A couple of years ago, speculation was fierce as to whether or not ecommerce and especially the growing trend in mobile shopping (that is, shopping online via a mobile device) would spell the death knell for brick-and-mortar stores.
As things have panned out, neither channel has won the battle for shoppers’ hearts and minds. Instead, consumers have taken control of the marketplace, pushing online and traditional merchants alike to create flexible shopping solutions, blurring the lines between the physical and the digital, and encouraging the propagation of what’s become known as Omni-channel commerce.
Omni-channel Commerce: What Consumers Want
Omni-channel commerce doesn’t just mean offering customers a choice between purchasing their goods online or in-store. The scope is much broader, with consumers desiring home delivery, but with the option to return products into stores when necessary. They want to order online and collect their orders in-store. They even want to view products in stores, but then place orders online for delivery to their front doors.
In short, Omni-channel commerce means giving shoppers the ability to hop from one channel to another as they proceed through the purchasing/returns process.
Reshaping Supply Chain Strategy—Constantly
The challenges of Omni-channel commerce are many and it’s not only retailers that will spend the next few years in a state of constant supply chain strategy alignment and realignment, as this new state of customer-centric demand-fulfilment evolves.
Whether your company is in retail, wholesale, or brand manufacturing, your customers are going to demand flexibility and agility in the way you meet demand, to a degree would not have been imaginable just a few years ago.
Changes to the way supply chains operate are inevitable and in many organisations, already well underway.
Retail outlets increasingly need to perform some of the functions traditionally handled by distribution centres. Distribution centres need to be able to handle single-item picking on a large scale. Inventories must include wider ranges of SKUs. Availability is crucial. The term “out of stock” is not something today’s consumers want to hear.
New Tools, New Networks
Those supply chain companies that are currently leading the field in Omni-channel commerce are leveraging new technologies to improve inventory visibility and to continuously evaluate shoppers’ behaviours and trends.
RFID is beginning to prove its worth by enabling Omni-channel retailers to keep precise tabs on inventory. Predictive analytics software is keeping them abreast of customers’ changing needs and enabling them to be more responsive. Challenges in picking large quantities of single-line-item orders are being met with goods-to-person automation.
However, the biggest challenge for most companies in Omni-channel commerce is likely to be the way networks are structured.
Optimisation of supply chain networks for the new world of retail is likely to involve consideration of store locations as well as warehouses and distribution centres. It’s fair to say that the next few years will see many organisations undertaking network optimisation studies and redesigns.
Perhaps outsourcing too, will see a renewed increase in popularity as brand owners seek to reduce distribution costs, especially for expensive home delivery operations. Some pundits are even speculating that crowdsourced delivery services will become a favourite way to get products into customers’ hands.
Is Your Company Prepared for Omni-channel Commerce?
Omni-channel commerce is not going away anytime soon. In fact, it’s soon to be the new normal. Don’t worry too much if your company is still trying to figure out an Omni-channel fulfillment strategy, most others are in the same boat.
The important thing is to recognise that Omni-channel is no longer a fad or a buzzword, but actually represents the new standard in commerce—meaning there’s no longer any place for a “wait and see” approach to meeting the ensuing supply chain challenges. The good news is that thinking caps can now be purchased online or in your local high street retail outlet. So don’t delay, order yours for home delivery today.