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How to easily scale your mobile workforce and devices for the peak shopping season

Retailers are under constant pressure to streamline processes and become more efficient while looking for ways to improve customer satisfaction levels. These challenges are heightened during the lead-up to the festive season when the flow of goods in and out of Distribution Centres (DCs) and stores increases, and processes and workflows are put under strain.

Coming out of the pandemic, many retailers are trying to maintain lean operations to help speed up business recovery and struggling to find enough workers to meet demand. The outcome is that these businesses generally run a core team of full-time staff throughout the year, but then they will look to employ seasonal workers on a short-term basis to meet the demands of the industry’s traditional peak season.

While this process allows businesses to manage staff costs throughout the year, it unfortunately also puts pressure on retailer and DC managers to ensure short-term workers understand the processes and technologies and can operate as accurately and efficiently as permanent employees. 

Given the heightened activity many retail and warehouse environments experience in the lead-up to the peak shopping season, and the challenges around trying to incorporate less experienced seasonal workers, what should Australian businesses know to help them prepare? 

Utilise technology to improve processes

Regardless of if a DC is operating in a quiet or busy period, the practice of processing an order and shipping the right product at the right time to the right destination remains the same. In periods of peak operation, the pressure to ensure accurate orders are being distributed is heightened. 

Returned incorrect or incomplete orders must be repacked and redistributed, which impacts customer satisfaction, with 63% of customers wanting improvements to the returns and delivery processes in retail and 67% wanting real-time visibility into their Christmas orders from the moment they are processed. 

Warehouse stocking, order fulfilment and backend order processes all need to be robust enough to handle a huge ramp up in demand. This demand spans many operational departments, and technology needs to be implemented across as range of mobile devices such as barcode scanners, handheld terminals, mobile devices and mobile computers. These devices help improve the efficiency of a warehouse through peak season activity and the accuracy of operations to reduce the number of incorrect deliveries. 

Ahead of peak season activity, retailers need to be certain their devices are capable of the job at hand and, if a specific job function has changed, the device can handle the new demands. For example, Coles and Woolworths struggled with last mile delivery during the pandemic and consequently outsourced its delivery services to cope with the e-grocery boom. The company has also increased automation in its warehousing to help support the peak seasons and the accuracy of order processing and fulfilment.

Operational insight and interpretation of essential business data is the lifeblood of any retail organisation. It is critical today more than ever that device data is captured securely and can be analysed and used to improve processes. For example, being able to identify poor device performance, black spots in the local delivery network impacting customer signatures for order completions and overall device health and remote support when in the field. 

Now, as organisations are deploying more applications, and workers are deployed across various DC sites and out in the field, the support and optimisation of all devices on every network is becoming more and more critical. 

Flexible device management 

Retail and logistics businesses make large investments into scaling up operations to meet peak-season demand and scaling them back down when the holiday season is over.

Traditionally, this has included having to expand the fleets of mobile devices to ensure that the extra seasonal workers have the necessary tools to complete their tasks and then having a glut of devices sitting unused post-season.

Today, through advancements in Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions, retailers can more easily configure and deploy devices across multiple workers with a set user profile in minutes without security risks. Equally, advancements in security settings enable devices to be shared in a group, to track individual productivity. 

Shared device advanced configuration allows businesses to deploy devices quickly among multiple workers and personalise the device to each worker as they log in. This multi-user functionality creates a set of interchangeable devices that are equally and immediately useful to any authorised worker that picks one up. It also ensures that one device can be used by multiple workers over the course of a shift, potentially meaning that one piece of equipment can handle the workload previously handled by three devices. 

Device sharing enables retail and warehouse operations to operate more efficiently while limiting capital expenditure, as well as consideration for shift patterns to ensure enough devices for each worker. This is an important consideration given that the workforce surge needed for peak-season will eventually diminish, and organisations want to maximise their devices in the field to reduce costs. 

Secure data on shared devices 

Retail and DC operators need to simplify the security and management of mobile devices and IoT endpoints for business-critical mobility in their workplaces. An Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solution can remotely wipe data from compromised devices and shut them down. Additionally, EMM can prevent sensitive information from being sent to unauthorised persons or even disable cameras when in range of specific buildings or sensitive environments. 

Through a single, easy-to-use interface, an EMM solution allows organisations to have full control over a variety of mobile devices across multiple operating systems while securing confidential company data – something that is particularly useful when a business’ workforce has had to accommodate several temporary workers.

Solutions for the peak shopping season  

All in all, mobile technology works as the core function of stable and efficient retail operations, but unless these devices are properly managed, utilised and protected, retailers open themselves to risk. With optimised device security, increased flexibility and unified control management for mobility – and the ability to share key devices between workers to limit capital expenditure on new technologies – these solutions will serve as the key to preparing for and thriving during this year’s peak season.

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