Technology: ‘Progress, but not our individuality’

Technology is everywhere, including in our companies. While the smartphone has become our regular right hand for everyday life, robots and computers are also becoming increasingly important in companies. What influence do they have and what does the future look like?

Eline De Munck
CEO of Odette Lunettes, eyewear brand with webshop and own stores

What role do technology and automation play in your company?

“It plays an important role, both in terms of customer service whose customer experience. All our communication channels come together on the Sparkcentral platform: WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, the contact form on our website… This way we can communicate centrally and very clearly. About two-thirds of our communication takes place via a chatbot, which answers standard questions, leads to the appointment planner, but also helps to find the right glasses. You choose the frames you want to fit online, and we make sure they are delivered to your chosen optician. In addition, we also offer FaceTime consultations so that people get the necessary advice at home.”

What aspects do you explicitly not leave to technology?

“For the first three years, we were a two-man company: my co-founder Bob Geraets and me. Technology was immediately very important, to save as much work as possible. But we don’t want to leave everything to computers. In any case, there will always be a need for actions: making the packages, sending glasses to opticians, running and staffing our brick-and-mortar stores… We also think it’s important to have a handwritten card for everyone who buys glasses. You have to invest time in that, otherwise it’s costly of the customer experience.”

What will the future bring?

“We continue to look for innovations that can help us. There is a great shortage of opticians in our country who can perform eye measurements. Today there are also opportunities to do this automatically. We also want to implement a virtual try- on. This way, the customer can virtually see themselves with the frames on. We also collaborate with Materialize, a top Leuven-based company in 3D printing. By scanning a person’s head, we could get custom-made glasses in 3D printing. Especially for children’s glasses – which we often get asked about – it would be an interesting option. But they are all want to, things we want to do. We are still in the research phase.”

automationThe Kelly Cup
CEO of Busy Mama’s, webshop

What role do technology and automation play in your company?

“Technology and automation support our operations, but we are not very far into it yet. That back side of our webshop runs fully automatically. When someone buys a product, the system checks if it is in stock. A confirmation is then automatically sent to the customer. The orders are exported automatically and I don’t really have any more work with invoicing and accounting. It has a huge impact on our operations. We have about 30,000 products in stock, I used to count them manually. It was a huge job, which we can now do at the push of a button.”

What aspects do you explicitly not leave to technology?

“Busy Mama’s individuality is the most important thing. Therefore, I will literally hold a few things in my hands. I personally test all the products we sell. And I also want to keep communication with our customers personal. I receive 50 to 200 emails a day, all of which I answer myself. Our customers know who I am, a chatbot with automatic responses would not work for us. It is the personal touch that makes us successful. Order picking is still done manually for now, as is packing and shipping.”

What will the future bring?

“An automatic order picking system is now a priority. Today, it is still completely manual: someone orders a product, we go and look for it ourselves in the warehouse. And then you can be wrong. We would like to roll it out this year. All our products must then have a unique barcode. It is not an easy task, but it is a step we must take. I also want to join a big company to get ideas in innovation. We want to keep up with the times, but it must not be at the expense of our individuality.”

technologyKenny VanPaesschen
CEO of Shopwedo, online logistics platform for Belgian e-commerce

What role do technology and automation play in your company?

“Technology and automation are the only way in order to manage the logistics properly. On the one hand, there is the software, which is super important: handling data, developing customer platforms… This way they can keep an eye on everything 24/7, wherever they are in the world. In addition, our warehouse is 80 percent robotised, while everything was done completely manually a year ago. All packages go from picking to packing stations with robotic arms. There, our people put it in the box, after which it is automatically sealed. Initially, we wanted to implement these renewal plans within a few years, but due to the enormous corona pressure in e-commerce, we have accelerated that process.”

What aspects do you explicitly not leave to technology?

“We will always need people, we will not lay off our staff, but over time they will be used more for more complex operations, for collaboration, for maintenance, in the office and so on. We think the human contribution is very important, which is why we focus on automation. During the corona crisis, e-commerce experienced a huge boom. Some of our customers sold twenty times more than before. It put too much pressure on the staff. Now our people can concentrate on other tasks in a much more sustainable way.”

What will the future bring?

“Much more innovation. The order system has been robotized, but the packages are still processed by people. In time, this can also be automated. We have five gates through which our parcels come out. Next year, one of these gates should be equipped with a robotic arm . In the following years, we also want to automate the other gates. Previously, such innovations were extremely expensive and reserved only for the largest players. Thanks to the technological revolution, these investments are also manageable for companies like Shopwedo. And we will continue to focus on that .”

Leave a Comment