Today’s consumers are more connected than ever before. Customers have several channels to make a purchase, such as online or mobile, bought in a store, a combination of the two, known as buy-online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS), or any other channel to purchase offered by the retailer. To stay competitive, today’s retailers need responsive, integrated technology that creates more engaging, seamless shopping experiences. Unfortunately, that capability requires a strong foundational approach to retail fulfillment and the ability to look beyond channel specifics and understand how the whole supply chain contributes to positive experiences. In fact, consider these key tips to boost your omnichannel fulfillment strategy.
Supply chain leaders widely recognize automation as the easiest and most efficient way to manage omnichannel retail fulfillment. But, easier to manage does not always amount to easiest to implement. Each channel carries unique considerations; automating processes in one part of the supply chain may not work in others. Despite the challenges, retail fulfillment does benefit from automation.
For example, consider Walmart’s buy online, pick up in-store vending machines. The machines require the physical placement of inventory in the appropriate slots, and customers use their phones to retrieve their merchandise. This all runs automatically, but still, a physical process exists to store the merchandise within the machine.
Similar processes exist within the warehouse. If automated retrieval systems pull items for order fulfillment, then consequently, the corresponding packing, labeling, shipment scheduling, and loading processes all must take place as quickly and efficiently as possible. The idea of automation sounds great, but again, it depends on what processes within each channel can be automated to achieve the goal.
Retail omnichannel fulfillment also benefits from the tactical use of storefronts-as-a-distribution center. Individual stores can handle the same processes of the warehouse in fulfilling online orders for shipping or pickup within the store. However, it depends on the available inventory. Without proper inventory management, the use of storefronts to augment your distribution network will stumble. There was a time when everyone was clamoring over the use of omnichannel and its potential, but as the movement turned into reality, supply chains realized a new issue—a lacking mobile capability.
Mobile ordering does fall under the umbrella of omnichannel, but it ranks higher in importance and focus by supply chain leaders than general omnichannel efforts. In fact, only 22% of North American retailers cite omnichannel as critical to retail fulfillment, declining more than 23% since 2015, reports Supply Chain 24/7. However, the same drive remains—give customers what they want faster and at a lower cost. Mobile ordering and retail omnichannel fulfillment achieve this goal and turn the traditional supply chain into a mobile-centric process.
Supply chain leaders must still emphasize a seamless shopping experience across all channels, including e-commerce, the brick-and-mortar establishments, third-party marketplaces, word-of-mouth campaigns, and social networks. It is a complex process, and it must include mobile capabilities to stay successful.
Successful omnichannel retail fulfillment depends on the ability of your team to understand needs and respond accordingly. As robotics and automation continue to change the standards of the supply chain, your team must evolve. Supply chain leaders should always keep an eye on talent availability and needs regardless of the time of the year. Talent often makes it into the most important supply chain conversations as well. As reported by Paul F. Magel of Total Retail:
“Having the right talent is essential for a successful omnichannel fulfillment strategy. Identifying needed skill sets and jobs are important for apparel manufacturers and retailers. The influx of next-gen technology in the supply chain requires new skills to operate these solutions successfully. Consider what new jobs are crucial to the organization’s long-term success and train your current employees. In manufacturing, data scientists are in high demand as more brands recognize the need to operationalize big data.”
When your talent is happy, order accuracy rates increase, and problems decline.
A final tip in boosting retail fulfillment is simple. Supply chain leaders should re-evaluate their existing WMS and TMS platforms for weaknesses and opportunities to improve. Improvement within the WMS will naturally lead to better order fill rates, more accurate orders, and higher profitability.
The world is changing, and the supply chain must evolve. Instead of relying on outdated, channelized management styles, supply chain leaders need to think outside the box and bring omnichannel into every interaction.
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