VP, Director of Marketing Strategy & Business Development
After years of fighting off incursions from online competitors, today’s brick-and-mortar retailers are reaping the benefits of their resiliency. By retooling existing infrastructure and harnessing the power of technology, businesses of all shapes and sizes are offering more and more flexibility when it comes to bringing customers what they want—wherever and whenever they want it. The reality is: the growing demand for seamless, omni-channel shopping experiences has helped bring an end to Online vs. Offline. Nowadays, every retailer needs to be all things to all customers—and any company with a strong brick-and-mortar footprint has a real advantage when it comes to distribution and fulfillment. The question is: how do we best utilize space, inventory, and technology to get products to customers faster and at the most reasonable price? The answer is found in a new movement that’s called “flexible fulfillment.” Let’s take a quick look at four fundamentals.
Proximity is a critical factor in fulfillment. That’s why a lot of retailers are using their existing stores as distribution centers for online orders. In an omni-channel world, this just makes sense. The closer a product is to a customer, the faster and cheaper it is to get it to them—and they’ll be more satisfied with your service because of it. Even more importantly, you’ll be able to ensure that the ease and convenience your customers feel when they’re physically in your store is exactly what they feel when they’re at home or on the go. That’s the first step to forming a connection across all touch points.
Less Is More
Ship-from-store does more than just give brick-and-mortars a leg up when it comes to distribution; it also offers them the opportunity to cut back on overstocked inventory. Have a product that sells well at one location but not another? Then use the underperforming location to fulfill online orders on that product or to meet higher demand quickly at another store location. You’ll save space—and you won’t have to lower the cost of your products in order to move them out the door.
Make It Easy
The whole idea of flexible fulfillment is to make purchasing as easy as possible. One way savvy sellers are streamlining the in-store buying process is by utilizing mobile technology to get orders processed before their customers even step in the door. When the customer comes in to pick up a purchase they made on their phone, ideally, they shouldn’t even need to get out of their car. They should be able to pull into a parking spot and check in on an app that starts a timer—and the retailer should be able to guarantee that they’ll have their items in their hands in less than five minutes. Even better: you can do the same with returns and exchanges.
Your fulfillment processes can’t be streamlined, of course, without quick and easy access to information. That means maintaining direct lines of communication among your mobile, online, and in-store personnel, and equipping your staff with the technology they need to have a continuously updated, unimpeded view of your entire supply chain. Your customers require immediate solutions, so even a momentary lack of information can be the difference between closing or losing a sale. If a product isn’t on hand, your customer needs to know exactly where it is and exactly when you can get it to them. It can’t be stressed enough that every sale counts, and delivering on the “each”es is what being flexible with fulfillment is all about.
So, how do you see these new trends playing out? Have you put flexible fulfillment to work in your stores, or seen it in action on a recent shopping trip? Be sure to leave a comment to share your thoughts and experiences.