One global survey offers a glimpse of the challenges and opportunities of modernization and post-pandemic market recovery…

In a March and April 2023 survey of over 1,400 decision-makers and associates managing and maintaining warehouse or distribution center operations (in manufacturing, retail, transportation, logistics and wholesale distribution across North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia Pacific), some of the latest trends and technologies transforming warehouse operations were analyzed.

Globally, 73% of respondents have or will be accelerating timelines of modernization projects, with those from the Asia Pacific region (APAC) similarly aligned at 69%.

Returns management become the top operational challenge cited by nearly half of respondents (47% globally, 40% in APAC) — an increase of 5% year-over-year for APAC respondents in last year’s survey of the same nature.

Other key findings

Respondents (76% globally, 75% in APAC) indicated they were under pressure to improve performance while adjusting to shifting consumer ecommerce demands.

Inaccurate inventory and running-out of stocks continued to significantly challenge productivity according to nearly 80% of respondents. Associates (82% globally, 79% in APAC) and decision-makers (76% globally, 79% in APAC) acknowledged they needed better inventory management tools to achieve better accuracy and determine availability. This included plans to invest in technology to increase visibility across the supply chain by 2028 (91% globally, 88% in APAC).

Smart devices and fixed/passive/handheld RFID readers and fixed industrial scanning solutions were also common considerations.


    • Speeding up modernization

      • 69% of APAC respondents who were warehouse decision-makers had or will be accelerating timelines of modernization projects to help with returns management.
    • Increasing visibility

      • 70% of respondents who were warehouse decision-makers already had or were planning to automate workflows by 2024 to support warehouse associates and shift them towards more customer-centric, high-value tasks.
      • 80% of respondents who were warehouse associates globally (81%) and in APAC (78%) agreed to prompts that using more technology and automation helped them meet or exceed productivity goals.
    • Prioritizing sustainability in decision-making

      • In APAC, 74% of respondents who were warehouse decision-makers were focused on reducing emissions and waste, while 78% recognized the importance of their warehouse technology solutions maximizing battery life.
      • Other sustainable elements respondents prioritized included ensuring accurate mobile device swap-out time; connecting to energy monitoring software to maximize efficiency; offering buy-back and certified refurbishment/circular economy programs; and the use of reusable and recyclable materials. Beyond their own operations, 81% of global respondents who were warehouse decision-makers (79% in APAC) also indicated it was important that technology vendors have sustainability measures in place for running their businesses.

Ultimately, warehouses must continue to implement agile strategies to avoid inefficiencies, preserve resources, and provide employees with a performance edge.

According to Vivien Tay, Vertical Solutions Marketing Lead, Zebra Technologies (Asia Pacific), which commissioned the survey. “At the heart of warehouse operations, workers remain an indispensable asset, underscoring the pivotal need for decision-makers to delicately balance the requirements of both human labor and automation. The synergy between workers and automation is essential, as the value of automation is realized through its augmentation of human productivity and efficiency, directly impacting throughput, capacity, and customer satisfaction.”