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Apr 24 2019

Furniture retail trade: why tracking is becoming indispensable

Tracking allows the status of deliveries to be monitored – and gives customers and retailers greater security. But the technology is only in its infancy.

Logistics is one of the most important factors in the furniture industry: reliable and cost-efficient shipments are essential if a business is to succeed. The growing importance of e-commerce means that logistics processes have to be constantly adapted.

The magic word for both furniture manufacturers and retailers is tracking. In other words, being able to locate a particular delivery at any point in time. New technologies such as satellite monitoring of delivery vehicles and cargo planes provide a means to track shipments and enable constant monitoring of their current location and expected delivery time.

Customers are still reluctant

The importance of tracking for the furniture industry is poised to grow further. After all, customers want answers to crucial questions when it comes to receiving their orders: when will the delivery arrive? Will someone be at home, or do I have to rely on a kind-hearted neighbour taking delivery?

But tracking can do more than increase customer satisfaction. It gives the sender greater security and provides benefits when planning future deliveries and logistics processes in general.

Thanks to tracking, individual stores also know which items will be arriving and when. This is vitally important for multichannel concepts, for instance where customers select furniture online and then want to collect in store.

But there are still some hurdles to be overcome. In practice, tracking doesn’t always work smoothly. This is partly due to end customers’ reluctance to use tracking services. Here fear of spam in their inbox plays a big role.

On the other hand, all the cogs in the wheel don’t always work together: sometimes warehouse management, logistics and online services (e.g. the delivery company’s app) simply don’t synch.

The consequences: invalid tracking numbers or incorrectly calculated delivery times. Logistics processes between different continents in particular, for instance shipments from Asia to Europe or North America, need to be better coordinated. Yet still tracking is inescapable: delivery problems are seen as one of the potential weaknesses of e-commerce.

The more information customers and retailers have about the current location of shipped items, the higher the chances that the delivery will be successful. If customers can select when and where an item is to be delivered, this is a clear plus point in the vendor’s favour. 

Tracking the product from the very beginning

But traceability doesn’t start and end with shipping: seamlessly tracking and tracing goods is not just an important factor for manufacturers themselves and a crucial tool for introducing lean logistics, for instance, or tackling touchy issues like product recalls.

The question of where a product or its individual components have been sourced is becoming more important for end consumers, too. This is currently a major issue in the food industry: customers want to be able to trace organic products back to their place of origin.

But traceability is becoming established as an important tool in other industries as well. QR codes on items by London fashion label Ninety Percent reveal where the cotton used comes from, where the item was produced and how it was transported. Ideas like this are also needed in the furniture industry. The traceability of a product could prove to be an important factor for sustainable raw materials in particular.

With today’s sophisticated technologies – which include DNA testing – it’s possible find out whether the wood in a piece of furniture is actually sourced from sustainably managed plantations. This can give customers the peace of mind that their bed, cabinet and desk are really made from “good” materials.

Systems like these even have political consequences: the ban on timber exports from the African nation Liberia was lifted last year. The removal of UN sanctions was based in part on being able to seamlessly monitor where the timber is sourced from and who is exporting it.

Immediately after felling a tree, a barcode is attached to the trunk. And finally, track and trace provides the basis for new marketing approaches. It allows the full life cycle of an item of furniture to be presented – from the tree trunk to the workshop or factory to the store. In this way, an anonymous product can be filled with stories and life for consumers.

Tracking is becoming indispensable

Here is the vision: in the near future, consumers will be able to quickly and easily find out where the raw materials in a piece of furniture they like come from, where and how it was produced, where the nice piece is currently located and what might happen to it later if it is no longer needed.

This level of transparency will not be easy to create – but it would pay off. Seamless tracking of deliveries is only the first step.

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