By Mark Wheeler, director of warehouse solutions, Motorola Solutions
Cyber Monday? For the mobile minded, every day has the potential to be a cyber-shopping event, regardless of location or device. And that’s changing both consumer expectations as well as retailers’ business models. But the brand experience, regardless of available channels, still reigns supreme in the new omnichannel era. With the lines between e-commerce, mobile commerce, and brick-and-mortar retail blurring rapidly, retailers need technology that delivers seamless and satisfying experiences. And what an increasing number of consumers want now is to buy products online and pick them up in store.
This new shopping paradigm presents both opportunities and challenges for retailers. Greater revenue and more frequent conversions result from shoppers that can buy online and pick-up in store. Leveraging these capabilities can minimize shipping costs while consumers enjoy the convenience, immediacy, and security of picking up their purchases along with the peace of mind provided by easy returns. Driving store traffic to pick-up online purchases also allows retailers to leverage their brick-and-mortar presence to drive additional sales. While on the surface this option may seem simple to accomplish, the backend required to make it a reality is anything but. Following are the capabilities necessary to make it possible.
Accurate, Real-time Inventory Visibility
Knowing what you have on hand and where it is has become table stakes in an omni-channel environment. The challenge is maintaining accurate stock status to meet consumer demand, particularly with high-turn products. Last night’s or even this morning’s balance is no longer good enough. RFID solutions — item-level tags — can help by allowing retailers to facilitate frequent cycle counts and continual reads as sales occur, deliveries are received or transfers are made. But these solutions alone don’t make “buy online and pick up in store” work.
What’s really required is technology that helps order allocation systems have visibility to every SKU in the assortment — whether in their store, at another store, on a truck, in the warehouse or even available from a vendor’s extended assortment — and the ability to reserve it instantly to satisfy demand. The increased focus on fulfillment in omni-channel retailing means the supply chain plays as important a role in the shopper experience as the associate on the sales floor, the buyer or the merchandising manager. Enabling the visibility and efficient movement of any product throughout the supply chain is critical to this new delivery option, as is the single-item pick, regardless of where it takes place.
Growing “Buy Online and Pick Up In Store” Expectations
With anytime access, consumers have grown accustomed to the ability to order anything from anywhere and have it arrive on their doorstep in a matter of days. Omni-channel shopping with in-store pick-up provides an attractive alternative to home shipment for those consumers who want to save on shipping costs or get in-stock items faster. For this option to work seamlessly, consumers need visibility to a store’s actual inventory and assortment. It also requires efficient store execution so that an item that shows it’s available actually is. Otherwise, a negative experience will result.
In a fast-paced retail environment, accurate demand forecasting is crucial to maintain a high level of service. The challenge is to align projected consumer demand with inventory, capacity, and capabilities both short- and long-term. It’s equally important to be able to react quickly when customer demand and available supply fall out of alignment, which can rapidly lead to supply issues, loss of revenue, and customer dissatisfaction.
Store Notification of Demand
This is where in-store pick-up for online purchases gets tricky. How and when a store is notified of a consumer order for a product — and how long it takes to pull that product and confirm availability of that product — lies at the heart of the brand experience. And this is where many current systems fall short. Speed and accuracy are critical and represent an opportunity for differentiation. Mobile task management technology can deliver both. If you can close that demand loop in minutes versus hours, you can deliver an exceptional customer experience.
As an enabling technology, mobile task management solutions consist of a reliable wireless network and some form of mobile device to receive demand notifications and enable an immediate response. Most retailers have some form of notifications today, but typically must log into a PC web portal to see them. A mobile solution provides the flexibility and immediacy for prompt and accurate online fulfillment. It allows the first available associate nearest the requested item to physically pull it and confirm availability in real-time. This closes the mobile stock reservation request and delivers immediate notification of availability, ensuring that when a customer arrives to pick up the item, it will be there.
When evaluating technology options, look for a platform that can manage escalations and include metrics to track store and associate performance. This will allow you greater visibility over your entire fulfillment process, enabling targeted coaching as necessary to improve the customer experience.
Delivering an Exceptional In-Store Pick-Up Experience
To make “buy online and pick up in store” a reality, all the resources of your supply chain — from suppliers to transportation providers to distribution centers to the stores themselves — must be marshaled to serve a single shopper who has placed a single order. The need to optimize this end-to-end, omni-channel customer experience is transforming the way the retail supply chain manages demand and delivers the goods where they are wanted most.
Bottom line? It takes the right mobile technologies to deliver consistently positive interactions with more sophisticated customers in every channel they use. Providing accurate, real-time visibility to inventory throughout the supply chain is key to making sure they can find, purchase, and receive what they want, when and where they want it. To learn more about meeting customers’ complex fulfillment demands, please visit Fulfilling Customer Expectations: The Heart of Omnichannel Retailing.
Mark Wheeler is director of warehouse solutions for Motorola Solutions. He can be reached at M.Wheeler@motorolasolutions.com.