Touchless Fulfillment and Shipping!

Touchless Fulfillment

The transportation & logistics industry found new ways to have touchless fulfillment and shipping during this pandemic. We reside in truly strange times. If some say in the past that 5+ billion people would be during a complete lockdown in fear of a deadly virus, someone would have probably laughed at the overall idea.

But here we are, 8 months after the discovery of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan, a global pandemic. With global cases having crossed 20 million, proactive and reliable methods are required for businesses to survive during this post-lockdown era.

This means that the pandemic has not only raised adverse and unfavorable health and living conditions within the society but has brought a wide variety of opportunistic disruption for innovation to flow in.

One such instance is that of the transportation & logistics industry.

Reaching the stage of making order fulfillment completely touchless might still take a while to be widespread across the ecosystem. Supply chains all across the planet are discovering and rediscovering various solutions to make shipping and fulfilment touchless. Emerging Technologies like AI, IoT, Robotics, Data Analytics, etc. can contribute to smarter and safer means of order fulfilment.

Supply chain developers feed programs with all the required details such as product information, recipient data, location, and more into a robot and use it further to deliver the product to the customer. Other automated methods are making touchless fulfilment practically possible and highly efficient.

Few other parameters that supply chain techies must keep in mind like – the scale of the inventory, the scale of production and stocking, and more such keys help the transport and logistics businesses to form an important decision quickly and rightly. All in all, touchless fulfillment and shipping are giving the transport and logistics market a brand-new look altogether.

Not too far back, consumers had many options like Buy in-store / Buy from a catalog / Buy online. As e-commerce continued to grow, buy online morphed into two options:

  • Buy online & deliver to home
  • Buy online & pick up in-store

Then COVID-19 hit and a third option for buy online became popular:

  • Buy online & pick up at the curb

There are some clear facts, “Buy online & deliver to home” is that the most costly for the retailer and/or the customer. “Buy online & pick up in-store” and “Buy in Store” have the best opportunity for add-on sales. But “Buy online & pick up at curb” is that the most convenient in current times.

Other two exceptional options are:

  • Buy in Store
  • Buy from a Catalog

The only reason to “Buy in Store” is that if you wish to interact with the merchandise (see it, smell it, touch it, taste it, hear it, test it out or try it on), select a unique item, or simply for the enjoyment of shopping in-person & The only reason to “Buy from a Catalog” is that if you do not have a computer or a smartphone.

CPG & E-commerce supply chains are already reopened altogether parts of the globe, now it’s very important that organizations strictly follow the set protocols. One amongst the ways by which CPG & E-commerce has innovated to suit the pandemic time frame is ‘Pick-up at the curb’ & ‘Touchless Fulfillment and Shipping’– a timely measure that is saving a lot of lives all over the world.

Let’s dig dive more and explore both the concept – Partially Existing Method and New Normal:

Pick-up at the curb (Partially Existing Method)

Irrespective of location and industry, the COVID pandemic crisis-affected to all human being. Retail shops’ business is suffering a lot, as many had to shut outright or switch to delivery or takeout only. With some innovative way-out, companies can remain working with securing employees and customers by offering Pick-up at the curb for all orders. The benefits of Pick-up at the curb lies for customer’s protection who prefers particular distancing to pick-up the order.

This model of business provides facility to end-customer to shop online and then drive to do the pick-up from the location point without having to leave their vehicle. Customers accustomed to select this way-out because it is more convenient for them, and companies also prefer this because of cost reduction for packaging & shipping. With today’s heightened public-health concerns, it’s just safer for everybody to do Pick-up at the curb.

“Pick-up at the curb” protects staff members and customers, as it limits the amount of in-person contact. Some businesses are allowing touchless pickup via their drive-through windows, as some QSR chains are doing right now. 

Other way-out is to do a full drop at the curb where customers drive up, and after verifying the order and customer, employees place the order directly into the car trunk. 

Pick-up at the curb Workflow

At the initial step, any business which is deciding whether to go for Pick-up at the curb offering or not, they should follow the broadcasted guidelines of their local government. There could also be different guidelines in place, depending on your location.

Next, it’s essential to think about a way to schedule and organize employees in your location. Determine the method for selecting the order, assembling it, packaging it for pickup, and customer notification. If you’ve already been doing in-store pickups, you almost certainly have already got this sorted out, but if not, take the time now to get organized. 

Set up pickup spots outside your locations indicating exactly where people should park to wait for his/her order.

Notify to the customer with instructions about Do’s and Don’ts’s once they arrive and what information they keep with to verify their order. Grocery stores and retail stores often ask customers to text or call a phone number to let employees know they have arrived. 

