What is stopping retailers from delivering on consumers’ all-channel shopping expectations?
According to a recent RSR report, retailers’ top inhibitor is not having a single view of customers across all channels. The report also found that, while retailers’ prime goal is to deliver a consolidated all-channel shopping experience, only 32% of retailers are able to do so.
While retailers are busy figuring it out, the reality is that consumers are in the driving seat and they are armed with smartphones and tablets and high expectations. And Amazon is the ever-present competition, like it or not.
Today’s consumer wants to have it all. She wants to order online or over the phone and pick-up in a local store when it’s convenient for her. He’s in-store but wants to order something that’s not on your shelves but is in your catalog — and he’d like it shipped to his home. Oh and by the way, today’s consumer is also expecting to receive a location-based offer on his or her smartphone as well as QR codes to access product details and coupons.
There are very few retail brands that can deliver on all or any of this. Several big names have made the leap towards fulfilling these expectations but the gap between those retailers and pretty much everyone else is vast. In the meantime, there’s Amazon, always on, always available via mobile, tablet, and Web, just waiting to efficiently take and fulfill that order.
Competing in this new reality requires more than tacking on a social plug-in here, a tablet-optimized site there. Fundamentally, it requires the conjoining of physical and online retail operations with supply chain operations. Bringing these often siloed operations together is the lynchpin to achieve a single view of the customer across all channels and is mission-critical to delivering on the promise of Buy Anywhere Fulfill Anywhere.
One common myth about achieving this all-channel nirvana is that it requires major “heart surgery” for a retailer’s technology infrastructure. Not so. Linking retail and supply chain operations can be achieved in a modular approach that involves connecting ordering capabilities, real-time inventory management and integration to fulfillment systems. By taking a step-by-step approach, you can crawl, walk, and then run. By linking retail and supply chain operations, the following five examples are quickly achievable for retailers:
Buy anywhere, pickup from the store
For many consumers, especially in big cities, shopping online and picking up in-store is a more convenient option than staying home, waiting for a delivery person. To provide this requires directly linking the selling channel with the fulfillment channel, which makes complete inventory visibility a crucial attribute.
Out-of-stocks are a persistent problem for a lot of retailers trying to keep in-store inventory lean. If a particular item, size or color isn’t available, you could give customers the option to order that product in the store, and then have it shipped directly to their home, or to a store for later pickup. “Saving the sale” means having real-time inventory visibility to determine where in the supply chain a particular item is located. That visibility enables a store to capture an order and have it fulfilled by another fulfillment source elsewhere in the organization.
Endless aisle/Vendor drop-ship
This involves offering products in a store that are not normally stocked. It requires the establishment of relationships with vendors that can ship to customers directly from any point in the supply chain, which in turn necessitates a direct link between selling channels (store, e-Commerce, mobile, call center, etc.)
Buy anywhere, ship from store
Allowing consumers to shop anywhere, and then fulfill those orders directly from a retail store’s inventory, can reduce inventory and shipping costs. It also gives the retailer more options when selling off slow-moving inventory without huge in-store margin impacts. Again, this requires directly linking the selling channel with the fulfillment channel, making store-level inventory visibility a crucial component.
Expanded direct fulfillment options
Traditionally, e-Commerce direct channels were fulfilled by a dedicated e-Commerce fulfillment center, while retail warehouses have traditionally been used to replenish retail stores only. A better approach leverages inventory from retail warehouses for direct fulfillment as well, increasing order fill rates while reducing inventory across the supply chain through better inventory balancing.
Linking retail operations directly to the supply chain means enabling a holistic, enterprise-wide view of inventory across all fulfillment sources, as well as inventory moving between locations. This is imperative to meeting consumers where, when and how they like to shop.
Gene Weaver is Director, Product Strategy at RedPrairie, a global supply chain and retail technology provider that helps keep commerce in motion for retailers, manufacturers, distributors and consumers. RedPrairie offers a comprehensive portfolio of supply chain and retail solutions that help ensure visibility, collaboration and velocity to guarantee the consistent flow of goods from raw materials to finished products in the hands of consumers.