• Online festive surge highlights future demand for Auto-ID

        • Online sales over this year’s Black Friday and Christmas period will be record-breaking. With non-essential retailers affected by COVID-19 restrictions, shoppers will be more inclined to grab their bargains and presents online. This is according to Ged Cairns, Head of Category at Brother UK, as he outlines the demand operators will see during the traditional end-of-year peak and where the opportunities will lie for resellers moving forward. 

          A recent report from internet industry body IRMG revealed that online sales in the first week of November were up 61 per cent year-on-year. UK shoppers were expected to have spent £7.5bn over the Black Friday weekend, according to a Centre for Retail Research report. These figures are unlikely to fall away in the run-up to Christmas.

          A swell in demand over this period is nothing new, but this year the shift to online shopping will likely be permanent. Research from KPMG shows that eight in ten people plan to continue using the digital channels they’ve become accustomed to during the pandemic for everything from food shopping to buying DIY hardware.

          While this means operators across the retail supply chain will need to process higher volumes of products in short fulfilment times, they must also meet the rising demand to track items from warehouse to doorstep. 

          It’s to be expected then that the demand for Auto-ID solutions, from large industrial label printers to thermal handheld devices for warehouse pickers, will rise significantly. Revenue in this category is forecast to increase by 14 per cent in 2021, according to research from technology market consultancy VDC, as the majority of warehousing and logistics providers see enhancing worker productivity and picking efficiency as a top priority for investment. 

          Print solutions that can help operators concentrate on improving speed and accuracy while ramping up traceability and serialisation across a wider range of products, from groceries to pharmaceutical goods, will be key to this and resellers will have an opportunity to meet this demand. 

          The need for labelling devices will centre around portable, wireless solutions that enable warehouse pickers to print labels, including barcodes and QR codes, on the move instead of having to return to a central machine. This can save employees up to four hours per week, amounting to almost 30 days a year.

          Printing on the move also means that connectivity has to be a key consideration for warehouse and logistics managers. Portable solutions will help workers perform cycle counts while they’re in the aisles, improving all-important real-time inventory accuracy. But as product volumes increase, this becomes more challenging. 

          Operators will need to be equipped with devices that are not only connected via WiFi and Bluetooth – ensuring they receive real-time print jobs, label formats, variable data and other information from host systems – but can process myriad printer command languages. This functionality means new solutions can be easily integrated into existing systems, saving operation managers time to spend on their critical day-to-day tasks.  

          Naturally, the fast-paced environment of warehousing and logistics means that retailers need to keep downtime to an absolute minimum, with fast delivery options and quality of service key differentiators.

          Firms across the supply chain will need robust and reliable mobile solutions that are certified to the IP54 industry certification, built with moulded rubber housing and have sizeable drop protection, which can create fit-for-purpose labels that will last the life of the delivery process. Meanwhile, larger devices will need rugged, durable casing that can handle dust, moisture and debris in harsh working environments.

          Appropriately for 2020, this year’s bumper retail period is set to be like no other as unprecedented online demand takes hold in unprecedented times. And looking ahead, it doesn’t look likely to let up. Businesses across the retail supply chain will be investing in their operations to drive improvements in productivity and efficiency. 

          Naturally, firms will be feeling the financial strain the pandemic has placed on them, but options such as managed label services mean they can shift key print investments to operational expenses. Securing a cash-flow friendly way to boost the operational efficiencies they need will allow them to meet the growing consumer demand.

          Resellers that are well-prepared with the full range of mobile and industrial print solutions – including warranties, a strong local support structure and on-hand technical help – will be well-placed to capitalise on the opportunity.

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