9 in 10 bosses keen on using tech to improve warehouse management

Close to three-fifths (58%) of warehouse decision-makers plan to deploy radio frequency identification (RFID) technology by 2028 to will help increase inventory visibility and reduce out-of-stocks, according to Zebra Technologies.

The 2023 Global Warehousing Study by Zebra showed that, over the next five years, a majority of warehouse decision-makers plan to deploy fixed, passive or handheld RFID readers and fixed industrial scanning solutions that can better track assets, workers and goods throughout the warehouse environment. 

The study was conducted in March and April 2023 by third-party research firm Azure Knowledge. It includes feedback from over 1,400 decision-makers and associates across North America, Latin America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region.

Globally, 73% of warehouse decision-makers have or will be accelerating timelines of modernization projects, with decision-makers in Asia Pacific (APAC) similarly align at 69%. 

This should help with returns management which climbed to the top operational challenge cited by nearly half of warehouse decision-makers surveyed (47% globally, 40% in APAC). The study records an increase of 5 percentage points year-over-year in the APAC region.

Christanto Suryadarma, Southeast Asia (SEA) sales VP at Zebra Technologies APAC, said the surge in returns mirrors the expansion of e-fulfillment in recent years, signaling a pressing need for transformative measures throughout the supply chain. 

“This underscores the imperative for warehouse leaders to embrace technological advancements to adeptly manage returns, while simultaneously elevating agility, strengthening inventory visibility, and fine-tuning demand forecasting,” said Suryadarma. “Besides enhancing efficiency, the modernisation of operations with technology also facilitates real-time, informed decision-making.”

This comes about as majority of warehouse decision-makers (76% globally, 75% in APAC) say they are under pressure to improve performance while adjusting to shifting consumer ecommerce demands. 

Inaccurate inventory and out-of-stocks continue to significantly challenge productivity according to nearly 80% of warehouse associates and decision-makers. 

Both groups — associates (82% globally, 79% in APAC) and decision-makers (76% globally, 79% in APAC)—acknowledge they need better inventory management tools to achieve better accuracy and determine availability. 

To combat these issues, a significant portion of decision-makers (91% globally, 88% in APAC) are addressing this need, citing plans to invest in technology to increase visibility across the supply chain by 2028.

Also, warehouse decision-makers are augmenting their front-line workers by automating their warehouses to ultimately optimise their operations and increase their inventory visibility.

The Zebra study found that seven-in-10 of warehouse decision-makers (69% globally, 70% in APAC) already have or are planning to automate workflows by 2024 to support warehouse associates and shift them toward more customer-centric, high-value tasks. 

Close to half of warehouse decision-makers believe automation increases worker efficiency and productivity by reducing manual picking, order errors and cycle time. 

Meanwhile, around eight-in-10 warehouse associates globally (81%) and in APAC (78%) agree using more technology and automation helps them meet or exceed productivity goals.

Complementing the rise in productivity, this empowers associates’ mentality towards their work, as four in every five warehouse associates (83% globally, 82% in APAC) surveyed also feel more valued when their employers provide them with technology and automation tools to help them work. 

Close to nine in every 10 global (88%) and APAC (84%) warehouse decision-makers say adding warehouse technologies, including devices and robotics, attract and retain employees which is extremely important during labor shortages. 

More than half of the surveyed decision-makers plan to implement machine learning (52% globally, 57% in APAC) and predictive analytics (59% globally, 63% in APAC) software solutions in their facilities by 2028.