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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.
This is especially true in a post-pandemic world, where supply chain resilience and flexibility are top-of-mind for brands. While supply chain automation was growing before the COVID-19 pandemic, massive labor shortages and bottlenecks underscored the importance of adopting technologies that help future-proof a brand’s supply chain. As a result, by 2035, 45% of supply chains are expected to be mostly autonomous.
In this article, we’ll cover some of 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
According to one executive summary, while spreadsheets are still the supply chain planning tool of choice for most merchants, 43% of those surveyed said they planned to use AI and machine learning for some supply chain planning activities.
This is because tech-enabled demand forecasting is key to reducing supply chain errors.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:
- Early adopters of AI-enabled supply-chain management have cut logistics costs by 15% compared to competitors.
- AI is predicted to generate between $1.3 and $2 trillion in economic value over the course of the next two decades.
- The industry for AI in supply chain management is expected to reach $17.5 billion globally by 2028.
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).
3. Self-driving trucks
Development of self-driving trucks 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 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.
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.
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 $5.42 billion by 2025, 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 merchants 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
5 supply chain technologies shaping the future in 2023
In addition to tracking broader trends, merchants should keep tabs on specific technologies that are shaping the ecommerce logistics landscape. Here are some of the most notable supply chain technologies impacting the industry this year.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a collective term used to describe physical objects that have built in software, sensors, RFID chips, or other devices that enable them to connect to the internet.
The IoT has made it possible for everyday objects, such as home thermostats and smart watches, to collect data, connect to the internet, and share that data with other devices in their same network.
For ecommerce supply chains, IoT presents many opportunities. Brands can leverage:
- Temperature and humidity sensors to monitor inventory storage conditions and make real-time adjustments automatically
- Resource usage tracking to improve sustainability
- GPS technology to receive live updates on freight shipment location and speed of transport, or locate a specific box within a warehouse
Streamlined procurement sets the stage for smoother operations down the road, so automating aspects of the procurement process is a great way to increase your overall supply chain efficiency.
By implementing purchase order and invoice reconciliation automations, you can put repetitive tasks on autopilot – and often improve productivity in the process. For example, automated three-way matching can save brands the hassle of reviewing and matching purchase orders and invoices by hand, line-by-line.
Described as a distributed digital ledger, blockchain technology enables brands to share information digitally and securely.
In the context of supply chain management, blockchain technology gives brands a way to track goods in real time, streamline supplier and vendor transactions, institute stricter quality control measures, and more.
Additionally, the digital nature of the blockchain lets brands retire more repetitive, confusing, and often-error prone tools and processes, and instead adopt a more transparent, longer-lasting method of recording important data.
RPA stands for “robotic process automation”, and refers to software that teaches robots to emulate digital actions that humans otherwise perform.
RPA technologies enable brands to allocate more menial and repetitive business tasks to “bots”, and allocate human attention to where it’s needed most. This can help optimize processes like order verification, shipment status updates, invoice processing, and even demand forecasting.
With new technologies constantly transforming ecommerce supply chains, it’s more important than ever for brands to protect their systems from data breaches, identity theft, ransomware, and other cyberattacks.
Cybersecurity technology like encryption, tokenization, on-demand access, and automatic alerts help reduce risk without stalling or slowing a supply chain’s efficiency.
Don’t get left behind: ShipBob leads the way in supply chain technology
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.
“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
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.
“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
Dozens of 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 are 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.