The past year has been disruptive, to say the least. Consumers, retailers and entire supply chains have had to adapt the way they think and act – on more than one occasion. And many have had to make hard, even impossible, decisions. One retail analyst firm suggests up to 10,000 U.S. stores could close this year. If that happens, it will set a new record – just over 8,700 closed in 2020. But, as they say, when one door closes, another one opens. In this case, the door is opening for thousands of small businesses that can fill the void left by exiting companies.

With worldwide e-commerce sales expected to reach $4.921 trillion in 2021,[1] new and growing brands don’t even have to open physical stores to get customers “in the door.” They just need to build frictionless online shopping experiences and supply chains that get orders to customers’ front doors on time, every time – which is where small warehouse operators who embrace the latest tech can find open doors.

The Small Business(es) Behind the Brand

When consumers buy something at a store, whether in person or on the internet, they aren’t thinking about how it got there. They’re just happy they got what they wanted. When items are out of stock, they don’t care why. They simply go elsewhere. As a result, retailers suffer most when something goes awry during fulfillment. But warehouse operators could eventually feel the loss, too, as retailers will make changes behind the scenes to protect their reputations.

On the flip side, when things go well, warehouse operators win big – especially smaller ones that prove they can keep up amid rising demand. Retailers and consumers only care about accurate, on-time fulfillment, and they’ll increasingly flow business to those who can deliver.

That’s why it’s so important for small warehouse operators embrace technology solutions that help them efficiently track inventory, pick and pack orders, and ship products. Doing so helps minimize growing pains by:

Empowering Workers

Warehouse operators are struggling to recruit and retain a new generation of workers. So, industry leaders are leaning into technology that makes jobs more manageable and less stressful. Smaller businesses should, too.

Giving employees intuitive, ergonomic, and dependable mobile devices that can be customized to their personal working style will go a long way to making warehousing a more desirable occupation. Wearable ring scanners or heads-up-displays that keep paired mobile computers on their hips and their hands free all day can enable workers to accomplish tasks efficiently and accurately. When linked with the right software, scanning, and printing tools, these mobility solutions also streamline workflows – another productivity and morale booster.

Expanding Visibility

Warehouse operators, shipping companies and customers all need to be in the loop about what’s happening on every order. It’s not excessive. It’s table stakes. Fulfillment teams must know what to prioritize. Shipping partners must know when to pick up packages. And customers want to know when orders will be arriving, or if they’ll be late (and why), without having to chat with a representative.

Yet, warehouse operators can only provide this level of visibility if the devices used to scan items and process orders are connected to backend systems that can instantly aggregate, analyze and distribute such details.

Forecasting Demand

As more merchants test out the influence of concierge-level services online, it’s becoming hard for warehouse operators to forecast demand. Products that sat dormant on shelves for months may sell out overnight if consumers agree they “might like this” and impulsively add items to carts. So, warehouse operators with limited space must keep a keen eye on their inventory if they want to make smarter stocking decisions and their own recommendations to retailers about what products to curate based on SKU performance and availability.

Reducing Vulnerabilities

Cybercriminals don’t discriminate based on company size. And allowing workers to complete tasks with their personal devices could expose the entire supply chain to mobile malware workers pick up outside the workplace. Therefore, all warehouse operators should reduce vulnerabilities by giving workers corporate-owned devices that can be properly managed and locked down using the latest software and built-in security mechanisms.

Preparing for Growth (Now, Even If You’re Just Getting Started)

Peak season is the perfect time for small warehouse operators to prove they’re the right fulfillment partners for retailers. Or, if they’re small e-tailers themselves, to show consumers they can fill the void left by exiting retailers. But they must be forward-thinking – and constantly thinking about how technology can be put to work, so teams don’t have to work as hard to manage inventory or get orders to customers on time.

To learn more how small retailers and warehouse operators can use technology to improve supply chain operations and secure their place in today’s competitive market, click here.

Amanda Honig is currently a Regional Portfolio Manager for Zebra in North America. In this role, she leads the strategy and roadmap for enterprise mobile computing by identifying investment priorities and ensuring product and solution requirements by use case, all while representing the voice of the customer across the region and providing strategic sales support. Leveraging her genuine passion for helping customers get the most out of our products, Amanda also serves as a small and medium-sized business (SMB) Industry Lead.

[1] eMarketer, “Global Ecommerce Forecast 2021,” July 7, 2021.

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