eCommerceNews New Zealand - Technology news for digital commerce decision-makers
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Next-generation solutions for the distribution landscape
Mon, 26th Jun 2023

The distribution industry has been around for quite a long time and can sometimes be slow to change. For those that may be resistant to change, it is best to look at emerging technologies as tools you can use, like a forklift. You wouldn’t think of trying to move pallets around a warehouse without using forklifts, yet some in our industry remain sceptical about new technology. Emerging technologies in the distribution industry are transforming the way goods are transported and delivered. These innovations are making distribution processes more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable.

One of the more interesting emerging technologies in the distribution industry is drones for last-mile delivery. Drones are small aerial vehicles that can deliver packages directly to customers’ doors. This technology has the potential to revolutionise the distribution industry by reducing the need for ground-based transportation and enabling faster, more efficient delivery.

Another emerging technology in the distribution industry is robotics and automation. Robotics and automation are being used to improve the efficiency and accuracy of warehouse operations, including the sorting and packaging of goods. Automation can perform the routine and mundane tasks your people would rather not do. The latest generations of warehouse robotics are designed to work collaboratively with people to make operations safer and more efficient. Reductions in movement and touches reduce injuries to your workforce and the risk of product damage.

These touches and tasks can extend beyond the warehouse. Customer service, billing, and other routine rules-based tasks using structured data through robotic process automation (RPA) can also be improved. RPA mimics human keystrokes on a computer to perform these everyday tasks more efficiently with far fewer errors. Second, automation reduces the need for additional labour you are already struggling to recruit, hire and retain to continue to scale and grow your business. These technologies can help to reduce labour costs and improve the overall efficiency of the distribution process.

One of the most powerful emerging technologies in the distribution industry is the use of big data, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI). By collecting and analysing data on customer behaviour, distribution companies can gain insights into the most efficient ways to transport and deliver goods. This information can help them to optimise routes and reduce the time and cost of distribution. Some potential ways in which these technologies can be used include:

  • Optimising routes: By collecting and analysing customer behaviour, traffic patterns, and other factors, distribution companies can use AI to determine the most efficient transportation routes. This can help to reduce the time and cost of distribution and improve customer satisfaction.
  • Predictive maintenance: Predictive maintenance uses data and AI to predict when equipment, such as trucks and forklifts, is likely to fail. This allows distribution companies to schedule maintenance and avoid costly downtime.
  • Inventory management: By using AI to analyse data on sales, customer demand, and other factors, distribution companies can optimise their inventory levels and reduce the risk of stockouts. Companies can have the right amount of inventory in the distribution centres to minimise transportation costs and times.
  • Sales recommendations: Having AI recommend items to your customers can do a couple of things for you. In self-service situations, AI can make recommendations for additional purchases based on the customer buying, thus increasing your company’s sales and wallet share. For counter sales, AI provides similar information that the counter rep can use to make suggestions to the customer. A 30-year employee at the counter knows what additional items their customers may need for their job, but a new employee does not have that experience, which is where AI can help. 
  • Fraud detection: AI can identify data patterns indicating fraudulent activity, such as suspicious purchase patterns or fraudulent returns. This can help distribution companies to reduce the risk of financial losses.
  • Customer service: AI-powered chatbots can improve the customer experience by providing fast, accurate answers to customer questions and requests.

In addition, the integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) is playing a vital role in the distribution industry. IoT technology enables distribution companies to monitor the condition and location of their goods in real-time, providing them with valuable insights into the distribution process. This information can be used to optimise routes and improve the overall efficiency of the distribution process.

Blockchain is another technology that has the potential to transform the distribution industry in several ways. Here are a few examples of how it might be used:

  • Supply chain management: Blockchain can create an immutable record of the movement of goods through the supply chain. This can help with traceability, ensuring that goods are sourced ethically and sustainably, and reducing the risk of counterfeiting or fraud.
  • Smart contracts: Blockchain-based smart contracts can automate many of the processes involved in distribution, such as the release of payment upon delivery or the automatic reordering of goods when inventory runs low. This can reduce the need for manual intervention and improve efficiency.
  • Asset tracking: Blockchain can track the location and status of assets as they move through the distribution network. This can help with planning and coordination and reduce the risk of loss or damage.
  • Fraud prevention: The decentralised and immutable nature of blockchain makes it difficult to tamper with data, which can help to prevent fraud in the distribution industry.

Also, autonomous vehicles, such as self-driving trucks, can be used for the transportation of goods, reducing the need for human drivers and improving the efficiency of the distribution process.

Overall, the distribution industry is undergoing a significant transformation thanks to the adoption of emerging technologies. These innovations are making the distribution process more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable and helping drive the industry forward. Many of these are made possible by cloud-based technology stacks.