How Automation Has Improved the Retail Supply Chain


Automation is spurring progress in the retail sector, specifically by streamlining the supply chain. Here are six of the many benefits retailers can expect by utilizing the technology. 

1. Speeding Retail Fulfillment Times With Automation

When customers order goods from retailers, they often expect them in a matter of hours. Automation can make that otherwise daunting goal possible. 

People shopping for groceries at outlets under The Save Mart Cos. umbrella can get up to 20 pounds of goods delivered by robots from stores a couple of miles from their homes. This approach facilitates a safe and contact-free way for on-demand grocery shopping without leaving home. 

2. Improving Dock Scheduling

Dock scheduling concerns the coordination of inbound and outbound transportation of goods. Making gains in that area could mean that just-manufactured items leave facilities sooner and get to their destinations without delays. 

For example, a specialized platform could ensure that a truck of goods arrives at a retailer when the dock is open and not yet at capacity. Plus, freight drivers experience less dwell time when operations run smoothly, letting them fulfill more orders in the same timespan. 

3. Making the Packaging Process More Efficient

Customers may not think about the packaging aspect of the supply chain very often, but retail specialists know goods must arrive safely. Automation can cut the time it takes to get merchandise ready for shipment. 

For example, solutions exist that automatically put bottles in the right orientation or screw on their caps. Those steps reduce the chances of products arriving spilled and ruined. Other features on automated machines rinse the outside of a bottle or sterilize the inside of a cap. Investments in packaging automation bring more reliability and let employees get more done with less manual labor. 

4. Preventing Out-of-Stock Situations

When items sell out unexpectedly, retailers’ profit potential plummets and customers are disappointed. Automated tools can help keep shelves full and avoid circumstances where retailers get taken off-guard. 

Some platforms automatically reorder goods once they reach preset levels. Automated tools with data analytics capabilities can also confirm whether products are especially in-demand in certain areas of the country. If so, retailers could communicate with manufacturers to learn the fastest ways to replenish those areas and get accurate timelines throughout the process. 

5. Letting Customers Make More Unattended Purchases

There is a rising trend in so-called unattended retail — all made possible by automated vending machines. People are familiar with the equipment that lets them buy things like train tickets and canned drinks. The newer models gaining popularity now offer even more opportunities. Some stores — like Amazon Go — are almost entirely automated. When retailers see what sells, they’re well-positioned to meet customer demands by tracking supply chain patterns. 

In one recent study, more than 52% of respondents reported that they purchased food and beverages from vending machines. For example, Domino’s Pizza unveiled technology that lets people buy food using their in-car dashboard screens. Coffee roasters also install vending machines outside of their shops so people can stock up on beans without coming into the store — particularly handy for saving time during the busiest periods. 

6. Enabling Retailers to Save Money on Shipping

Many of today’s retailers build their strategies with multiple supply chain shipping partners. That way, they can rely on the services of global, regional and local carriers as needed. Automation can help retailers save, whether they use one provider or several. For example, an automatic freight auditing system can compare quoted prices with what clients pay, highlighting discrepancies. 

Moreover, many retail brands use automated routing solutions that automatically put parcels on the best travel path depending on characteristics like weight, urgency and destination. It’s also common to use parcel consolidation measures so packages bound for the same regions get sent together. Algorithms can streamline those processes to cut costs and facilitate improved service.

Plenty of Potential for Better Retail Operations

The supply chain is at the heart of what helps retailers succeed in an ever-challenging market. When it functions well, retail brands get the merchandise they need, and customers stay satisfied. These six examples show that automation is vital for aiding retailers as they strive to remain competitive and relevant.

Credit: Devin Partida is a retail writer and blogger. You can read more posts from Devin at, where she is the Editor-in-Chief.