Thoughts on Ecommerce

Dennis Oates Graph

By Dennis Oates

As we (fingers crossed) enter the post-pandemic world, it is interesting to look back at the role industrial engineers (IEs) played in helping us through this incredibly challenging time.

The expansion of Ecommerce allowed us to safely continue life during lockdowns.  The pandemic’s Ecommerce explosion would not have been possible without industrial engineering tools and practitioners. This growth was unprecedented. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Ecommerce sales in 2021 were up 50 percent over 2019. And the use of food and beverage ecommerce services (Grubhub and DoorDash, for example) was up a whopping 170 percent during that same period.

IEs made significant contributions to new staffing and capacity models. Existing supply chains were strained as the retail world shifted to online shopping and direct home delivery.  Logistics networks required redesign; optimization tools became key and workers who could use them became indispensable. Facilities needed to be reconfigured and material handling systems implemented – again IEs at work. Addressing the need for robust capacity and staffing models, critical to ensuring orders could be picked, packed, sorted and delivered, was yet another area of significant contribution by IEs.

What’s next for Ecommerce? I am excited by innovations that are still to come: ultra-fast delivery, better visibility of in-transit shipments, optimizing networks that improve customer experience while lowering cost, and more.  One thing is clear to me; IEs will be in demand to assist with them. 

A note for current students. If you are working through your time at UWM, understand that the two-pronged approach of your education is extremely valuable. You are learning the theory of industrial engineering plus beginning to apply what you learn in your Senior Design class. When you graduate, you will be prepared to participate in the continued Ecommerce supply chain revolution. 

About the author

Dennis Oates is the chief logistics officer at Sendle, a 100% carbon neutral carrier specifically designed for small ecommerce businesses. He is also a member of UWM’s IME Industry Advisory Board.

About the Industry Advisory Board The Industry Advisory Board plays an active role in the department, helping to ensure that students have access to, and experience with, the newest tools and technologies. We provide guidance to the department on programs’ educational objectives; design surveys to gather feedback from employers, alumni and graduating seniors; propose curriculum revisions; develop strategies to increase undergraduate enrollment; serve as guest and part-time lecturers; interview faculty candidates; and participate in the annual College of Engineering & Applied Science’s open house.