Brick and mortar retail sales have been in free-fall as online shopping grows exponentially. Some retailers have taken bold steps to survive, staking their future on technology and right-sizing. And the latest numbers may show some hope. Although overall year-over-year growth is still in negative territory, a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysis found that department store sales were showing 5 months of positive growth.
To turn the retail ship around, major retailers including Macy’s, Payless, and Radio Shack have closed 6,375 stores , retaining only their most profitable stores. Although this radical measure meant they were losing the revenues from the closed stores, the short-term loss was offset to a degree by significantly-reduced long term real estate expenses.
Some retailers have also made a major commitment to technology to help their brick-and-mortar stores. Consumers love the low prices they find online, but they don’t love waiting to receive their purchases. Retail stores cater to the need-it-now buyers, consumers who are willing to pay a slightly higher price in exchange for immediacy. But to satisfy the need-it-now buyers, storefront retailers have to make sure their inventory is never out of stock. Those who eliminate out-of-stocks are seeing a corresponding rise in sales.
This is where an RFID inventory management system makes the difference. An RFID system allows retailers to set low-inventory alerts, so they can restock shelves before an out-of-stock ever occurs. Warehouses can respond proactively, before a shortage develops. Storefronts never run out of popular items and need-it-now buyers are never disappointed.
Macy’s, for example, has adopted RFID inventory management throughout their entire supply chain. Recently they were reported as having tagged 50% of their inventory, with plans to tag 100% by the end of 2018. Since implementing RFID, Macy’s has seen a 200% increase in in-store sales.
Like much new technology, the cost of RFID has dropped dramatically in the 20 years since its inception, making it a viable solution for retailers large and small. And the increased cost control that comes with RFID can also extend to other aspects of retail inventory management, particularly storage. Multi-level racks and vertical storage can reduce storage space needs. Combined with accurate inventory forecasting, storage costs can be managed better, with less waste. A storage consultant can design a complete retail inventory management system combining RFID and compact space-efficient storage. That’s a radical step toward improved profitability.
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Just when you’re getting your business on the telecommuting bandwagon, the pioneers of telework seem to be jumping off. IBM, for example, began supporting telecommuting in the 1970’s, but now it’s shifting toward more collocation. Yahoo famously encouraged its employees to work from home, only to rescind all telecommuting in 2015. Bank of America, among others, is cutting down on telework in favor of collocation.
According to a report in All Tech Considered, HR analysts cite two primary factors pushing employees back into the office: the wisdom of expertise, and the speed of technology. Experienced workers are a valuable resource for new-hires, and millennials say they want to watch their older peers in action. Younger workers report feeling disconnected and unmotivated when they can’t learn from seasoned co-workers.
Technology figures into the collocation equation as customers expect ever-faster responses to work orders and problems. Marketers are getting campaign results in real time, and product developers receive feedback in hours, not weeks. Whenever there’s an issue, it can often be more quickly addressed by a collocated team rather than a distributed group that may be separated by many time zones. “Watercooler moments” of serendipitous conversation can lead to breakthroughs, and visible face time is valuable when a promotion is in play.
Yet there are still good reasons to telecommute. Employees like the lifestyle balance, employers can secure the best global talent without relocation, and studies show a mix of telework and collocation is actually healthier than a daily commute. There’s also the consideration of overhead: Office space is expensive, and if you don’t have to house all your employees all the time, you’re saving money.
Telecommuting isn’t going away, and the current swing toward collocation can be seen as a movement toward balance. There are good arguments on both sides, and like most questions, one-size-fits-all is not the answer.
The primary key to balancing telework and collocation is flexibility. For offices, that means being ready to change personnel capacity easily and quickly. As teams come and go, adaptive furnishings that set up in minutes and store compactly allow office spaces to expand or contract their seating capacity on an ad-hoc basis. High-density mobile shelving and vertical storage carousels carve out additional space for workstations without enlarging the existing footprint.
There’s another vital element to the telework-collocation balancing act: Communication. For a flexible office to function well over time, all the productivity stakeholders must communicate their changing needs. Team leaders, HR, and facilities management are all part of balancing telework and collocation. Make sure the communication channels are functioning well, and your business can enjoy the advantages of both telecommuting and collocation, in a flexible environment.
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