Artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, and robotics used to seem unrealistic and too futuristic. But today, these technological advancements are becoming a reality and transforming the logistics industry.
With on-demand logistics on the rise (due to high standards and expectations around accurate, fast, and reliable delivery), technology continues to play a tremendous role in supply chain efficiency.
Learn about the latest supply chain technology advancements that are boosting efficiency throughout the supply chain and further supporting online brands.
5 supply chain technology trends to look out for
Though technology and automation have been involved in the supply chain for quite some time, what once seemed impossible is now becoming part of a new reality, from self-driving trucks to artificial intelligence (AI).
By using a combination of technologies like AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics, online brands can manage complex supply chains by automating warehouse operations, improving delivery times, easily managing inventory, optimizing third-party communication, and creating new customer experiences that increase satisfaction and boost sales.
Here are the top five supply chain technology trends in the works that continue to evolve.
1. Demand forecasting
Tech-enabled demand forecasting has shown to reduce supply chain errors by 30 to 50%.
With inaccurate forecasting, it’s easy to lose out on sales due to inaccurate inventory data, which leads to understocking or overstocking issues that result in lost profits.
Traditional inventory forecasting relies primarily on historical data. But with advanced, tech-enabled demand forecasting for supply chain management, online brands are able to forecast demand more accurately, optimize inventory levels efficiently, and replenish inventory accordingly.
Machine learning takes demand forecasting to the next level by enhancing real-time information by aggregating data from multiple internal and external sources, including the use of demographics, weather, online reviews, and even social media (e.g., brand mentions).
For new products being introduced that lack historical data, machine learning can also improve forecasting by identifying trends from similar products and using that data to make better predictions.
2. Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI continues to advance and make waves in the supply chain. Here are some stats:
- At least half of logistics supply chains will invest in AI by the end of 2021, garnering a 15% productivity spike.
- The estimated impact of AI in the supply chain is between $1.2 trillion and $2 trillion in manufacturing and supply chain planning. AI in manufacturing transforms supply chain operations through optimized inventory management and enhanced visibility, resulting in improved efficiency and cost savings.
- The transportation and logistics industry stands to gain 89%incremental value over time through AI adoption.
For ecommerce supply chains, AI has two categories:
- Augmentation: AI that assists humans in their day-to-day tasks.
- Automation: AI that can function without human interference.
AI within the supply chain consists of different technology options that help businesses understand complex information and enhance human performance by taking over time-consuming, routine tasks.
Currently, AI enables more visibility and integration across networks, which allows brands to expand their supply chain while keeping everything streamlined. It works by using algorithms to detect patterns, trends, and gaps across an entire supply chain (which also plays a role in accurate forecasting).
So far, 61% of executives reported reduced costs and 53% stated increased revenues after implementing AI into their supply chains.
3. Self-driving trucks
Development of self-driving trucks (currently in beta) is being backed by big investments in hopes to further improve last-mile delivery.
However, with major companies investing billions of dollars in autonomous vehicle startups, there are still years of research, development, and testing to to be done before self-driving technology can be implemented throughout the industry.
However, in the near future, we will see a lot of progress as there is a growing concern around driver shortage and sustainability concerns, which are key factors that are driving major investments in self-driving transportation.
4. Warehouse robotics
Robotics have been in development for quite some time but they are now becoming more common in the ecommerce supply chain. In fact, the first robotics invented were used in manufacturing with the first robotics patented in 1954 and granted in 1961. Manufacturing robotics were invented by George Devol and his company Unimation, which produced the first industrial robot in 1956.
In 1962, General Motors installed the first robot in their New Jersey plant.
For a long time, robots were only suited for work in industrial manufacturing because they weren’t safe for people to be around while they were in use. But this has changed, and today, major supply chains have already implemented robotics to speed up and improve accuracy in retail fulfillment.
Order picking can account for 50% or more of your warehouse labor costs, and it leaves less room for warehouse staff to focus on improvements and implementation of new processes.
By implementing robotics to cut down on the labor and time spent on fulfillment (e.g., by walking from one side of a fulfillment center to another), more logistics experts and employees can concentrate on more complicated processes, such as packaging innovations, workflows, and more.
5. Supply chain security
With global ecommerce sales expected to reach $4.89 trillion by the end of the year, supply chain security continues to be a top concern. Expansive supply chains are a prime target for cyberattacks due to the interconnected nature of supply chains and the sharing of data.
Modern security technology reduces risk and enhances protection. Encryption, tokenization, on-demand access, and automatic alerts are all security enhancements that should be used within the modern day supply chain.
Regardless of whose information is being exposed, cyberattacks can cause major security breaches throughout the supply chain, which can also put customer data at risk.
How advancements in supply chain tech are improving logistics
Advancements in supply chain technology are designed for supply chain resilience, so as the industry grows and higher standards are met, ecommerce brands can easily adapt to changes.
Here are some examples on how supply chain technology has already improved logistics operations.
