British e-commerce businesses are facing a pressing challenge: a shortage of warehouse operatives and the associated cost inefficiencies. Brands selling online are therefore looking at the best ways to improve productivity, future-proof themselves against staff shortages, and preserve the customer experience in order to maintain a healthy sales pipeline.
For large retailers running their own warehouses, and for 3PLs (third-party logistics partners) fulfilling orders on behalf of smaller retailers, automation and robotics have been the go-to solution for many years.
By implementing cutting-edge technology, companies can enhance productivity, reduce stress on warehouse teams, and create a more satisfying work environment, therefore attracting and retaining talent and optimising operations for postal and e-commerce fulfilment.
An example of this is the use of automated sorting and over-labelling technology in parcel distribution centres, which are particularly effective at combatting labour shortages during peak times.
The technology allows companies to scale up to the required capacity without a scramble to hire seasonal staff – something that has become increasingly difficult in recent years.
Why e-commerce delivery CX matters
Here’s a bit more background to explain the context. The UK has one of the most mature e-commerce markets in the world. High demands from customers – who tend to want their parcels yesterday – are heightening the need for greater efficiencies in fulfilment centres and warehouses.
In 2020, the warehouse automation market size in the UK amounted to over US$1.3 billion, according to Statista. In that same year, the UK was the leading spender in warehouse automation.
In 2020, the warehouse automation market size in the UK amounted to over US$1.3 billion.
While the Covid-driven boom in e-commerce orders has flattened out, retailers and their logistics partners continue to invest in automation and robotics for supply chain efficiency and to overcome the issue of labour shortages post-Brexit.
This technology can significantly increase the speed of operations and enhance both customer experience and customer satisfaction, as big players such as Amazon and Ocado have demonstrated in recent years with their advanced picking and packing solutions.
Conveyor belt improvements mean belts and chutes can accurately sort multiple items every second. Articulated robotic arms can pack goods into boxes and apply labels with speed and precision. These innovations are already helping companies manage costs, deal with hiring shortfalls, and improve safety and service levels.
Scalability is another advantage. Businesses can use robots to increase warehouse capacity and manage larger volumes, making it easier for businesses to flex their operations in line with real-time demand.
All of these innovations benefit the customers. Improvements in efficiency and accuracy mean customers will be receiving their orders more quickly and with fewer errors, which could play a big part in improving companies’ CSAT scores.
Moreover, this technology could be vital in enhancing the returns process – an area of e-commerce that continues to be problematic.
In a recent article for MyCustomer, Moritz Weisbrodt discussed the importance of streamlined returns management and the impact it can have on customer loyalty:
“The bottom line is that a positive refund experience can make or break your brand. Rising customer expectations show no signs of slowing, and e-commerce businesses need an efficient and automatic system to handle returns.”
Today, robotic mechanisms are becoming increasingly intricate and sophisticated in what can be achieved, with more logic and mobility built into the robots.
Robotic arms specifically designed for rapid over-labelling of parcels are one of the many ways in which automation is helping parcel processing centres. The machines are speeding up an essential pre-shipping process on behalf of retail clients.
How does this improve CX?
As mentioned earlier, it has solved any potential labour shortage issues at peak times, because throughput can be scaled with ease and without the need for a major seasonal recruitment drive.
Peak trading has been easier to manage, with less risk of delays to parcel processing. A great deal of highly demanding manual work has been taken out of the equation, allowing warehouse staff to be redeployed into other parts of the business.
Solving labour shortages and improving efficiency means customers are getting hold of their items more quickly.
Taking the pressure off people, and the automated processing itself, are factors which together dramatically speed up the delivery service. Thanks to the switch to automated parcel processing, retailers’ shipments can catch earlier flights and road haulage departures, meaning shoppers get hold of their items sooner.
Embracing robotic arms impacts CX
Naturally, there is a degree of upheaval and cost when automating elements of a warehouse operation. However, we found that ROI can be achieved rapidly, retail clients are impressed, and employees are less frazzled at peak times. Ultimately, automation makes it possible to run a smoother, safer, more CX-focused operation.
So why should logistics firms be prioritising digital and operational CX now? For one, business decision-makers recognise the importance of building value with their brand, especially in times of economic uncertainty, when customers’ spending power is at a low ebb. But first and foremost, providing an outstanding customer experience is about growing the customer base and ensuring customer success and retention. Be sure that if you’re not doing it, your competition probably is.