Smart Warehousing Jun 30, 2021 4:47:00 PM 9 min read

The Evolution of E-Commerce Warehousing and Fulfillment

As your company continues to grow in the post-pandemic landscape, it's important to invest in e-commerce warehousing and fulfillment partners that can grow with you instead of hold you back. In fact, according to Robotics Business Review, "Despite the global economic uncertainty at the moment, e-commerce will keep growing and is expected to account for 22% of all retail sales worldwide in 2023 — compared to the 14.1% back in 2019."

If you want your business to hold onto your market share (and even expand past it), then you need to stay on top of emerging warehouse and fulfillment trends. That starts with understanding how online shopping began, how it has evolved over the years, and the role that trustworthy fulfillment partners play in it all.

The Birth of Online Shopping

Online shopping first developed as a concept in the 1970s. Michael Aldrich created the idea of teleshopping in 1979. Some historians even trace online commerce back to the early 1960s, when businesses began to implement Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to electronically share information.

This facilitated B2B interactions such as exchanging information, sending electronic invoices, and transmitting documents, but the technology stayed largely within the B2B sphere.

In fact, it wasn't until 1994 that the first online retail transaction took place. As the World Wide Web and an increasingly robust digital network came online in the 1990s, online commerce on a larger scale became more feasible. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption was also developed, which allowed for the secure transfer of credit card details in consumer transactions. The trend of online shopping really took off with the development of Amazon and Google in the latter half of the 1990s.

Early Warehousing Options 

The technology to facilitate easy online transactions wasn't enough to allow fast online shopping and delivery to fully take form. Businesses also needed flexible, responsive warehousing options that could facilitate the movement of online orders along the route to more personalized destinations. 

At the beginning of the 21st century, warehouse companies began to develop their role in the e-commerce space. They could help meet the needs of shoppers who wanted products not immediately available in their local stores and of vendors that didn't have nearby retail hubs to pull inventory from.

Instead, companies could use warehouses to position goods along in-demand e-commerce trade routes. They could perform a variety of functions throughout the order processing, fulfillment, and shipping stages of e-commerce.

With our roots dating back more than 20 years, we've been part of the industry's development since e-commerce really began to take off. We started with our Smart Warehousing Inventory Management System (SWIMS) software that allowed for more complete insight and management of complex warehousing processes. From there, our company rapidly grew to have 100,000 square feet of warehouse space within two years and multiple warehouse hubs across the country from California to Pennsylvania.

The E-Commerce Boom

E-commerce really began to boom once warehousing and online shopping developed enough to support consumer interest and demand. Companies diverged along two main tracks: large companies like Amazon and Walmart developed their own distribution networks; Amazon became a pioneer in the self-fulfillment space with fulfillment centers and completely internal management.

But most companies began to work with third parties to fulfill more and more complex e-commerce services. To meet those evolving needs, companies like Smart Warehousing continued to expand and deliver more nuanced services. Companies demanded faster shipping, cost-effective distribution across wide customer networks, and the software to see real-time insights into how orders were progressing.

In 2012, Smart Warehousing integrated with Amazon and Shopify to deliver more seamless services and scalable fulfillment practices. We also began to incorporate frozen and refrigerated fulfillment to accommodate the growing demand for online food sales and services.

Modern Warehousing and Fulfillment

In today's markets, e-commerce has become a vital and irreplaceable part of how individual consumers and businesses order goods. The sheer amount of volume and complexity demands an increased amount of automation, computerized control, and speed that older systems simply can't manage.

Traditional, manual modes of fulfillment were too tedious, filled with errors, and slow. But computerized systems can handle international order fulfillment 24/7 while providing both suppliers and customers with real-time progress updates and insights. There are two main advantages that have come from modern warehousing and fulfillment:

Automation

Because suppliers need to be able to fulfill growing demand in shorter timelines, they're increasingly turning to automation. Programs can bridge the gap between consumer and supplier to immediately place ordered items on the list for shipping, send them to the right distribution hub, and more.

Automated inventory management systems can notify manufacturers when stock needs to be replenished and can even predict future bursts of demand to avoid shortages. Automation ensures there's minimal delay due to human activity or normal operating hours.

Accessibility 

Smart Warehousing technologies don't just open up e-commerce to shoppers in widespread locations. Smaller companies can compete with larger companies because they have access to a national (or international) infrastructure of distribution centers, shipping resources, and warehouses.

Small businesses can lease warehousing in critical locations in just the right sizes for their inventory and then modify their contracts from term to term as their business grows.

Our warehousing solutions are further optimized with our SWIMS platform, as well as our Bubbles mobile technology. Businesses don't just need physical space — they need instant and constant connectivity with each of their distribution processes to stay on top of supply and demand.

Advanced Warehousing and Fulfillment From Smart Warehousing

E-commerce is constantly evolving as customers increase demand for varied goods and immediate services. Today's warehousing systems and supply chain technologies allow small and large businesses to compete with each other to provide their target markets with optimal service.

At Smart Warehousing, we're here to help. We can partner with your business to create a reliable, scalable infrastructure for storage, order processing, and shipping. Contact us today to learn more about our services or schedule a consultation to find the right warehousing solutions for your business.

COMMENTS