Optimizing shipping and delivery as an SMB

George Pepes, APAC Vertical Solutions Lead, Healthcare and Retail, Zebra Technologies

Omnichannel commerce has seen significant growth over the last few years. This was induced by global lockdowns and social distancing measures, changes in consumer behavior, and the emergence of new technologies.

The omnichannel shopping surge has amplified shopper expectations while putting new demands on inventory and fulfillment. And this has extended beyond the four walls of the physical store.

As pointed out by Zebra’s Small and Medium-Sized Business (SMB) Industry Lead, Amanda Honig, in today’s modern retail landscape, shipping and delivery has become an increasingly important part of the consumer experience by serving as an extension of the business’s brand.

However, SMBs face difficulties in delivering customer satisfaction. In fact, SMBs in Southeast Asia report their biggest concerns to be the maintenance of cash flow, decreased sales, potential closure of business, and the increasing inability to engage customers.

Additionally, more than one-third (39%) of consumers surveyed in ASEAN countries are less than satisfied with their digital commerce experience, citing concerns about delivery costs and services as one of the main reasons.

To keep up with customer demands and expectations while maintaining operational efficiency, SMBs need to ramp up their digitalization efforts. Achieving this goal requires them to make significant changes, from setting the right strategy, to making the necessary technology investments.

Invest in the right shipping solutions 

The unprecedented increase in demand for e-commerce consumption and overwhelming deliveries has been particularly tough for SMBs. Providing exceptional delivery is vital for them to ensure customer satisfaction.

While large retailers have access to vast resources to speed up shipping, cut costs, and account for orders that arrive incorrectly or damaged, many SMBs face a much different reality; they have little control over their customers’ shipping experiences.

These SMBs often struggle to keep up with the larger players, as many still rely heavily on manual processes to conduct their operations, which hinders their ability to increase fulfillment speed without compromising on accuracy.

As such, forward-thinking SMBs need to enhance the online experience with technology that adds visibility and real-time updates at every stage of the fulfillment process. Key priorities include replacing paper-based processes with digitalized and traceable ones, facilitating real-time communications, and optimizing inventory management to ensure that packages are accurately picked, packed, and traced. 

To do so, it is crucial for these SMBs to work together with trusted fulfillment and logistics partners that can guide them in implementing the right technologies to improve productivity and increase efficiency, while lowering costs at the same time. Finding the right partner will allow smaller players to operate at the same level as their larger competitors.

The time for digitalization

A comprehensive fulfillment process functions like a well-oiled system with many touchpoints, which does not end when the customer completes the checkout process, or even when the order is packed up and on its way to being delivered to the customer.

Digitalizing the entire tracing process improves both accuracy and efficiency. In APAC, findings reveal that nearly 69% of SMBs are accelerating their business digitalization, which is predicted to add between USD$2.6 to $3.1 trillion to APAC’s GDP by 2024.

Technologies such as mobile computers and barcode scanners are replacing paper-based work orders, making it easier for logistics workers and retail associates to quickly and accurately obtain information they need at any time. According to Zebra’s 14th Annual Global Shopper Study, associates and shoppers agree that technology such as handheld mobile computers (85%), handheld barcode scanners (84%) and wearable computers (69%) improve the customer experience.

As radio frequency identification (RFID) becomes increasingly affordable, many SMBs are also investing in systems that allow for real-time passive data capture to supplement traditional barcode-based track and trace solutions.

Make inventory visibility a priority

Inventory visibility is key to shopper satisfaction, as it enables retailers to meet shopper needs. Today, shoppers expect transparency throughout the purchase process, including up-to-date inventory information and order status updates until the items are safely received. 

When customers place online orders, they expect that items are in stock and ready to ship as soon as the same-day order is placed. Delays or canceled orders due to out-of-stocks and backorders can negatively impact the customer’s experience and loyalty to the brand. As such, retailers need to invest in inventory management tools to keep up with customer expectations.

Eighty-two percent (82%) of store associates surveyed in the same Zebra study agree that real-time inventory visibility will help them create a better customer experience. Omnichannel inventory transparency is particularly critical for today’s unstable supply chains as it can help retailers overcome these challenges and better meet customer demand.

Prior to the pandemic, retailers were already facing heightened customer expectations for service and inventory accuracy. To meet today’s on-demand consumer expectations, SMB retailers need to find ways to facilitate the blending of online and in-store operations seamlessly.

With the right technologies, SMBs can achieve greater fulfillment efficiency and real-time inventory visibility, which translates into better control over their shipping process.