Augmented reality is an emerging and evolving technology that superimposes images and graphics on the user’s real-world view. This changed view of the world around us can make a range of everyday tasks easier, faster and more successful. And right at the forefront of efforts to implement AR technology is the e-commerce sector.
According to the Centre for Retail Research, e-commerce is Europe’s fastest growing area of the retail market. And it’s this fast growth that often causes small and medium-sized businesses serious operational headaches.
Order fulfilment in the e-commerce sector is a tricky process to get right, and failing to do so can have serious effects on a firm’s bottom line. But as the following benefits demonstrate, augmented reality is changing the way e-commerce companies process, package and ship orders to their customers.
Immersive Staff Training
Training often works best when it’s immersive and interactive. When new recruits in e-commerce warehouses put on a set of AR glasses, the environment around them can be seen with instructions. For people not familiar with SKUs, barcodes, stocktaking and product picking, this always-on technology makes training and development a much more straightforward process.
Improved Picking Accuracy
One of the big problems facing e-commerce businesses is the issue of picking accuracy. For firms selling hundreds of different products, human error during the picking process can lead to refunds, lost business, a diminished reputation and waste. But more and more e-commerce retailers are now utilising pick-assist technology, which is almost eliminating human error completely. Simply looking at a box on a shelf is enough to initiate the AR system — providing an in-vision product description the user can’t confuse with anything else.
Increased Staff Productivity
When it comes to fulfilling e-commerce orders in a warehouse setting, time is money. Stated simply: the longer it takes to find, package and ship products, the less profitable the entire operation is. But AR technology helps staff to find items faster and more accurately. With a constant visual assistant in their field of view, fulfilment workers can execute more orders every hour — and that cuts costs and improves customer experience.
Automated Product Scanning
Imagine being able to scan the contents of a huge warehouse without ever touching anything. E-commerce workers with AR glasses don’t need to imagine, as they can simply look at the label on a box to count, accept or process it. Inventory levels are automatically adjusted, and orders are placed by the complementary software if required.
E-commerce warehouses are notoriously complex, and finding new ways to streamline operations within them is difficult. But companies using voice-command software in conjunction with AR technology can drive efficiencies during the entire order fulfilment process.
For example, a worker with a headset, microphone and AR glasses can receive picking instructions from a manager. The AR glasses tell the worker where to look for the item, and then scan it to update the inventory. The worker can then tell the system that picking is complete, and request that the next stage of fulfilment commences. Voice command software reduces labour requirements and lead times, and it gets orders shipped more quickly than ever before.
More Efficient Packing
Warehouse packers are usually under intense pressure to keep up with a constant flow of orders. As a result, packaging can be wasted — either through packing mistakes or choosing the wrong type of packaging. But with AR, packers get help choosing the type and volume of packaging that is most appropriate for the product. It’s even possible to provide workers with in-vision instructions for assembling the more complex packaging solutions.
Rob Gamage is Managing Editor of Modern Retail. Combining many years of experience in publishing with a keen interest in small business and entrepreneurship, Rob is passionate about sharing interesting and inspiring content with retailers to help them grow.