Then decide whether staff member will place orders directly into the trunk of cars or if they’ll hand them off to customers with least possible contact. Let customers know sooner than time so that they can prepare too, as some customers may need to open their trunks manually.

Touchless Fulfillment and Shipping (New Normal)

It is the act of actively taking measures to limit close body touch to third-party individuals during the entire supply chain.

Food aggregators and QSR chains have now innovated a brand-new method to deliver essential items, medicines, and medical equipment safely and securely. It’s called touchless fulfillment and shipping.

In case of such a delivery, the delivery partner leaves the order on a clean surface outside the customer’s door. The customer would then be notified with a call, ringing the doorbell, and even sharing an image of the delivery before marking the order as delivered.

Example – At the restaurant chain, the restaurant staff who assembles the food, the one who packs, and the delivery person do not touch the food with bare hands and take all possible precautions to ensure hygiene. The packets are sealed and delivered by a delivery person, who drops the order at a pre-appointed spot outside your door and then watches from a safe distance while you retrieve your order and go back inside. With social distancing, the ‘Zero-Touch Fulfillment & Shipping’ option seems like the necessity of the hour.

Delivery Protocols

Pick up from source point:

  1. If possible, avoid direct touch with loader, equipment, lifts, etc.
  2. Practice social distancing!

Delivery to quarantine locations/health centers:

  1. Seek advice for local authorities & ensure you perform touchless fulfilment and shipping
  2. Make sure you adhere to the delivery protocols at your delivery location

Example of Touchless Pick-up / Delivery to practice Social Distancing:

Kindly be aware and observe Protocols from authorities to reduce the spread of COVID!

For Loading/Unloading Jobs:

  1. Limit the distance a minimum of 2 meters from individuals with symptoms. Avoid any body contact e.g. shaking hands.
  2. If someone has gotten in touch with anyone with symptoms, please make sure you sanitize or wash your hand.
  3. As someone performs the duty, please report to the authority or supervisor immediately if you’re not well.

The true impact of touchless fulfillment and shipping can only be realized when it’s followed diligently by all the parties involved. This implies regular sanitization of the warehouse, working personnel, packaged goods, and delivery partners. Providing PPE such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer can go a long way in ensuring that the delivery is truly touchless.

The process of touchless fulfillment and shipping could be initially difficult to the line-up, but it had been perhaps the sole answer to ensure business continuity during and post-lockdown pandemic.

End-customers place an order à make their payment online à get delivered without ever coming in any touch with the delivery agent. This may make sure that there are fewer reasons for the public to step outside of their homes. It’ll also ensure greater availability of supplies and help to follow the protocols of social distancing.

Digital and Touchless Payments:

The most important enabler and perhaps, the backbone of the complete procedure, is that the existence of a smooth payment system. The most important contributor to trust in business is ensuring that money is processed in a safe, ordinal manner. A consumer can ensure this by having a tight integration that supports all modes of payments– credit card, debit card, net-banking, UPI, and pay-later options.

Tracking and transparency:

A shining beacon of sunshine during the chaos of delivery is that the tracking facility. A live tracking status that updates the customer can go an extended way in reducing confusion about the order status. Ensure that the customer is additionally attentive to all the available pickup slots around their zip code. Also, it’s advisable to create sure transparency every step along the way i.e., order confirmation, merchant details, delivery status, refund status if any, etc.

Touchless fulfillment and shipping in an exceedingly cash-driven developed/developing/underdeveloped country:

It is perhaps too soon to know the true impact of touchless fulfillment and shipping on business but what we do know is that they’re a source of hope to confirm BAU (Business As Usual) during nad post-COVID times.

A few rays of hope during this turbulent time are that a lot of data companies have predicted e-commerce to create a powerful comeback after restrictions are lifted. This could mean unusually high demand that may be slightly overwhelming, especially if businesses are understaffed. However, with adequate motivation for frontline workers and therefore the right strategy, the approaching times could also be a bit less harsh than what we’re expecting.

Establishing the right touchless fulfillment and shipping loop can be a difficult task to stay up but it looks like the sole resolution to form your business thrive within the post-lockdown era. A serious part of the issue lies within the state of last-mile payment digitization where the hinterland places piece would be more challenging with lesser amplification of internet penetration.

It’s a weird time for business right now. Ecosystem stakeholders must come up with creative ways to remain open because the world juggles with this ongoing public-health crisis. In any case, I sincerely hope that routine is restored at the earliest and all our well-wishers are back in business.

Touchless fulfillment article and permission to publish here provided by Jenis Sheth. Originally published on Supply Chain Game Changer on September 2, 2020.