Omnichannel fulfillment is when a retailer provides services to their customers through multiple connected channels. It focuses on providing a seamless experience to the customer. This concept is becoming more important, as on average 78% of consumers will use two or more channels when making a purchase decision. Whether it is researching a product online before making a purchase or rating it on social media afterwards, today’s consumers have an endless ways to connect with brands. Brick-and-mortar stores, e-commerce sites, mobile apps, social media, and many more are emerging. Customers expect a high level of consistent data across these channels, and for delivery to be user-friendly and seamless.
A large factor in achieving this level of service is taking a holistic approach to inventory management. You need to centralize your inventory so that it is accessible to each channel in your network. In order to achieve this, you also need to have a seamless channel network in place. This is something that not all companies have invested in. Kay Rindels points out that “Only 55 percent of companies have cross-channel inventory visibility and can transfer across channels.” With roughly 45% of all companies not taking this approach, an opportunity presents itself for the ones who do invest.
A well-connected network allows for visibility at all levels. As a result, you have the right product in the right place at the right time. A best practices guide by Raymark sums up the positive effects: “Aside from enabling smarter, more accurate decisions… centralized enterprise inventory is just plain good customer service.
Seeing the organization as a whole
Visibility is a basic need when it comes to an effective omnichannel network. You need to have a system in place that shows your inventory across locations. Knowing this will not only benefit management and decision makers, but it will also benefit front line employees and your consumers. This level of visibility allows for better planning and decisions. More channels means more complexity. It helps to ensure that the physical assets are available to meet the system-wide demand. From there, you can figure out what channel to deliver through.
Additionally, this visibility also benefits front-line workers and the consumer. It allows them to easily find what they are looking for. Access to this information is quickly becoming an expectation for many customers. Note that roughly “71% of customers expect to view in-store inventory online.” Broad visibility, available both internally and externally, is a critical element in an omnichannel network.
A new approach to distribution
Once you know you have the products, you need to determine how they will get into customers’ hands. It is important that you once again view this in an aggregate way. When it comes to delivery, you should try and keep inventory flexible for as long as possible. This is so that you can deliver through any channel at any time.
One way to do this is by retail locations as distribution centers (DCs). Firms have started shipping out from their retail locations to customers, transferring items from store to store, and even allowing item pick up at retail locations. As a result of these methods, you can connect to your ecommerce channels.
In the eyes of the consumer, there is already a connection between a brand’s ecommerce and physical stores. It is up to the firm to ensure that connection is seamless. Let’s say an item is unavailable at one location or through one channel. A customer wants to know where they can get it in an effortless way. Having a seamless connection between each of your channels will help make this possible.
It is essential to take a holistic approach when operating in an omnichannel network. It will not only help with forecasting and planning, but it will also increase customer satisfaction by ensuring you have the right products in the right place at the right time.