By Bill Gillispie
In today’s omni-channel retail environment, companies strive personalize the consumer experience by customizing interactions with individuals.
But, an even bigger challenge is at hand behind the scenes: efficiently getting products to customers in the myriad places and ways they want them.
Retail C-suite executives are under extraordinary pressure to not only interact with customers as individuals, but to give them flexible ways to purchase and change orders, as well as receive and return products.
In fact, the number of options for placing an order today, whether it’s in-store, online or via a mobile app, is dizzying. But that’s just the beginning. After placing the order options abound for fulfillment – including online reservations, in-store pick-up, same-day delivery, lockers, drive-up service, and don’t forget…drones.
It’s not an easy task to manage, especially when you’ve been busy working on satisfying demand and remaining profitable.
It may sound mundane, but the importance of efficient fulfillment and supply chain cannot be overstated.
When customers don’t get their orders on time, they take their business elsewhere. UPS and FedEx certainly learned the hard way over the 2013 holiday season, when there were significant delivery delays – partly due to the weather and also an unexpected surge in last-minute orders.
Online and mobile shoppers are increasingly making purchase decisions based on the how quickly and cheaply the item they want can get to them. IBM is working with Deliv, a Menlo Park, California-based startup, to help make same day delivery a possibility for all retailers.
Businesses that may not already have the infrastructure to fulfill same day delivery orders can outsource to Deliv for a per-delivery fee. The participating retailer, such as 1-800-FLOWERS.com, can choose whether or not to pass the delivery costs down to the customer or take it on themselves, depending on the profitability of the order or the customer.
For retailers looking to offer more flexible shipping on their own, the first step is obtaining an accurate, real-time view of inventory across the organization and into the supply chain. Cloud-based analytics and order management are critical – they allow retailers to see in real-time which products are in stock, shipping options for various fulfillment locations and items that are on order or directly shipped from suppliers. These solutions can also be used to determine the most efficient option for optimizing order fulfillment in near real-time.
For example, El Corte Ingles — the second largest department store group in Europe and in the top five in the world along with Sears and Macy’s – recently adopted a new commerce solution with embedded analytics that integrates its different delivery channels to create a seamless order, delivery and return process for its customers. Real-time visibility enables the retailer to provide customers the status of their order — with expected delivery times — and gives the company a universal view of its products in stores and warehouses.
Most customers only think about shipping if fees are exorbitantly high or if orders don’t arrive on time. When shipping is done right, it happens seamlessly in the background. Businesses that hope to compete in the ever-changing, ultra-competitive retail landscape need to think about how to deliver orders faster and in the most cost-efficient way possible. If they don’t have a flexible, responsive delivery plan in place now, they need to work on it.
In today’s omni-channel retail world, efficient supply chain and fulfillment capabilities are the next competitive frontier for the industry. Companies that will be successful are those that can shift the consumer-facing focus to the back-end processes to efficiently meet customer demands while protecting their profits.