In the current COVID-19 crisis, we have witnessed empty shelves of groceries. This has helped us realize the importance of e-commerce and why we need to adapt to e-commerce techniques. The evolution of e-commerce technology has increased customer expectations. “Today customers expect the time from placing an order to delivery of the order to be only a few days, a few hours or even less than an hour as drones become pervasive,” said John C. Peck, President, and CEO of FastFetch Corporation.
John is a serial entrepreneur and has founded several startup companies. In 1987, he established Foxfire Technologies Corporation and served as Chairman. In 2006, he incorporated FastFetch Corporation, a spinoff of Foxfire Technologies, and later sold Foxfire while continuing to operate FastFetch independently with no joint ownership. FastFetch’s vision is to make scalable technology available at a price point affordable by both small and large distribution centers with an ROI payback period of fewer than 6 months.
In the discussion below, John shares his views on the evolution of the supply chain industry and how he and his team have been tackling the challenges. Here are the snippets:
What is your opinion makes FastFetch Corporation unique in your industry?
FastFetch has numerous domestic and international patents and other IP that separates our technology and methods from others. We offer a multimodal suite of solutions that combine voice, light-directed, and wireless barcode scanning technologies. Since we design and manufacture our own hardware, firmware, and application software, it is easy to customize the unique requirements of customers. Additionally, it eliminates the need for the middle man, thus making the solutions more affordable.
So, are these solutions well suited in response to the COVID-19 outbreak?
I think the unique technology of our light-sensitive proximity switch provides a partial solution to controlling the pandemic. This switch eliminates a mechanical push button to confirm picking completion on a cart or bay. Using this switch, a warehouse worker can wave a hand or object within a few centimeters of a translucent lens to achieve the same result as pushing a mechanical button. In regards to the pandemic, the proximity switch will protect against the virus as there are no common surfaces touched by multiple workers. Another advantage is that the proximity switch will not wear out as there is no repeated mechanical action.
How will you elaborate on your roles and responsibilities at FastFetch Corporation?
My responsibilities are fairly typical as that of a CEO/Founder in terms of administration, reporting to the government, and communicating with the technical professionals who develop, deploy, and support our products. Additionally, I enjoy my role as a technical resource for sales. My responsibilities in this role include conversing with the prospects and customers about the challenges they are facing and finding solutions to those challenges. The solutions sometimes lead to new innovative products for FastFetch.
Was there any difference in the working style due to the outbreak of COVID-19?
Yes, in sync with the response towards the virus adopted by most companies, we too shifted to remote working. Although most of our team has returned to the office on a routine basis, we continue to allow any teammate to choose remote working. And to maintain smooth communication throughout the staff we conduct company and team meetings with remote connection software. Likewise, this remote connection software is also leveraged to enable us to tour a prospective buyer’s distribution center using a smartphone held by the prospect. By using this software we can ask questions and get close up views of important parts of the distribution center, all while recording a session for later review.
Has the COVID-19 outbreak put forth any challenges for the company?
Pre-COVID, the sales cycle for our products used to average around 4-8 months because the financial and operational commitments required were often large and required significant study. The pandemic increased the sales cycle time. Due to the uncertainty throughout the market, many companies were afraid of the unknown and largely postponed all new projects for several months. Thus, most of our orders from the early phase of the pandemic were from existing customers. Due to the surge in e-commerce, they expanded their FastFetch technology with full confidence in the benefits to be derived from the expansion.
Fortunately, during the late summer, things began returning to normal. However, e-commerce customers found their demands for products did not return to pre-pandemic levels but instead continued to grow as customers became hooked on home shopping.
Looking at the current growth demographic, what do you predict for the future?
The pandemic has benefited e-commerce companies as shoppers were forced to use home-shopping-based technologies to purchase items that would normally be purchased at retail stores. This acceptance and growth of e-commerce and related technologies occurred much faster than expected. Recent reports reveal that e-commerce has grown by 48% during the first 6 months of the pandemic rather than the 15% annual growth rate recorded during the past 5 years. As a result of greater customer demand for faster delivery, I predict micro-fulfillment centers, which will be located within 25 miles of customers in large metropolitan areas, will be the next big wave in e-commerce.
How are you reshaping or innovating the services to be in pace with the current trends?
FastFetch is continuously monitoring and measuring trends and publishing our findings so our customers and others remain updated with forthcoming changes. As mentioned earlier, there will be increasing demand for micro-fulfillment centers. In my opinion, as Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS), including robotics, become more popular, they will not eliminate human workers. Humans have the flexibility to adapt to changes in product sizes, shapes, locations, and fragility attributes and can outperform ASRS picking technologies in almost all order fulfillment applications.
Currently, we are building and deploying low-cost, highly flexible products that enable humans to be 2 to 5 times more productive in their work. We will continue to develop new products before they are needed to stay ahead of the technology curve and have solutions ready when the changes we predict arrive.
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