By Dan Fountain, MD UKI at Tryzens
The importance of having a truly single view of the stock distributed across your business has become increasingly important as retailers look to maximise their sales opportunity across all customer engagement channels. This has been as much about ensuring a customer can access what they want when they need to, and, in the channel they are active. This is to avoid the risk of being presented with an ‘out-of-stock’ message when the product does exist in other channels, but, it also has been equally important to ensure effective merchandising of available stock to drive sales and seasonal promotions.
Alongside this thinking has been an advance in intelligent fulfilment and order processing solutions that look to leverage and represent the options for picking and completion of customer orders to determine and orchestrate the best way to satisfy the customer and maximise efficiency/contain costs (e.g. Delivery, click and collect, split orders, ship from store, reserve and collect etc etc).
Arguably though a new business case has come to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic as there have been several challenges, not least has been the impact of social distancing on warehouse operations, that has caused some online stores to go offline, removing a vital lifeline for retailers when normal physical store operations had been suspended.
Many traditional retailers with their closed physical stores are actually sitting on an asset that could be of great benefit in delivering distributed fulfilment options, as even though their doors can’t open to the public, the infrastructure, local staff and local stock could be refocused to support the picking and despatching of online orders if the systems and despatch services were in place to do so.
The building blocks for this ‘intelligent fulfilment’ are already well known and have been the ‘privilege of the few’ to date, relying on a retailer having a practical single view of stock across all channels (including stores), and, the ability to direct orders to different locations for picking and packing, supported by apps for managing the order processing and despatch for use by the in-store team.
Pre Covid, the world of digital commerce and tech innovators had already been working hard at various scenarios to deliver the single view of stock/inventory, Apps for Store staff to assist customers and support digital transformation and integration. Whilst the focus then was being driven around enhancing the consumer experience, being consistent across channels, and, maximising the stock available to sell, the pandemic restrictions of social distancing has heightened or even created the importance of these type of solutions to de-risk operations and provide a form of business continuity capability for online stores where warehouses can become a single point of failure or a constraint on scaling to take up demand.
Leveraging the store estate to support the digital storefront can provide an effective and safe path to scale and may even enable local innovation around last mile solutions or just support the national or global demand fulfilment. The challenge of course is to be prepared, with insight, order processing, despatch and logistic services that are accessible to local store teams.
Often innovation is borne out of chance or accident, maybe a lasting part of the impact of Covid-19 on retail will be to help establish, prioritise and evolve the ‘store of the future’ to truly be at the core of the digital commerce transformation, tying customer experience with operational flexibility and risk mitigation.
Intelligent fulfilment will become more commonplace because it solves problems for both the retailer and the consumer.
What was once seen as a luxury or a future opportunity has suddenly come closer to home and a realistic scenario for retailers with a store footprint. We will see this business case included on RFP’s for digital commerce and distributed store operations in 2020 I am sure!