3 reasons why flexible fulfilment is a no brainer for retailers in 2024
At first glance, ancient Chinese philosophy and modern day retail have very little in common. Why would they? While the teachings and philosophy of Confucius might still be highly influential across China and East Asia today, they couldn’t possibly have taken into account the omnichannel, always-on world of retail in 2023.
Or could they? Let’s take a closer look. One of the most famous quotes from Confucius is this: “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.”
Over the past two years, we’ve seen exactly this. Retailers who have been able to adapt, evolve and bend have weathered the Covid storm far better than those who remained rigid and set in their ways.
One of the key elements to this adaptability has been changing up the traditional fulfilment model. In this article, we’ll show you why levelling up your fulfilment capabilities should be a top priority. You’ll learn:
- How flexible fulfilment can turbocharge your CX by giving your customers greater convenience and choice.
- How flexible returns directly influence customer choice.
- Why flexible fulfilment is crucial for improving delivery speed and driving increased efficiency.
- The importance of investing in tech that gives you real-time availability and greater stock transparency
- Convenience & choice
Underneath it all, your customers are pretty simple. They want convenience, they want choice and they want a great service. They want to shop on their terms, wherever and whenever they encounter your brand.
In terms of fulfilment, to meet your customers’ needs in a cost efficient way, here’s what you need to do.
Firstly, you need to amplify your store fulfilment possibilities with Click-and-Collect (BOPIS), Click-and-Reserve (ROBIS), Endless Aisle and buy, reserve and pickup in other stores.
Secondly, you also have to turn your stores into fulfilment centres, meaning ecommerce orders can be shipped from your stores and that stores can ship orders placed in other stores. All your stores should be able to be used as fulfilment centres. And all inventory should always be available to sell everywhere.
Not only does turning your stores into fulfilment centres make you more efficient and result in a better service for customers, it’s also more sustainable as it cuts down on shipping from centralised distribution centres.
With ecommerce sales soaring it’s also important for the stores to handle returns of goods bought online (BORIS). It will keep the costs for returns down and also stimulate upsales.
Historically, returns have been viewed as something functional. They are a set of processes that need to happen so customers can return goods. Rarely has much thought been put into the impact the return process has on customer satisfaction. But this is changing. 62% of shoppers are more likely to shop online if they can return an item in-store.
As Forrester notes in this article: “Returns directly influence consumer choices: About three out of five French, UK, and US online adults prefer retailers that offer free return shipping; about two out of five prefer retailers that provide refunds via the original form of payment. More fundamentally, online consumers have told us that fear of returns has outright discouraged them from buying online.”
Customers want returns to be easy and hassle free. And, most importantly, if they buy something online they want the option to return it to a store.
- Speed & efficiency
With same and next-day delivery becoming an increasingly important differentiator for customers, retailers are looking at ways to make the fulfilment process fast and effective. Last-mile delivery is hugely expensive and fraught with difficulties but this can be mitigated and managed when stores act as micro-fulfillment centres.
If you want to offer same or next day delivery then your speed and responsiveness will be improved if you have the ability to ship from stores. In-store fulfilment reduces last-mile delivery cost providing you have the required volume of inventory in-store and you can see what you have in stock in real-time.
As well as individual stores have become fulfilment centres, larger chains with bigger budgets have added warehouse space to stores specifically for fulfilling online orders, or they have opened “dark stores,” which are smaller fulfilment centres closed to the public but located closer to where customers live to enable quicker delivery and pickup.
- Real-time availability & transparency
To make flexible fulfilment fast, efficient and hassle free, you need systems that support real-time inventory management. You need to know the number of items available in your stores and your warehouses, when an item has been purchased and removed from your inventory count and when an item has been returned and is available for sale.
This needs to happen in real-time and it needs to be completely accurate.
When you have real-time visibility of your inventory you get a better understanding of your stock levels, you can reduce wastage and it’s easier to see where your inventory needs to be replenished.
With a single real-time view of all in-store, online and ‘elsewhere’ inventory and built-in inventory management tools, a unified commerce platform makes it easier for you to improve accuracy, maximise inventory availability and minimise excess inventory. Unified stock allows you to optimise stock flows and deliver on all omnichannel scenarios to provide your customers with a unified shopping experience.
Since traditional POS systems don’t communicate in real-time with your other systems then you’re not getting one, true view between your stores and online. It’s a problem store associates face everyday. Sure, they can check stock levels in another store but they have no real idea if it’s accurate which leads to a lack of trust in the system. The same applies to customers. They can check stock online but, because it’s not real-time data, there’s no guarantee it’s accurate.By eliminating the role of the ERP of being the master of stock in inventory management – where constraints are put on the ‘omni-flow’ – you can take a giant leap forward to delivering true real-time retail. To enable real-time inventory management the master of the stock has to be owned by the stores and the fulfilment centres – where the real-time action is.
Flexible fulfilment will help you give your customers what they want, be more efficient and get an edge on your competition.
You can skyrocket your CX by giving your consumers better convenience and choice while reducing your costs and working smarter.
Coming back full circle to where we started, you need to be in a position to bend with the wind and adapt to what’s happening around you in order to ensure long term success.
Enhancing your fulfilment capabilities is far easier when you have a modern approach to retail software and IT architecture.
The retail software you choose – whether it’s a CRM, order management system, footfall counter or a unified commerce platform and POS – and your IT architecture, play essential roles in helping you deliver the kind of experiences your customers desire.
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