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Securing the Future of Retail Management

By Joe Bobko, Vice President of Transportation, Boxed

Joe Bobko, Vice President of Transportation, Boxed

As a person who drives on major highways in the Northeastern part of the country, I would find myself very perplexed if a driverless vehicle approached me from the opposite direction. This is chiefly because as a human being—who although is surrounded by high-end technology throughout the day—I am not quite comfortable with the idea of autonomous cars or trucks. The triumph of technology is realized when people are ready to accept it. From an industrial and a social standpoint, consumers need to gain a deeper understanding of new technologies before they are absorbed into the mainstream business.

"Fortunately, we are in a stage where robotics and automation, irrespective of industries, are more a help in complementing the existing labor"

Grateful of being a dinosaur in a new world, I have experienced the benefit of being able to evaluate the upcoming trends, its potential to disrupt the existing market trends, and the required adaptability to cope with the changing landscape. In an e-commerce world or a startup, people watch out for better ways to enhance the business methods as compared to how it is conducted today. While working for Fortune 50-500 companies, I had a more narrowed decision-making process due to legacy thought processes, likely to negate the abilities or prevent new technologies. I am much more open to looking at everything that is available, trying to evaluate what will work; even though it might not be applicable to business today, it will be in the near future.

What are some of the predominant transportation challenges and trends that you observe currently?

The transportation industry, much of which is aligned with the supply chain, has involved crowdsourcing as a major part of the delivery process. E-commerce giant Amazon and some similar organizations have already started strengthening the delivery workforce via Amazon Flex. This is going to serve as an interim phase in the industry until people welcome the concept of receiving product deliveries by unmanned vehicles. It is quite interesting to note how the delivery sector has been locking more people; it is a step to support the growing e-commerce business until the right technology solutions can be in place. Two probable situations can be ideated in this case:

• Customers are alert that their delivery is on the way; they meet the unmanned vehicle and retrieve their product after undergoing relevant security processes.

• The customer's home is equipped with a starship robot, which meets the vehicle and exchanges information and takes the product to the customer's house.

However, there is a catch. People do not want to stay away from their homes for weeks at a time in the long haul trucking business, which consequently has led to a shortage of drivers. In addition, the hiring of professional drivers for the local and regional delivery process is a challenge. As a result, crowdsourcing of local drivers has become a trend.

On the other hand, warehouses hire a large population available to conduct low-paid manual tasks repeatedly. Nevertheless, as the e-commerce industry grows, it is experiencing a shortage of labor and resultantly wages are increasing. The money available for capital improvement and R&D is necessary to develop the technology for the delivery process in order to bridge this gap. A $15-an-hour wage bannered as the lowest minimum living wage is being adopted by some companies even before it is mandated by the government. That is what increases the expenses of the manufacturer or the system operations or lowers the profit margin as well as the capital required for technology development.

What are the common misconceptions in the transportation industry today?

It is often considered that with the incorporation of robotics in workplaces, the requirement for manpower will be eliminated. Fortunately, we are in a stage where robotics and automation, irrespective of industries, are more a help in complementing the existing labor. In addition, retraining of employees will be imperative in organizations for coping with the advancements brought in by robotics and automation.

Added to that, most consumers believe that vendors always understand the best interests of the customer at heart. While that is partly true, some naivety still exists. Most vendors are just looking to create fancy products and tend to sell unnecessary features. From a generational perspective, industry veterans are reluctant to adopt new solutions. Contrarily, the young senior executives tend to purchase products which overwhelm them with features that are often not practical enough to cater to the demands of the customers at a reasonable price. At Boxed, we evaluate the potential of the technology in order to assess its scope for enhancing customer experience in a cost-effective manner that poses a win-win situation for both the organization and the customer.

With a plethora of similar solutions being introduced into the marketplace, it is easy to get caught up in the most interesting new technology and eventually find out that it does not deliver as promised. One should invest time in choosing the most diligent solution in order to avoid unnecessary costs and save capital. How does one understand which solution to choose? There is a silver lining—most technologies allow users to try the solutions without investing a tremendous amount of capital upfront.

Please suggest how the transportation landscape will look a few years down the line.

Over the next decade, the whole concept of omnichannel retail is going to change significantly. Most customers want to buy products at the store but simultaneously wish to have the option of having delivered them to their doorstep. This can be strategized in the following manner:

Retail merchants may make products available for customers who want to come to the store and even for those who do not. This will empower customers with the flexibility of shopping. Organizations such as Gartner and McKinsey present data related to worldwide sentiment, new evolutions, political scene, public poll, which in the present times do not have a major impact upon the economy. However, it has a very big psychological effect on people. At this point, every retailer or e-commerce business must develop stronger customer retention strategies.

What message do you want to leave for your colleagues?

To the executives entering the workforce, take a chance while you are young. Join an e-commerce startup for example where you learn and eventually grow. The whole world is revolving around application development and data. Coding and data analytics are the current way to be future-ready. Give back more than you get. Train somebody right under you during your career growth so you can taste the bigger and better things.

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