More companies are actively engaging with consumers in search of the ultimate omnichannel sales experience as the strength of online sales increase, reports Supply Chain Quarterly. Unlike traditional supply chains, omnichannel supply chains rely on the successful integration and application of data, process standardization and high-tech tools to ensure a seamless flow of information and products. As a result, companies that want to go omnichannel need to begin working to deploy these standards and supply chain technologies.

Automated Data Capture and Item Tracking.

The first toward implementing an omnichannel supply chain strategy is automation. Due to sheer volume and scale of operations, systems must use automation to capture data and details about every product movement and action. Technologies used in this step include handheld device scanners, automated radio frequency identification tags, Bluetooth technologies and automated identification and data capture (AIDC), comparable to RFID tags. The options are limitless, but the key lies in automating the collection of information into a central location, like the cloud.

Analytics to Uncover Issues in the Supply Chain.

Second, organizations working toward omnichannel sales should leverage the power of data through advanced analytics systems. These software platforms can compare data points, aggregate details that appear unrelated and define key ways to improve operations, asserts Michael Unger and Silvia Bernardini of Supply & Demand Chain Executive.

Strong Integration Among Systems in All Channels.

Both previous steps are useless unless all systems used in the supply chain communicate and are integrated together. This ensures one part of the supply chain does not dominate and undermine the success of other channels. In other words, strong integration between warehouse management, transportation, and billing systems is essential to encouraging a cyclic flow of products to give consumers what they want.

Modeling Systems to Simulate Possible Product Pathways.

Next, modeling is essential to the development of an omnichannel sales supply chain. Modeling gives companies the opportunity to run scenarios based on changes in consumer buying trends and habits. As a result, companies can move products in areas where greater demand is expected. In a way, this is similar to just-in-time delivery and real-time inventory management and control.

Strong CRM Tools That Integrate Data Across Enterprise-Wide Supply Chain Technologies

The final piece of the puzzle involves providing an extra layer of service to consumers. Customer relationship management (CRM) tools must have the capacity to access and utilize data from across the supply chain. Furthermore, such data must be readily available to appropriate users. For example, consumers should be able to see how long an item may take to ship against purchasing it in the store. In turn, customer service reps must also have access to such information.

The Big Picture.

Creating a strong omnichannel supply chain is made possible through modern supply chain technologies. By deploying these technologies, enhancing collaboration and ensuring optimal visibility across the supply chain, companies can achieve omnichannel status.

E-commerce and omnichannel solutions are rapidly becoming the next frontier in the use of the Internet of Things and better order fulfillment processes. When the Internet first arrived, the idea of waiting for an extended period to receive a product was great, asserts Gordon Hellberg of Material Handling and Logistics. It opened up doors and gave millions access to products that were never available in local areas, regions, or other countries. However, Amazon is shaking up the mix by seeking to make today’s e-commerce practices obsolete, and shipping and logistics providers need to understand why.

Renewed Focus on Last-Mile Delivery and Multiple Order Fulfillment Options

The use of omnichannel solutions to increase sales through all accessible means, which includes e-commerce, social media sales, printed advertising and catalogs, and brick-and-mortar stores. With more products coming in, the pressure will be on distributors and order fulfillment centers to create warehousing space and eliminate wasted space wherever possible.

omnichannel solutions

According to Patrick Burnson of Logistics Management, small facilities and storefronts may actually become miniaturized order fulfillment centers, reducing the length of time for order processing and enabling last-mile delivery within hours, if not minutes. Alternatively, this model will be applied to enhance the use of store pick up, which has been used extensively by Wal-Mart to create a comprehensive omnichannel environment. Customers have the option to have products shipped to home or the store, and this eliminates any confusion about how much space is needed within each store. Furthermore, this model of e-commerce and omnichannel solutions has enabled Wal-Mart to optimize load consolidation processes and reduce costs across the organization.

Consumers are also expecting more of manufacturers and shipping companies. They want products delivered, installed, and checked for quality, which will generate a new type of shipping process that requires certified technicians to be part of the delivery and customer service experience. Similarly, products will be relocated to be as close to customers as possible, which will naturally lead to an increased use of technologies, such as 3D printing.

E-Commerce & OmniChannel Solutions Continue to Drive Competition

The push toward a more efficient, data-driven supply chain will result in more competition among companies. As companies take steps to achieve lower rates, by utilizing third-party logistics providers (3PLs), the competition will further increase. This relationship will become more dependent-based, and rates will continue to decline even though the actual demand on the system will increase slightly. This lead to benefits for today’s e-commerce retailers and those in the B2B industrial space who may have common orders. 

For example, small-business e-stores have managed to create environments that allow customers to see inventory in real time, reducing problems with excessive ordering. Consequently, the number of shipments will decrease, but the cost will need to stay competitive with Amazon’s offerings.

Omni-Channel Solutions Will Expand to Include and Use New Technologies

Newer technologies make up one of the most exciting parts of the supply chain to watch in 2016. Shipping and logistics providers will turn to technology to achieve the impossible, reports Peter Kinds of ControlPay. This will include the use of autonomous vehicles and drones for delivery, and the reverse logistics supply chain will also need to deploy new technologies.

In reverse logistics, returns will be one of the key areas in which omnichannel solutions will adapt. For example, a customer who simply ordered the wrong product may actually be close to another customer who ordered the incorrect, delivered item. To shipping providers, verifying the product has not been opened or tampered with will be the key to reducing unnecessary delays and transferring the product to the nearest appropriate party.

In our example, last-mile delivery services could be used to pick up the product from customer A, check it for quality, and deliver it to customer B on the next block. As a result, the provider does not incur any additional costs for reverse logistics as the respective driver would have already been in the area.

Although this practice may not necessarily be in motion today, it represents how much the supply chain will change from what is considered typical processes to keep up with the growing demands in an e-commerce-driven world.

Shipping and Logistics Providers Seek to Attract Millennials

Millennials are the paradigm of a digital generation. They are aware of what’s happening in the world more than any civilization throughout history due to social media, and they will be the source for future positions within shipping and logistics providers. Regardless of how they’re portrayed on late-night television, millennials are an asset to the industry, and they will value corporate responsibility, explains Todd Miller of Sterling Partners.

E-commerce must maintain end-to-end visibility to be successful, and this degree of visibility is the hallmark of all corporate responsibility initiatives. Consequently, the need to implement better analytics and real-time management resources to ensure everything is reported and delivered accurately will grow in tandem. With the e-commerce and omnichannel industry set to grow by 9.69 percent in the next four years, shipping and logistics providers cannot afford to ignore the demands of millennials any longer.

The modern supply chain is entering adolescence. Shipping and logistics providers are carving their paths for how to be successful, and many lessons are being learned along the way. E-commerce and omnichannel solutions are like final exams in adolescence. They are frightening, and they will create plenty of stress. However, they are critical to ensuring the success and development of organizations into prosperous aspects of society and the economy.

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