Last week I returned to the National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show for the first time in 3 years. A crowd of nearly 37,000 people flocked to the Javits Center in New York City to see what new solutions and innovations software suppliers had in store for 2023 and beyond. The usual themes were still very present as solution providers and retailers alike were more than happy to talk about omni-channel, mobility, and machine learning, to name a few. This year, the recurring theme was all about customer empowerment and how this leads to a positive customer experience.
Throughout the conference I met with a number of software and hardware suppliers to get a glimpse of what they were showcasing. Here are the ones that stood out to me. This is not an exhaustive list; I will bring you part 2 in a future article which looks at returns management, with solutions from Happy Returns (PayPal), FarEye, and Zebra’s partnership with Opturo.
At NRF 2023, Blue Yonder showcased a number of solutions around omni-channel order management and e-commerce integration. From a supply chain standpoint, the solution of note was the company’s TMS. In a conversation with Blue Yonder executives, they pointed out that retailers are looking at port diversification for improved sourcing and allocation. While retailers would historically allocate inventory before it hit land, they are now making these decisions based on which port the merchandise will be arriving at. A robust TMS is required for this dynamic routing.
Blue Yonder is also debuting a yard management system with Panasonic Connect. As a trailer comes into the yard, cameras scant the license plate of the truck. This scan lets the yard know what is on the trailer and can send it to the appropriate dock door, depending on labor or material constraints. The YMS will connect the TMS and WMS. This will make loadings and unloadings more efficient within the yard and warehouse.
For Manhattan Associates, NRF 2023 was focused on unification. The company touts its unified supply chain offering, which brings together TMS, WMS, labor management, YMS, and WES on a single platform. Traditionally, the unification of TMS and WMS was done through the ERP. But Manhattan has built a single platform that shares data across applications at all times. This enables retailers to make changes to routes and order at any time in the journey. For the warehouse, this means the retailer can drop a partial shipment down to the WMS and get new orders loaded into the system. This is essentially continuous optimization.
Two other solutions that were interesting were RFID and Customer Controlled Fulfillment. RFID has been the next big thing for years. Manhattan is putting RFID in the store at the item level for improved inventory accuracy. Store associates can use RFID for rapid scanning and tracking, see how much of an item is actually in stock, and replenish these items faster. Customers can also check-out quicker with RFID enabled POS stations. Customer Controlled Fulfillment allows the point of no return to be changed to later in the customer journey. The customer can change the shipping address, the timing of the delivery, or cancel the order up until delivery time.
Over the last few years, FarEye has been working to streamline the growing complexities of deliveries. Often times, the complexities are the workflows associated with last mile deliveries. For example, during the height of the Covid pandemic, FarEye’s last mile delivery solution enabled the driver to show their temperature for customer assurance for a safe delivery. At NRF 2023, FarEye really focused on customer experience. As sustainability becomes more important to retailers and consumers alike, the FarEye platform allows customers to choose a sustainable or “green” route for their delivery. These routes are generally offered at a lower delivery price point.
This is part of the larger customer experience tool kit the company has rolled out. The tool kit gives customers more visibility and flexibility over their order; they can change delivery timeslots and locations in real-time. While customers receive updates on their delivery status, retailers are able to upsell and cross-sell during the delivery based on what the customer has ordered. Additionally, using a mobile survey, retailers can capture net promoter scores at the point of delivery, which increases survey completion significantly.
FourKites was showcasing the impact of order visibility at NRF 2023. The company is looking to broaden the notion of visibility. One area FourKites is exploring is around order visibility. This actually come down to pre-order visibility. Companies can use the visibility solution to identify pre-fulfillment where the risk may be. This enables the company to make decisions on inventory allocation and alternate sourcing plans, as well as notify customers of possible delays.
FourKites has also partnered with Reflexis on an integrated workforce management application. In this scenario, store managers are using real-time visibility to allocate labor as needed. If a shipment is going to be late, the store manager can ensure that store associates are doing customer-facing tasks rather than waiting for a truck to come in to the warehouse. By scheduling labor and tasks based on real-time transit updates and improved ETAs, the store can operate more efficiently.
In July, Koerber acquired enVista’s omni-channel and global freight audit and payment services. The big piece here was the OMS. At NRF 2023, Koerber was showing the integration of the OMS with its other solutions. From a WMS standpoint, the company is bringing together OMS, order orchestration, order sourcing, and end-to-end visibility. This helps retailers decide how to best allocate inventory over multiple sites. The OMS pushes the right order to the right place at the right time, which keeps the supply chain running more efficiently.
Finally, Zebra Technologies was demonstrating what it calls the Modern Store at NRF 2023. The modern store uses handheld devices to enable store associates to perform all their required tasks while remaining on the store floor. This leads to more engaged associates and improved experience. On top of the handheld scanners that associates can use for inventory look-up, curbside delivery, up-sells and cross-sells, is the use of mobile printers for price changes. The store associate can make a price change and print off the new price sticker without ever leaving the store floor. Additionally, rather than printing the new price on a full sheet of paper, it only prints the size of the actual price sticker. For Lowe’s, this has resulted in 70 percent less paper waste and a savings of 1,000,000 hours per month from not having the store associates walk to the back room to print price changes.
Zebra also had a few partners in their booth. The partnership with Fetch Robotics was one of the more interesting demonstrations. The Fetch robots bring totes to the warehouse worker for order picking. The worker scans the tote and the items with a ring scanner, which bundles the two. After all the items are picked, the robot aligns the tote with the conveyor, scans the plate on the tote so it knows what items are there, and then a shipping label is printed for the box. The items are packed and shipped at this point. There is also a returns element, but I will write about that at a future date.