How Mobile Tech Can Ease The COVID-19 Burden On Retail And Logistics

By   Stefan Spendrup
VP Enterprise Mobility, Northern and Western Europe , SOTI | Jun 30, 2020 02:11 am PST

There isn’t a single industry that remains unaffected by COVID-19. The closure of non-essential shops on the 26th of March, coupled with strict social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus, has naturally caused a surge in online purchases and home deliveries during the lockdown. This, in turn, has inevitably put significant strain on the logistics industry to fulfil orders, while still taking the necessary safety precautions, thus decreasing worker efficiency.

Supermarkets have been especially impacted. Previously, UK consumers would typically buy 60 to 65% of their food (measured by calories) at supermarkets, but with restaurants and cafes shut, shoppers have bought 85% to 95% of their food there instead. During the first few weeks of lockdown, an extra £1bn of food was reportedly being stowed in people’s cupboards.

The huge surge in demand has led to retail websites crashing or having to implement ticketing systems to cope with demand, which has had a knock-on effect on delays to delivery times. As it struggled to get to grips with the pandemic, retail giant Amazon told third-party sellers it would temporarily cease shipments of non-essential items to warehouses, so that the company could prioritise medical supplies and household goods. This interruption lasted 20 days, between March 17 to April 5, 2020. Although Amazon has resumed fulfilment of non-essential items, there are and will continue to be, ongoing strains and pressures on retail and transportation and logistics (T&L) industries.

With no firm end to COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing measures in sight, mobile technology holds the key to helping retail and T&L industries manage consumer demands and operate in the ‘new normal’ sustainably, by increasing efficiency, managing workloads and solving problems quickly. Here are four key considerations for optimising mobility:

1. Becoming more efficient

T&L solution providers are looking to improve service for both their business customers and consumers, lower costs and increase staff productivity.

Using handheld mobile technology in warehouses can help employees fulfil customer orders in a fraction of the time it takes with traditional systems. This in turn also helps brands to make better decisions on what products they need to supply to their retail shops, thus meeting the demands of their customers faster.

For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) implemented new hardware and software in its warehouse to help improve efficiency. It was subsequently able to reduce its costs in the warehouse by £100,000 per year, becoming more efficient and speeding up its picking and packing operations.

2. Increasing reliability and reducing risk

Complexity is often a factor in transportation and logistics. Weather, staffing issues and vehicle scheduling are just a few factors that can create confusion in shipping a large number of diverse goods. Service issues that waste time and money, threaten to undermine regulatory compliance and disappoint customers, must clearly be avoided.

Logistics staff and drivers depend on their mobile devices and apps to do their jobs. When their device goes down, workers stop working. Using remote control software to manage mobile devices, IT departments can deploy, as well as secure and manage mobile devices across vast geographic areas, without the need to send an engineer onsite.

For example, STEF, a temperature-controlled logistics and transportation services company moving fresh produce across Europe, calculates that remote enrolment and provisioning saves two to four man-hours per device, reducing shipping costs. Across all its devices, this equates to tens of thousands of man-hours per year on device deployment alone. It is also an important step in the company’s eventual goal of eliminating paper from its shipping and delivery operations all together.

3. Providing management with visibility

Line managers and business leaders need to understand what is happening within their distribution network in real-time, and respond with both accuracy and efficiency.

By having complete visibility of their supply chain, decision makers can quickly diagnose and fix issues. Failure to do this can have an impact on dispatching, customer relationship management, asset management, mobile point of sale (mPOS) and warehouse management.

By adopting a mobile-first strategy, businesses can improve workforce performance efficiencies, increase sales, improve decision making speed and scale and, ultimately, their ability to cope with the added demands placed by the coronavirus pandemic.

4. Ensuring security

With a spike in cybersecurity threats around the coronavirus, it’s important that technology used in transportation and logistics is properly secured and maintained in order to keep pace with the evolving situation. At the same time, it’s important that employees can access the right data and information to improve efficiency.

However, employers need to ensure that their employees are accessing business-critical technology and data in a secure way. Employees using corporate devices to access unauthorised websites, apps or content can threaten a business’ security and decrease productivity.

The right business-critical mobility solution will allow organisations to create integrated mobility management solutions, that have centralised user authentication, single sign-on and role management functionality, which will ensure data security within the business.

By implementing mobile technology that is properly managed and monitored remotely, retailers and T&L businesses can ease the burden of erratic order volumes, keep their staff safe and navigate this crisis. Without it, they will continue to feel the pressure and could find themselves struggling to operate.