Flexibility of automation key to Ramadan rush
18 July 2016
Retailers looking to respond to seasonal demands are turning to automation to achieve the flexibility and rapid scalability required.
Adding to the traditional surges in retail demand in Spring, Summer and the Christmas season, another peak dubbed the ‘Ramadan Rush’ is boosting sales as Muslims celebrate the end of the holy fasting month.
Jewellers, designer outlets and five-star hotels are used to welcoming wealthy Arab shoppers at this time of year, but in line with broader shopping habits, more are turning to their mobiles and laptops to make online purchases.
“In the Middle East, where Swisslog has recently expanded its presence, the e-commerce market is said to be over $7billion,” says General Manager of Swisslog Middle East LLC, Frédéric Zielinski. “Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore too also see a spike in online sales activity. Like the rest of the world, mobile is now becoming the key driving force.”
Searches for clothes, consumer electronics and online entertainment increase by up to 25% in the run up to Eid, whilst food and travel are also understandably popular.
The offline world is feeling the impact too. Worldpay, one of the world’s leading independent payment processing companies, reported that in 2015 department stores from London to Bahrain led the way in Ramadan related sales. Even leafy Oxfordshire in England saw an impact, with Bicester Village, a popular designer outlet destination for tourists, seeing sales almost triple.
Flexibility of Automation
Increased volume, holiday deals and shipping promotions frequently require retailers to be able to fulfil fluctuating volumes of online orders for delivery on a real time basis.
Adds Frédéric: “In addition to scheduled store deliveries of pallets and cases, retailers must factor split-case picking, item-level touches and multi-line item sortation in to their fulfilment processes to accommodate for demand fluctuations.”
Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, with Muslims around the world fasting from dawn to sunset during the period. It’s not a fixed date in the diary, but it can be planned for, and indeed many retail stores do by listing tax-free prices, employing multi-lingual staff and allowing shoppers to pay by card in their own currency.
New technological and ergonomic advances are helping their online counterparts meet the unpredictable demands without hiring huge numbers of temporary staff.
Automation has become more affordable and productive than ever, and companies around the globe are leveraging such technology in their warehouses to improve the distribution centre work environment.
Scalability is one of automation’s most attractive propositions, with systems capable of fitting into existing buildings or being designed with future growth in mind.
Automated systems are also flexible enough to respond to peaks in demand without putting the whole system under strain or requiring a huge influx of temporary workers.
As a matter of course peak weeks (how many days?), days within the week (how many hours?) and even the peak hour on the peak day, are factored in to the building of new systems, allowing for the “peak hour design capacity” to be defined and tested by the client.
Human interface with modern robotic systems also present very little risk compared to the randomness of such warehouse equipment as the forklift, pallet truck and other manually guided power equipment. Typical fixed aisle ASRS and systems with high-speed robots for put away and storage are designed to work in confines that are limited or even completely off-limits to workers.
With the latest automated storage and retrieval technologies such as AutoStore in place, operators merely insert bins into the storage cube via one or more receiving stations. Robots bring inventory to pickers for order fulfilment selection and then replace any remaining material back into storage. This saves time, increases productivity and eliminates thousands of miles of walking for pickers in a typical fulfilment centre.
Automated fulfilment systems leverage faster robotic technology, data inventory systems and a re-examined strategy of how warehouse space is utilized. They also rethink the sometimes harsh labour conditions that e-commerce has caused, and can save workers time and energy. As e-commerce demand grows, companies need to consider automated storage and retrieval technologies especially to accommodate holiday fulfilment and simultaneously improve workers’ quality of life.
Over the coming decades, retailers are increasingly expected to approach Ramadan as a lucrative season. Regardless of whether the Muslim population grows as fast as some predict, levels of wealth are steadily rising, ecommerce continues its dominant rise and Ramadan’s place on the retail calendar will solidify. In those circumstances intralogistics operations will have no choice but to align accordingly.