Despite all the discussions about the omnichannel frontier within the retail and ecommerce space, this part of the equation is rarely touched on in any depth.
Yet fulfillment is the backbone of successful omnichannel retailing. Without a powerful omnichannel fulfillment strategy, it’s impossible to meet consumer expectations for seamless, interconnected shopping journeys across channels.
But as omnichannel retailing grows more mainstream, retailers will find themselves under considerable pressure to get with the program - or risk being left behind.
In this post, we’re going to cover the essential checklist for an effective omnichannel fulfillment strategy at your retail operation.
Get your pen and paper ready!
When omnichannel’s rests on seamless, multidirectional shopping journeys, brands need to be able to deliver. It’s no secret that COVID-19 has changed the way consumers shop - and this has long-term implications for omnichannel retailers.
Alternative shopping methods such as BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-Up In-Store) and curbside pick-up have gone from fringe offerings to mainstream retail activities during the pandemic. Some brands have seen as much as a four-fold increase in BOPIS orders since the pandemic began, with many consumers using it for the first time.
This new-found flexibility is forming the basis of the latest consumer habits. We can expect to see more demand for brands to adapt to these preferences over the long-term.
So, what does this mean for omnichannel retailers? In short, it’s no longer acceptable to silo your selling channels. Preventing customers from returning online orders in-store, for example, results in negative post-purchase experiences that could threaten customer retention.
These capabilities are what separates multichannel merchants from true omnichannel retailers. To put it bluntly, the logistical challenges of integrated inventory and multi-node fulfillment are your customers’ source of unparalleled convenience - and they want more of it.
It wasn’t all that long ago that businesses and 3PLs had to grapple with systems that wouldn’t talk to each other. Not only did this make supply chain management more difficult. It also affected the value proposition of software offerings.
To remedy this, developers have moved increasingly towards OpenAPI Specification (OAS). Open API, or open Application Programming Interface, allows one software application to integrate with another. It does this by making its backend data freely available to developers. This means that various platforms and applications can connect to share important data.
The birth of the so-called ‘API economy’ has allowed fulfillment operations to grow more sophisticated. Quality software integrations allow for real-time visibility across selling channels and warehouse locations, which is critical to the success of omnichannel fulfillment.
If you run a Shopify store, a dedicated integration allows you or your fulfillment provider to send shipping information to customers automatically. Integrations can also pass orders seamlessly between selling channels and your WSM for faster fulfillment, or pair up with a third-party returns management system to process returns on your behalf.
The importance of good customer care often gets lost in the pressure to get goods from A to B.
But in a competitive retail landscape, customer care is your biggest differentiating factor.
According to Microsoft’s customer service study, 90% of consumers see customer care as a key factor in whether they choose to support a brand.
Consistency in customer care is where many omnichannel retailers struggle. Customers should have the same level of flexibility and service, regardless of which channel they’re shopping with.
Imagine that a customer has to go into a store to get product information they can’t find online. This is a big sign that both your customer care and omnichannel strategy is not as robust as it could be.
There are many tools at your disposal to bridge the gap between online and offline service. Utilizing Facebook and Instagram direct messaging or live chat functionality for your store allows customers to start conversations and foster an active relationship with your brand. This means lower levels of delivery anxiety and stronger customer loyalty.
‘Automation’ can be an intimidating word for any retailer. It’s become a codeword for ‘expensive’ and ‘complicated’. Yet automated fulfillment can create major cost savings and simplify challenging fulfillment processes.
Fulfillment across ecommerce, retail and wholesale is often bogged down by repetitive, manual processes. These take away time from maximizing growth opportunities. Inefficient fulfillment also means bigger labor costs, difficulty scaling, and slower delivery timeframes. This impacts relationships with both vendors and customers.
For omnichannel retailers, automated fulfillment is key to achieving rapid order processing. To ensure the quick fulfillment of BOPIS, ecommerce, or in-store inventory replenishment, this requires an OMS system that can distribute orders to whichever location ensures the fastest delivery.
Furthermore, robotics infrastructure is steadily making its way into warehouse facilities. Robots can assist floor staff in making picking/packing activities more efficient. This includes mapping warehouses to choose the fastest travel routes, and using AI to suggest better storage strategies according to common pick patterns. This increases productivity, and over time creates a more efficient omnichannel fulfillment operation.
Omnichannel fulfillment can be a complex and overwhelming ecosystem, but it’s an essential part of offering a true omnichannel experience. By giving your customers maximum flexibility during their shopping and post-purchase journeys, you have more opportunities to grow your business and enhance the customer experience.
To achieve best-in-class omnichannel fulfillment, it’s wise to partner with an experienced omnichannel fulfillment provider who can use their extensive knowledge to coordinate a scalable and technologically-advanced strategy. If you aren’t sure how to begin the search, check out our guide on the six traits of successful fulfillment providers.