Smart lockers help plumbing and HVAC distributors unlock the potential of e-commerce

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Like many companies, Ferguson, a wholesale distributor of plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) supplies, sees an increase in omnichannel retailing as more of its customers place orders online and through its mobile app in addition to traditional methods, such as in person and over the phone.

To meet the growing number of customers who want to pick up those orders online and over the phone at one of its stores, Ferguson has deployed a solution it initially adopted to manage mobile devices in its fulfillment centers: smart lockers. .

At its 10 regional distribution centers, Ferguson uses smart lockers from Apex Supply Chain Technologies for storing mobile devices, such as RF (radio frequency) scanners, voice pickers and plugged-in printers, according to Chris Everett, director of supply chain strategy at Ferguson. Before each shift, DC associates enter their personal code to verify the devices they need for the day. At the end of their shift, they simply check the devices in the lockers.

The new system has gone a long way in streamlining the pickup process, according to company executives. “[Before implementing the lockers,] we were spending huge amounts of money on RF devices, voice devices and tablets, and not only did we not have control of the assets, but we [lacked] a good mechanism for assigning devices to people, ”says Everett. “Now associates who walk into our distribution centers can get their device very quickly and go about their business. These seconds are added to the minutes, which are added to the hours, which, at the end of the day, add up to [a lot of] money.”

FASTER COLLECTIONS

Working with Apex, Ferguson began exploring the idea of ​​changing the system he uses for contactless asset pickup by DC associates to customer order pickup.

All of Ferguson’s 1,400 field locations have a ‘call’ counter, where customers can pick up items ordered online or by phone. Ferguson believed that by using smart lockers, the company could reduce the waiting time at call desks while widening the window of time for pickups.

However, it was not as simple as installing the same lockers in retail stores. Ferguson products come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, from faucets and water heaters to 10 foot pieces of copper pipe. To accommodate larger items, Apex has adapted its smart lockers into “smart cages” that offer more capacity.

Now when customers place an order, they receive a QR (Quick Response) code that they can use to open the crate or locker and collect their merchandise. According to company executives, this new process is not only more efficient but also more flexible, as it allows customers to pick up products outside of Ferguson’s normal business hours.

“It gives our customers access to the breadth and depth of our inventory 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Everett.


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