Survey Says: Invest in Warehouse Technology

It’s no secret that e-commerce is changing the landscape of warehousing. Forrester Research estimates online sales in the U.S. will increase 56 percent—from $335 billion to $523 billion—over the next five years. Coupled with ever-growing consumer expectations for instant gratification, the pressure on warehouses is set to grow exponentially.

So how do industry leaders plan to keep up with these unprecedented demands? The short answer is technology investment. A recent survey of more than 1300 IT and operations warehouse professionals across 12 countries revealed some compelling trends.

By the year 2020:

  • 75 percent of decision makers plan to adopt more modern, full-featured warehouse management systems (WMS).
  • 73 percent plan to equip staff with advanced visibility, barcode scanning and/or computing technologies.
  • 76 percent anticipate investing more in real-time location systems that track inventory and assets throughout the warehouse.

The numbers are clear. If you’re not planning to upgrade your warehouse technology, you’re in the minority. Let’s delve deeper into this survey, conducted anonymously for Zebra, and explore what the warehouse of tomorrow might look like.

Leaner, More Streamlined Operations

According to the Zebra Warehouse Vision Report, 76 percent of businesses are planning to increase the number of warehouses and distribution centers, while 61 percent plan to reduce space expansions and relocate existing structures. This would result in a greater number of smaller facilities, spread farther apart. In addition, 58 percent plan to invest in warehouse/truck loading automation technology.

The intent? Slash transportation costs (a major factor driving change according to 43 percent of respondents), speed up delivery times (critical to 41 percent of those surveyed), and take full advantage of new supplier and partner locations (important to 32 percent of decision makers).

A More Productive, Connected Workforce

Forty-six percent of respondents cited labor performance/productivity and order turnaround time as the largest order picking and fulfillment issues, with order accuracy just behind at 41 percent. Considering that picking and fulfillment typically comprise 70 percent of a facility’s operating costs, it’s no wonder industry leaders are laser-focused on making improvements in this area.

Equipping staff with advanced technologies such as wearables, mobile handheld computers and tablets can significantly impact your bottom line. For instance, multi-modal wearable solutions take advantage of the full spectrum of workers’ capabilities by:

  • Enabling voice-directed, hands-free picking
  • Allowing staff to view items and pick locations on screen
  • Simplifying barcode and RFID tag scanning
  • Facilitating easy input of information via touchscreen

The result? According to recent data, multi-modal wearable solutions can improve picking and fulfillment productivity by 15 percent and reduce errors by 39 percent.

Complete Visibility

The survey revealed that 62 percent of warehouse professionals plan to invest in the Internet of Things (IoT) to gain unprecedented visibility into every facet of the supply chain.

As the application of the IoT, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology gives managers the ability to know the precise location of everything from individual pallets to cases to SKUs at any given moment. No wonder over half of survey respondents plan to more than double their usage of RFID for cycle counts and inventory validation by 2020.

As retailers strive to merge physical and digital operations, cut transportation costs and improve efficiency, the transition to best-of-breed, real-time warehouse management systems is nearly ubiquitous. But perhaps the most enticing aspect of the warehouse of tomorrow is that it can be achieved today. See the full Zebra Warehouse Vision Report to learn more (

Offering an unparalleled portfolio of enterprise-level solutions, from RFID, barcoding and mobile computing to wearables, printers and software, Zebra is committed to making businesses as smart and connected as the world we live in.

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