What CES tells us about the future of our industry

The International Consumer Electronics Show (International CES) showcases more than 3,800 exhibiting companies, including manufacturers, developers and suppliers of consumer technology hardware, content, technology delivery systems and more.

This year’s CES brought us the usual weird and wonderful inventions such as a pet collar that tells you whether a dog is happy or sad and a pair of jeans that will give you directions.

However, the interest for us was in the technology that could be affecting the warehouse space in the years to come.

How technology is shaping the future of e-commerce

The real business end of the trade show was dominated by the Internet of Things, augmented reality and virtual assistants, as shown by Amazon’s Alexa who showed up in everything from fridges to cars.

Voice and augmented reality are also changing the way that e-commerce companies think. For example, at CES Zubair Murtaza, VP of e-commerce product management and experience, Staples said: ‘We’re investing in more smart technology. We want it across all channels, whether that’s chat on the web, mobile device, SMS, Facebook Messenger – all the different ways a customer wants to engage.’

This shows that an omni-channel approach may be adopted by many more retailers in the future.

What we can learn from the connected car

During CES Nissan-Renault announced Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) that pairs cars’ machine learning with human support to add to the cars’ knowledge of what to do in unforeseen situations and this helps add to the AI’s memory bank.

This has obvious overlap with e-commerce and the warehouse industry. As the risk of more and more jobs being cut to make way for fully autonomous warehouses looms, Nissan make the point that we should not leave an unfinished technology to its own devices. We are a long way away from fully autonomous capabilities and that human workers still have an integral part to play.

Virtual assistants will impact the warehouse space

Amazon Echo and Echo Dot proved to be some of the best-selling products this Christmas, and have seen virtual assistants hit homes. Google Home also proved popular and both companies solutions allow for products to be ordered for home delivery, simply by talking to the AI. Though this brings greater convenience, beware that sometimes with convenience comes problems as this little girl from Arkansas proved over Christmas.  Let’s hope the virtual assistants aren’t as easy to get around, or we could be seeing even more returns during peak periods in the future.

The future for returns

Speaking of returns, National Returns Day, which was created by UPS to signify the day post-Christmas where most items are returned, found 1.3 million packages were shipped back to retailers on 5th January 2017, up a million packages on last year’s National Returns Day. Warehouses beware!

But there was one company on display at CES that were offering an alternative solution to returns. Happy Returns, has created its business on the assumption that people prefer to return items in-store rather than through the mail. Online companies can’t fulfil this need, but Happy Returns can refund customers there and then and returns the item, as long as they are one of the retailers that have linked up with Happy Returns.

It refunds the customer’s money and then aggregates those items with other customers’ returns in a box, shipping it back to the retailer. The model cuts down on costs of shipping and could possibly help reduce the amount of returns in the warehouse especially during peak periods.

Conclusion

CES has proven to be one of the main events when it comes to showing how technology will dictate our lives in the future. Although some concepts are far flung there is plenty on show to see what direction e-commerce, multi-channel retail and the traditional warehouse may take in the coming years.