The Importance of Omnichannel in the New Retail Reality

The spring of 2020 has made one thing very clear: the retail landscaping is changing. Largely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, people have become more accustomed to multiple purchasing channels and have developed a higher reliance on technology to assist with their everyday tasks like buying groceries and shopping for household essentials. It has become increasingly important for brands to have a strong, consistent omnichannel presence so that they can create relevant and engaging experiences for customers. Whether a customer is making a purchase online, in-store, or through a mobile app, there’s a new level of expectation for accurate information and personalized services such as cost-effective home delivery, buy online/pick up in-store or curbside pickup. 

Inventory Management = King in the Omnichannel World

Omnichannel retailing means having a fully-integrated approach to commerce, giving consumers a unified experience across all channels or touchpoints. Omnichannel shopping goes beyond brick-and-mortar locations to mobile-browsing, online marketplaces, social media, and wherever your users browse online through retargeting ads. The basic premise is that consumers can place orders for products at any time, no matter where they are or what kind of device they’re using.

As seen during the coronavirus pandemic, when people “panic buy” or purchase an unusually large quantity of products, it leaves retailers and suppliers with shortages and causes consumers to continuously ask:

  • Is the item in stock?
  • Where is it available? 
  • What is the most convenient location? 
  • How fast can I get it? 

With the increasing immediacy of fulfillment needs, the accuracy of inventory availability is crucial. A key “must-have” for effective fulfillment execution is a complete view of inventory. 

To meet these consumer needs, we recommend implementing the below following processes and technology. 

1. A Modern and Robust Order Management System

The execution of an omnichannel operation will require a modern Order Management System (OMS). The OMS is the heart of the technology, as it provides inventory visibility and order orchestration to allow profitable shipping/sourcing of items from multiple locations. It’s designed to simultaneously juggle millions of orders and evaluate the best way (in some cases, cheapest; in some cases, fastest) to fulfill an order with intelligent and automated order sourcing and allocation. To put it simply, an order management system should make complex fulfillment decisions much easier.

2. Technology to Maintain Inventory Across All Channels in Real-Time

  • RFID: Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are effective in tracking high-volume inventory in large warehouses, as they provide real-time, item-level inventory lookup. With RFID technology, you can easily monitor inventory levels and prevent shrinkage and overstock. Barcoding, Inc. provides a detailed overview of the different types of RFID tags and equipment that organizations should consider when looking to deploy RFID technology.

  • Mobile Devices with Scanners: Dedicated devices can empower workers to streamline tasks. Rather than manually tracking inventory (which is highly susceptible to user-error), the use of mobile devices during the receiving and picking process increases the accuracy and speed of every order handled and completed. OEMs have come a long way when it comes to the look and feel of mobile handheld devices. Sometimes it’s even hard to tell the difference between a consumer and company-owned device. Zebra Technologies just released their EC30 Enterprise Companion Android device, which is small enough to fit in your pocket or wear on your arm, yet still allows users to scan barcodes, do inventory management, and communicate with staff via PTT or VoIP.

  • Barcode Printers and Labels: Having mobile or centralized barcode printers and corresponding labeling supplies for your products provides visibility into every asset in your supply chain. Not only do these tools create a common language across your supply chain, but they also save time and improve accuracy in many common warehouse processes including receiving, quality assurance, put away, picking, packaging, and shipping. 

3. Transparent Customer Communication

Customers don’t want to be left in the dark wondering where their order is, or when it might be ready for pickup or delivery. That’s why it’s important to provide transparent communication to the customer from the moment an order is placed to the moment it reaches the customer.

By implementing these solutions, not only will you empower parties to satisfy customer demands more efficiently, you will have greater internal visibility between distribution centers and selling channels, which is critical to achieving a higher level of inventory accuracy.

The technology and processes listed above are especially important with the rise of BOPIS and stores having to play a greater role in the fulfillment process. 

Buyers are Ready for BOPIS - But Are you?

Whether you prefer to call it click-and-collect or buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), these services proved to help retailers weather the COVID-19 outbreak and stand out among lagging competition. 

The popularity of BOPIS is still on the rise, growing from 4% of all ecommerce orders in 2017 to 11% in 2019 and continuing to expand, according to estimates by Nielsen. 

A BOPIS retail strategy is a win-win for both retailers and shoppers. For retailers, the last mile, from a transportation hub to the final destination is the trickiest and most expensive, and BOPIS eliminates this expense entirely. For customers, the primary draw to BOPIS is affordability and speed. Nearly 65% of online shoppers use BOPIS to avoid shipping costs, and 37% use it to get their orders faster. 

However, implementing BOPIS isn’t for all businesses. Here are some high-level requirements your organization must have before looking to adopt this service:

  1. Real-time inventory capabilities (as outlined in the section above). 
  2. A consumer-facing website or mobile app for ordering and displaying accurate inventory data and sending notifications to the customer throughout the buyer journey. 
  3. At least one brick and mortar location to fulfill orders and act as hub for customers to pick up their purchased items. 

BOPIS Best Practices

  • Survey your customers: first and foremost, do your research to ensure this service is something that resonates with your customers’ needs. Make sure to continuously monitor what they like/dislike about the service after it’s implemented.
  • Implement an inventory management system: inventory accuracy is often an ongoing challenge for retailers, so make sure to invest in a reliable inventory management system that can sync with your digital ordering platform. 
  • Optimize your store layout: reserve a few parking spaces outside of your store near the front entrance for pickup orders, and dedicate an area inside your store to house BOPIS orders. You might even consider installing physical infrastructures (i.e. smart lockers) to minimize long lines for customers and interrupting staff   
  • Effective communication with customers: figure out how you are going to notify customers when the order is ready, and take into account what kind of devices they’ll be using to view order notifications. Having clear communication throughout the order pickup process is crucial.
  • Train employees on the process: just like with any new company-wide process you implement, employee training is critical. Teach them how to manage, fulfill, and troubleshoot BOPIS orders – and make sure you have training guides they can quickly reference if needed.

Target is one retailer that’s leading the customer-centric BOPIS strategy and they’re setting the bar high. In Target’s recent investor call, the company discussed how creating convenient ways for people to shop with pick-up, drive-up, and same-day delivery has changed the behavior of its shoppers creating higher spending and a more loyal customer. I can personally attest to this – especially during the COVID-19 outbreak. I often found myself ordering products that I’d normally buy on Amazon from Target instead. This was largely because I could get products I needed quicker (and at a lower shipping cost) with their BOPIS and curbside pickup offering, in addition to their easy-to-use consumer app that provided accurate inventory information.

Embracing the New Era of Retail

The coronavirus should serve as a reminder to retailers about the importance of staying nimble no matter the circumstances: seasonal spikes, natural disaster, unforeseen fads, promotions and flash sales should not disrupt inventory management, fulfillment performance or hinder the overall customer experience. Like it or not, we are now living in the new age of retail where having a harmonized omnichannel presence is not only expected, it’s necessary to maintain customers’ brand loyalty.

If your organization is looking for guidance on how to quickly implement software solutions at scale, we’d love to chat.

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