Forecasting future demand
In traditional logistics, forecasting demand was a big challenge and hard to predict. Supply chains once lacked knowledge across operations due to a disconnection between upstream and downstream activities. This caused major discrepancies in inventory reconciliation, which made it hard to ensure there was enough stock available to meet demand and prevent stockouts.
Now, it’s possible to connect all sales channels and distribution centers together. This provides a full overview of inventory trends and data across a supply chain network to make better decisions on not just how much inventory to reorder and when, but also where to store certain items based on demand and what channels to sell through based on performance.
On-demand logistics and delivery relies on speed and efficiency. Supply chain management technologies allow for faster delivery expectations with advancements in AI, robotics, and other automation technologies.
By automating much of the supply chain, logistics experts can focus on expanding coverage, improving workflows, and determining how to optimize logistics to get products to where they need to be in the most affordable and fastest way possible.
Higher order accuracy rates
Without implementing technology of any kind, it’s a challenge to maintain a higher order accuracy rate (between 95%-98%) when managing a high volume of orders.
Advances in supply chain technology continue to cut out time-consuming, manual tasks that are prone to human error. For instance, warehouse robotics are designed to minimize mistakes by picking, packing, and sorting orders based on accurate data.
It also provides business owners with the information they need to improve order accuracy. For instance, ShipBob is a fulfillment company that provides access to a wide range of distribution metrics that can help merchant calculate a perfect order metric, as well as other metrics to easily monitor performance.
“We monitor the ShipBob dashboard on a daily basis, can view our fulfillment metrics at any time, and see if orders are fulfilled accurately.”
Manuel de la Cruz, CEO at Boie
An ecommerce supply chain is constantly moving, and inventory levels and demand shifts frequently (and sometimes unexpectedly).
Real-time monitoring enables business owners and their teams the ability to stay on top of operations with an extra layer of transparency without being involved every minute of the day.
Real-time monitoring is also crucial when it comes to managing inventory. Accessing real-time inventory data provides an accurate and transparent view of inventory levels at any given period of time. It also displays deep insights into past and future demand, as well as SKU and channel performance.
With several shipping options and methods to choose from, optimizing a shipping strategy to save costs while meeting customer expectations is a challenge.
Automated shipping solutions take the complexity out of shipping by automatically putting customer orders that need to be fulfilled in a queue and eliminating some of the manual tasks involved. Shipping technology can be as intricate as the use of robots, or as simple as adding a layer of software or installing infrastructure like conveyor belts.
Many tech-enabled 3PLs offer automated shipping solutions. For instance, ShipBob pulls transit times, cart values, shipping methods, and ecommerce shipping destinations to help you optimize your costs and test different shipping price strategies.
“Compared to other warehouses we’ve worked with, ShipBob processes orders so quickly to get them out the door faster. It’s fun to see orders shipping out instantaneously. I love how fast and efficient ShipBob is.”
Harley Abrams, Operations Manager of SuperSpeed Golf, LLC
ShipBob: A premium, tech-enabled 3PL
Managing a modern, tech-enabled supply chain is a full-time job. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest parts of ecommerce operations to outsource.
ShipBob is a third-party logistics (3PL) with an international fulfillment network powered by best-in-class technology that is constantly being optimized and improved. With ShipBob, you can outsource fulfillment to a team of experts that understand the latest advancements in supply chain technology.
“We researched 3PLs and found a great solution in ShipBob. They worked really well with our core tech stack. ShipBob also owns the entire stack: inventory and order management system, warehouse management system, and their fulfillment centers.”
Gerard Ecker, Founder & CEO of Ocean & Co.
Here is how ShipBob’s premium fulfillment solution works.
ShipBob’s proprietary order fulfillment solution is hosted, providing automatic updates, tight security, and compatibility with any leading ecommerce platforms and other ecommerce tools. Because it’s cloud-based, ShipBob’s software requires no IT resources or strain and helps lower logistics costs.
ShipBob’s cloud-based dashboard makes it easy for merchants to access logistics data, real-time inventory tracking, and insights into fulfillment and shipping performance at any time.
“With ShipBob, I have experienced peace of mind and a high-tech solution that allowed me to be removed from that day-to-day fulfillment process like how I was at the previous 3PL.”
Courtney Lee, founder of Prymal
Advanced data and analytics
ShipBob’s user-friendly merchant dashboard connects to our WMS and gives each merchant deep insights into fulfillment performance, how we’re hitting our SLAs, visibility into order status and inventory counts, and much more.
Rather than requesting someone to create a report for you, you can automatically pull them on-demand, eliminating back and forth while increasing transparency.
Through the dashboard, you can access advanced data and analytics along with visuals to help you with everything from year-end inventory reporting, to better supply chain decision-making.
“I used to have to pull inventory numbers from three places everyday and move all the disparate data into a spreadsheet.
ShipBob has an analytics tab in their dashboard with all of this information, which is great for end-of-month reconciliations. It’s really nice to not have to operate three 3PLs.
