Futuristic Technology Retail Warehouse: Worker Doing Inventory Walks when Digitalization Process Analyzes Goods, Cardboard Boxes, Products with Delivery Infographics in Logistics, Distribution Center Getty Images/iStockphoto

Zebra Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ: ZBRA), a leading digital solution provider enabling businesses to intelligently connect data, assets, and people, recently released the findings of its 2023 Global Warehousing Study which confirmed 58% of warehouse decision-makers plan to deploy radio frequency identification (RFID) technology by 2028 which will help increase inventory visibility and reduce out-of-stocks.

Most warehouse decision-makers expect to implement fixed, passive, or handheld RFID readers as well as fixed industrial scanning solutions within the next five years so that assets, employees, and products can be better tracked throughout the warehouse environment. The development of RFID, a tool for problem-solving for front-line employees in warehouses and other industries, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Accelerating Modernization to Manage Returns

According to the report, 74% of warehouse decision-makers in Europe and 73% worldwide have accelerated or will accelerate modernization project schedules. This could aid returns management, which nearly half of warehouse decision-makers rated as their top operational concern, an increase of 10% from the previous year. In Europe, that number is 43%, a rise of 12 percentage points over the previous year.

“The significant growth of returns aligns with explosive e-fulfillment growth over the last several years, and it is a mandate for change across every part of the supply chain,” said Andre Luecht, Global Strategy Lead for Transportation, Logistics and Warehouse, Zebra Technologies. “This means warehouse leaders must modernize their operations with technology solutions to handle returns and increase agility, inventory visibility and demand forecasting in order to improve efficiency and make better decisions in real time.”

A majority of warehouse decision-makers (76%) 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. In fact, both groups—82% of associates and 76% of decision-makers—acknowledge they need better inventory management tools to achieve better accuracy and determine availability. And a significant 94% of European decision-makers (91% globally) are addressing this need, citing plans to invest in technology to increase visibility across the supply chain by 2028.

Optimizing Operations to Increase Visibility

Warehouse decision-makers are also augmenting their front-line workers by automating their warehouses to ultimately optimize their operations and increase their inventory visibility. According to a recent study by Interact Analysis, despite a recent slowdown in demand for automation projects (in part due to a reduction in warehousing construction), this demand is expected to return to growth in 2024.

According to the Zebra report, 69% of warehouse decision-makers already automate workflows or want to do so by 2024 in order to help warehouse employees and direct them toward higher-value, more customer-focused jobs. By lowering manual picking, order errors, and cycle time, automation, according to more than half of warehouse decision-makers, boosts worker productivity and efficiency. Eight out of ten warehouse employees concur that increased automation and technology help them meet or surpass productivity targets.

Complementing the rise in productivity, eight in ten warehouse associates surveyed also feel more valued when their employers provide them with technology and automation tools to help them work. Similarly, 88% of 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%) and predictive analytics (59%) software solutions in their facilities by 2028.

Prioritizing Sustainability in Decision-Making

Warehouse decision-makers are choosing solutions based on their ability to help them build sustainable operations, driven largely by regulations, energy costs or shortages along with customer, worker and investor expectations. For example, 78% of European warehouse decision-makers (77% globally) are focused on reducing emissions and waste while eight in ten warehouse decision-makers say it’s important their warehouse technology solutions maximize battery life.

Other sustainable elements decision-makers prioritize today include ensuring accurate mobile device swap-out time, connecting to energy monitoring software to maximize efficiency, offering buy-back and certified refurbishment/circular economy programs, and the use of reusable and recyclable materials. Beyond their own operations, 81% of warehouse decision-makers also say it’s important that technology vendors have sustainability measures in place for running their businesses.