Automation and data: a match made in heaven
Clive Stringer, Business Development Director for Pitney Bowes, argues that precise data management and automated physical shipping and delivery systems make for a powerful combination. Ecommerce businesses are smart. Some, in fact, are so smart that they know what we want before we even know ourselves. Take Amazon: it has filed a patent for ‘Anticipatory Shipping’, a system of shipping a product to customers before they place an order. It’s actually more sensible than psychic: supposing I’ve previously ordered the first four series of Game of Thrones. Chances are, I’ll want the fifth series. Amazon will anticipate this, and ship the product to a local depot, a shipper’s hub or a truck until they receive my order, which I’ll then receive within hours. To a less-futuristic extent, companies such as online optician stores make it easy for you to repeat a previous order by sending a text to remind you. A quick text response and your product is delivered the next day.
These kind of predictive transactions are made possible through the combination of precise data management housed on powerful software platforms, with automated physical shipping and delivery systems. Achieving this is the secret of success for many Ecommerce businesses, ensuring customer loyalty, improving retention and enabling accurate, real-time stock management.
The growth of parcel delivery is huge, fuelled, of course, by the success of Ecommerce and the rise in connected devices. In 2014, global Ecommerce sales reached $1.3 trillion, with 1 billion digitally-connected buyers purchasing physical goods online1. Organisations with high parcel volumes –incoming, outgoing or both – are quickly having to adopt new strategies to cope with this boom. Universities, for example, are adopting new ways of managing incoming parcel volumes to cope with students’ online buying behaviours. Getting the right package to the right person quickly, in locations often with hundreds of people such as university halls of residence, needs more than a manual process. Organisations with high volumes of outgoing parcels, such as Ecommerce businesses, are adopting new, flexible ways of managing parcel shipping volumes. These volumes can fluctuate according to season, and sometimes include the shipping of perishable goods which need to be dispatched and shipped quickly to meet customer expectation and service agreements.
As volumes increase, labour costs increase, so it follows that the more an organisation can automate, the more it can increase productivity, reduce costs and capture a greater market share. Automation is the key to meeting demand, increasing operational efficiency and providing a great customer experience. Automated sortation uses technology to do much of the processing that would be time-consuming and repetitive to do by hand. For example, automated systems can weigh, measure, and certify parcels as they travel along conveyors, and the machines can print and apply labels to boxes and route them to the appropriate loading areas.
But automation alone is like the moon without the stars; like Fred without Ginger; like Morecambe without Wise. Organisations cannot focus solely on the physical aspects of package delivery within the Ecommerce value chain. Data, and high-performance software platforms to manage it, must be utilised to improve automated identification, including a high degree of tracking data for all the items throughout the logistics chain. Data is, after all, the foundation on which Ecommerce is built. Get a customer’s address or product incorrect, and not only will a business have to absorb the cost of the return, but it’s likely that the customer will vote with his or her mouse and take their business elsewhere.
Accompanying each physical parcel delivery is a complex set of data that needs to flow seamlessly between the retailer, the delivery company and the consumer. A great deal of resources are spent on building the bridges between merchants and delivery organisations in order to offer consumers various choices for delivery, as well as transparency of delivery status.
Postal organisations are closer to the consumer than any other entity in the Ecommerce chain. As posts embrace the digital aspect of their business, they can leverage the inherent trust that consumers have with their mail, packages, data and information. Businesses are generating vast amounts of structured and unstructured data. Data on parcel handling, delivery location preferences, frequency, item types and household information need to be collated and organised.
This data is the tip of the iceberg: customer data is the jewel in the crown of Ecommerce. Consumers are generating huge amounts of data. Ecommerce businesses and traditional retailers harvest a huge depth of data on consumers’ buying behaviours. Collated and managed swiftly and accurately, this data enables retailers to provide a personalised, tailored customer experience. As big data is playing an increasing critical role for retailers, more intelligence is required in the systems that process packages for physical delivery. The greater degree to which a physical delivery is under electronic surveillance, the less likely an error or failure is to occur. The ability to inform customers with real time access to delivery status, or send a notification via text or email, is a valuable service for merchants.
When it comes to automated parcel solutions, data and the underlying software platforms are critical for getting things right and quite literally, for delivering an unrivalled customer experience.
1 Source: eMarketer.com