For inventory planning, I love the SKU velocity report, daily average products sold, and knowing how much inventory we have left and how long it will last.
With my old 3PL, I could never just open a page and get the info I wanted. I had to click several times, then export it, and try to make sense of it.
ShipBob lets you manage your inventory while providing important data in a very digestible way.”
Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
Having the right tools and technology in place to forecast demand can help you make better-informed supply decisions that estimate the total sales and revenue for a future period of time.
As your business grows, it’s likely you will want to establish a multichannel retail strategy and expand customer reach across the world. However, expanding an online brand can build supply chain complexity, making forecasting demand much more challenging.
That’s why ShipBob offers demand forecasting tools, including advanced analytics and distribution metrics to help you track SKU performance over time and plan better for the future.
Automated return management
ShipBob can help automate the returns process in a quick and cost-effective way. You can have returned goods sent back to their respective spots in the warehouse, have them shipped to you, or have us dispose of any defective or damaged items. You can learn more about our returns process here.
ShipBob also partners with leading returns management solutions to enhance the ecommerce returns process. Our Returns API allows merchants to build a custom returns workflow and connect to any type of platform.
“For reverse logistics, we have also been leveraging ShipBob’s Returns API to automate and streamline our routine RMA processes. Having ShipBob handle our returns has been a huge help in reducing our daily workload, and the ability to drive this process via API is wonderful.”
Inventory management software
Holding costs (warehouse staffing, storage, inventory shrinkage, and depreciation costs) should be closely monitored and calculated to help ensure less discrepancies.
But conducting inventory audits is time-consuming process. Thankfully, inventory management software automates the inventory management process, including the ability to sync your online store with inventory management solution or utilize a 3PL’s fulfillment software.
ShipBob’s technology includes built-inventory management features and functionality to control stock, set reorder point notifications to be notified as soon as inventory runs low, and measure inventory days on hand.
“ShipBob’s analytics tool has been great to have. We can see inventory reconciliations and easily view SKU velocity, transit times, and inventory distribution recommendations.”
Pablo Gabatto, Business Operations Manager at Ample Foods
Warehouse management system
Since ShipBob’s entire international fulfillment network is powered by the same warehouse management system (WMS), you get full visibility into operations and the ability to keep track of inventory performance as finished goods move through the supply chain.
ShipBob’s warehouse management technology allows merchants to use several fulfillment locations under one network. For instance, you can use historical order data that provides insights into how and where you should split inventory between our strategically located across out global fulfillment network.
Based on where most of your customers are located, you can offer quicker shipping times and lower shipping costs all by optimizing product allocation based on where there is the most demand.
“ShipBob has multiple fulfillment centers in the US, one in Canada, one in the EU, and one in the UK.*
All locations filter back into one centralized warehouse management system, so everything is under the ShipBob umbrella.
By distributing our inventory across these countries and regions, all of our customers are able to get their orders much faster while paying reasonable domestic shipping rates.”
Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
30+ app integrations
ShipBob’s technology integrates directly with dozens of ecommerce solutions, ranging from inventory planning to freight shipping tools. This provides merchants the ability to expand their business and internal operations with ShipBob as their logistics hub.
By connecting your existing tech stack to ShipBob or enhancing it as your business grows, you can establish an end-to-end ecommerce solution that meets customer expectations and competes with large brands and marketplaces.
For a more custom solution, ShipBob’s Developer API supports merchants with high-tech operations that require flexibility.
“ShipBob’s API lets us build custom logic since we ship personalized products with lots of variations in the kits we send. We can write a few lines of code instead of creating a manual kit for each possible order combination as we’d have to do in a tool like Shopify.”
Oded Harth, CEO & Co-Founder of MDacne
ShipBob is a best-in-class, technology-enabled 3PL that continues to invest in advanced technology and automation to enhance our fulfillment solution.
Even as ShipBob expands, we continue to operate our proprietary tech stack, which enables our team to improve our operations and implement new technology quickly to meet new standards.
Learn more about ShipBob’s investment in technology and how ShipBob works by clicking the button below.
Supply chain technology FAQs
Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about supply chain technology.
How does technology affect supply chain management?
Technology impacts velocity, accuracy, and efficiency within the supply chain. By implementing new technology, supply chain managers are able to use more data, automation, and other tools to make decisions faster, forecast demand more accurately, and prepare for unexpected events throughout the supply chain.
What is the most impactful technology coming to the supply chain?
For ecommerce supply chains, advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning are the most impactful technology, as both provide solutions to some of the industry’s most complex problems. Some of the solutions increasing inventory accuracy, improving inventory forecasting, and optimizing distribution networks.
What technology does ShipBob offer customers outsourcing their fulfillment?
ShipBob’s best-in-class fulfillment technology offers a cloud-based solution that enables merchants to access data, manage inventory and orders, and have full supply chain visibility as they expand their distribution networks across the globe. By outsourcing fulfillment to ShipBob, merchants don’t have to spend time in the day-to-day operations while still having full access to it all in real time.