Team eCommerce Next interviewed Keith Phillips from Voxware to get more insights on E-Commerce and Automation. Following is our interview with him:
What pressures are eCommerce companies experiencing today, and where are they hoping automation can help?
Based on what we hear from customers, it’s threefold – 1) throughput in the fulfillment center 2) optimizing the workforce and 3) meeting growing customer demand. Many companies we work with tell us that they understand voice picking and the benefits that come with it, so they are looking for other ways to increase productivity throughout their warehouse. Anywhere companies have human capital deployed, they need automation to increase productivity. This seems to be an ongoing cycle; years ago, it was about productivity then it became accuracy and now we’re back to productivity. But don’t lose sight of accuracy because one mistake can cost an organization a customer. Companies just can’t keep up with rising consumer demands and will need to deploy automation technology in order to remain competitive. Voice automation technology can greatly improve employee performance for all fulfillment center functions so we’re seeing many customers utilize voice beyond just picking/item selection.
Many organizations have been impacted by a shortage of skilled labor. How can automation technology help eCommerce companies meet customer demand when they barely have enough people to keep up?
This is something we hear quite often from customers and prospects alike. Labor continues to be a big story in our industry and it’s something automation technology addresses in a few ways. For starters, voice automation consistently helps fulfillment centers operate 30 percent more efficiently and provides picking accuracy exceeding 99.99 percent. Voice technology is also proven to optimize workflows and employee performance for all fulfillment center functions. We have customers that have increased order volume by 20 percent without the need to hire additional employees. Additionally, some voice automation systems enable training to be reduced to minutes. For companies who are fortunate to add full-time employees or working with agencies to staff temporary workers, training becomes paramount. It’s imperative to have the new workers onboarded and up-to-speed as quickly as possible. The other challenge organizations face related to labor is the fierce competition between each other as it relates to hourly rates. Deploying cutting-edge technology that helps improve how workers perform has become a factor in finding and retaining talent. The form-factor of today’s mobile devices being deployed in some fulfillment centers are similar to the devices that are used in everyday life. This helps workers become familiarized more quickly with the technology so they can be productive even faster.
With the rise in eCommerce, we’ve also seen an increase in micro-fulfillment centers. Is this a trend you expect to continue to see and is this a viable use case for automation technology?
I do expect micro-fulfillment centers to become more prominent. With supply chains strained under the increased demand from eCom shopping, retailers find themselves in an escalating arms race to fill orders quickly to accelerate deliveries. It’s proven to be a viable solution to expedite shipping times and will continue to grow in popularity. Automation technology is ideal for those working in a micro-fulfillment center. Additionally, as AI and the ability to manage massive amounts of data continues to evolve, micro-fulfillment will become even more streamlined. The capacity to process orders, make decisions on which distribution center is best positioned to fulfill them and then determine which store location will receive them is a massive undertaking and one that is best suited to AI oversight. The bottom line is as shopping behaviors continue to shift, retailers will need to do the same or face losing market share. With the help of flexible technology, micro-fulfillment centers can be optimized to meet the evolving needs of today’s consumers.
What is one area of concern you feel is being overlooked by eCommerce companies?
At a high level, I still don’t believe companies are doing enough to execute online shipments on time and accurately every time. But the one area that has been historically overlooked by all companies is returns. Obviously one way to avoid returns is to send the customers the right product the first time, and automation can help with that. However, consumer shopping habits have evolved and now we’re dealing with consumers who buy multiple sizes and colors of the same item with the intent of only keeping the items they like best. The returns process can’t be ignored any longer. To protect their brand, eCom companies must automate all processes to reduce mistakes, move product throughout the fulfillment center quickly and ensure a smooth returns process, particularly in the face of increased demand. Automation has become a necessity for success in today’s fast-paced world we live in.
Where does Voxware see the future of eCommerce going?
I can tell you it’s not going away! The most recent holiday numbers indicate another record year for online shopping with estimates from Mastercard and others reflecting an 11 percent increase in consumers shopping online versus record year ago levels. Consumers enjoy the ease and benefits that online shopping provides, and I expect that to continue to grow. However, with eCommerce continuing to grow, brands cannot afford any mistakes or the consumer will take their business elsewhere. Retailers need to advance their distribution systems to ensure a flawless customer experience. Companies can no longer run their fulfillment centers as they traditionally have. If mistakes continue to run rampant, between delayed and inaccurate deliveries, brands will be left with a negative lasting impact on customer loyalty, reputation and ultimately their bottom line. eCommerce isn’t going away and I believe automation will be critical for success. Companies that have not taken the initiative to optimize their fulfillment centers will struggle to deliver the flawless experience customers expect.
About Keith Phillips
Keith Phillips became the President and CEO of Voxware in September 2011 with a mission to transform the company into a strategic technology partner for companies with distribution operations. Through his guidance, Voxware has become the leading provider of cloud-based voice automation technology and supply chain analytics solutions, improving efficiency and accuracy across the supply chain. Mr. Phillips has pushed for continuous innovation at Voxware to provide solutions that fit a wide array of customers with different supply chain challenges.
Voxware offers technology solutions that deliver essential supply chain information exactly when and where it’s needed, optimizing the speed, accuracy and efficiency of distribution operations. Its product suite includes both warehouse automation and analytics solutions uniquely focused on distribution functions. With these solutions, companies reach an unprecedented understanding of how best to manage their operations, improving profitability by reducing costs and exceeding customer expectations. For more information, please visit www.voxware.com.