many are working hard to ensure all parts of the order and delivery process are as seamless as possible.
"By increasing automation - from mobile devices such as handheld scanners to help the pick process, to using a fully automated bagging line in packing –a range of slow, laborious and error prone manual processes in the warehouse can be made much more efficient. Retailers can meet delivery promises more effectively, process orders more efficiently during peak periods, and reduce the number of returns due to incorrect orders."
Conveyor Networks works with many leading retailers to help them address their warehousing challenges including: QVC, Debenhams, WHSmith, GameSeek, The Bookpeople, Specsavers and Pets at Home.
About the research
This research was conducted by Sapio Research in February 2018, surveying 100+ online retailers, employing more than 250 people across a variety of retail sectors.