Supply chains and retail fulfillment have never been more tumultuous. Fortunately, there’s an abundant amount of new technology hitting the market to help automate fulfillment, keep shelves stocked and improve the bottom line.
Retail fulfillment is far more complex than direct-to-consumer. The pressure is on the provider to stock the retailer’s shelves with the right amount of product, instead of delivering one unit directly to the consumer’s front door.
By its nature, retail fulfillment requires a much higher level of organization, accuracy and product control than factory-based drop shipments. One major difference between the two is the challenge of predicting and sending out the right amount of a particular product. It’s notoriously difficult to forecast how a product will sell at a given location. Too much product results in waste and an unhappy business partner. Not enough of it leaves consumers empty-handed and upset.
Management of e-commerce remains an issue, even with brick-and-mortar stores. E-commerce sales are soaring; it’s estimated that physical stores are using nearly a third of their space for that method of fulfillment, which affects decisions on how much product to send to each retailer.
What’s needed is a big-picture understanding of the entire supply chain process. By improving product visibility and working to get the most accurate picture of a product’s movement throughout the supply chain, retailers ensure the right balance between supply and demand.
A promising technology for achieving that goal is the digital twin, which creates a virtual representation of a process or organization to help workers control and optimize workflows. Digital twins can increase warehouse efficiency by 25%, by using data and internet of things (IoT) connectivity to create a real-time simulation of any part of the supply chain.
Digital twins are gaining popularity in both the warehouse and the physical store. They allow the retailer to test different products, change inventory numbers, and simulate varying conditions of in-store purchases and e-commerce fulfillment. Most notably, they can simulate changes without having to deal with the repercussions of real life. In a time when retail fulfillment is so specific and unpredictable, a digital twin can take away some of the volatility of working in fulfillment.
Distributors looking to deploy a digital twin should think first about which parts of the supply chain would benefit most from the technology. They can then address technology applications that are already in place and can be partnered with a digital twin, whether that’s sensors, barcodes or databases. They should also consider reaching out to technology consultants who specialize in digital twins to find out more about the implementation process.
Navigating a partnership with a retailer is no easy task, but it’s an essential part of the greater supply chain, and key to keeping the business profitable.
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