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Exclusive: Ace Hardware builds omnichannel fulfillment capability


Ace is the place with the helpful hardware store, and the retailer is extending its classic motto to the digital realm.

As an independently-owned retail cooperative, Oak Brook, Illinois-based Ace Hardware Corp. operates more than 4,400 stores and a distribution network of 14 retail support center across the U.S. The company leverages this physical footprint to help meet the needs of online shoppers.

“We will ship to the consumer’s home for online orders, and also offer two flavors of buy online pickup in store,” Mark Lowe, e-commerce marketing and digital department manager at Ace Hardware, said in an interview with Chain Store Age. “We have been shipping online orders from the retail support centers to local stores for customer pickup since 2003.”

Since March 2015, the retailer has also been offering same-day in-store pickup of online orders using store stock.

“We are using the inventory at our stores as an e-commerce fulfillment channel,” said Lowe. “We give consumers the ability to pick up online orders from their local store that day, and so far it’s working really well. It reduces the amount of time it takes to get products to the consumer. We’re close to the customer – with 4,400 stores we can get items out relatively quickly.”

On the back end, Ace supports e-commerce transactions with an eBay Enterprise platform. To offer omnichannel pickup options, the retailer ties that platform to an internal warehouse management system and SAP fulfillment software.

“Part of our brand promise is to be helpful and connect to the customer,” said Lowe. “We do that well for in-store purchases, so how do we grow it in the omnichannel space?”

Lowe said so far Ace has gotten a positive response to its omnichannel fulfillment offerings, with most customers preferring to pick up online orders in store. The retailer’s inventory of hardware and home goods also often lends itself to customer pickup.

“We sell a lot of big, bulky items like patio furniture,” said Lowe. “It’s difficult to ship to the customer’s home but much easier for them to come pick up at a store.”

Looking ahead, Ace is currently running a small test of delivering online orders to customer homes using local stores as fulfillment centers.

“We want to understand what it means operationally and how much consumer demand there is,” said Lowe. “We’re always evaluating how to leverage our fulfillment network to expedite online orders.”

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