Online sales provide legacy brick-and-mortar merchants with a much needed growth opportunity. Now their challenge becomes: how to fulfill the orders quickly and cost effectively? Department stores and specialty retailers with a large presence in malls have suffered due to sluggish foot traffic as consumers evolve to buying online. But the same consumers are now addicted to the Amazon standard of 1 or 2 day delivery that’s made possible by a finely-tuned warehouse operation and delivery infrastructure. We’ve also seen grocery stores that have invested heavily on online order fulfillment so that they can use the e-commerce channel as a competitive advantage. Department and apparel stores, however, have been late to the fulfillment improvement party and now find themselves playing catch-up. Their dilemma is that a state-of the-art fulfillment network is costly and eats away at traditionally thin retail profits. But legacy stores cannot be left behind and we should expect to see more upgrading of their warehouse and delivery systems. Whether this will enough to stop the continuing trend of store closings remains to be seen.
An Essential Retail article discusses more on this topic which is excerpted below.
US department store chain Nordstrom is set to increase the use of robotics technology in its West Coast warehouse facilities.
In San Jose, the retailer has implemented a combination of technology from Attabotics and Tompkins Robotics to modernize its inventory storage and sortation processes – and it said the plan is to implement the same system in its ‘omni hub’ in Torrance, California.
According to Nordstrom, the new system uses up to an estimated 90% less footprint within its San Jose site, allowing the business to store and sort its products more efficiently, and ultimately get items into customers faster than it could before.
The Attabotics structure can reportedly house aisles worth of products in a compact space and has the flexibility to fit into a variety of spaces. Tompkins Robotics then utilizes small autonomous robots to sort the products by orders, shipping destination and shipping timing.
Employees work in conjunction with the technology, inspecting the product quality, order accuracy and packaging prior to items being shipped.
Overview by Raymond Pucci, Director, Merchant Services at Mercator Advisory Group