By Chris Shaw, director of product marketing, Manhattan Associates
The importance of delivering high-quality customer experiences in today’s retail space is well-understood. The new challenge has become how to deliver that experience in a profitable way while also keeping up with rapidly-changing consumer expectations, fueled by online retailers.
Indeed, the rise of e-commerce and omni-channel retail has changed the game when it comes to how orders are placed, priced, and delivered. No matter how consumers choose to shop, they now expect access to a retailer’s entire inventory, and the ability to locate and receive their items fast and free via home delivery or at the store, depending on their needs.
Providing this seamless shopping experience is the biggest challenge most retailers are currently facing. However, as the holiday season approaches, the dramatic increase in demand can overwhelm these commerce systems. As we near this holiday season, retailers should focus on the following three key areas to deliver a high-quality customer experience in a profitable manner.
Global Inventory Visibility
Growing omni-channel pressures have made global inventory visibility a critical retail function. This means having the ability to see every item across an entire enterprise, whether it is located in the warehouse, stores, in transit or in reserve at the distributor or manufacturer. After all, you can’t sell what you can’t see. Inventory visibility becomes even more important during the peak holiday season, when consumers have less tolerance for back-orders or excuses. When a frazzled holiday shopper demands a specific item by a specific date, the ability to locate that item in a different store, online or in the warehouse empowers retailers to create a satisfied customer and build loyalty that will extend well beyond the holidays. That said, visibility into inventory supplies is only the beginning.
Most retailers have invested in the first half of the omni buyer journey — understanding the customer and making the offer. However, making a promise is the easy part; delivering on the promise is more difficult. Rapidly sourcing and delivering product on time, regardless of channel, is especially critical during the busy holiday season, both to build good will with your customer base and to avoid costly inventory backlogs and outages. On the technology side, cloud-native distributed order management, warehouse management, and transportation management systems will afford retailers the flexibility to source product from anywhere in the network and reroute product to new destinations as needed. For traditional brick and mortar businesses, handling fulfillment directly from the stores themselves is a departure from what has been historically asked of store management and associates and can pose a significant challenge. Whether that means ship-from-store or buy-online-pickup-instore, it necessitates stores function as fulfillment centers, and that in-store employees are equipped with the skills to effectively fulfill orders. That brings us to the third key to omni-channel holiday success.
Empowering Store Associates
Feeling the pressure of competing against fast, free delivery from online giants, retailers are asking store associates to do more than ever to provide exceptional customer experiences. They need to be able to better understand and engage customers coming in the ‘front’ of the store, but they are also increasingly being asked to perform fulfillment activities out of the ‘back’ of the store.
Recent research by Manhattan Associates found 89 percent of U.S. shoppers still shop in-store, but the majority of these in-store sales are now influenced by digital engagement. Today’s shoppers expect to be helped by informed associates who have insight into their buying preferences, history, and all inventory across a brand’s network. New fulfillment strategies, such as buy-online-pickup-in-store, ship-from-store, and ship-to-store are important for stores on several fronts.
First, they provide a differentiating local fulfillment opportunity, while also placing an increased burden on staff traditionally not trained to provide such services. These strategies also bring customers into the store, increasing the opportunity for cross-sells and up-sells. When considering solutions for store associates, retailers should think about one thing above all others: Does this make my employee’s job easier? If merchants do not offer a single associate solution for complete command and control of the store, then the answer is most often ‘no.’
The holiday season is a busy and challenging time for retailers, but for those that are well-prepared, it’s also a period rife with opportunity. Having a robust and well-executed omni-channel strategy is critical to ensuring success any time of year, but especially during the peak holiday season when demand spikes and systems are taxed. For most retailers, preparation for the holiday rush started many months ago and system stress tests are well underway. However, all retailers — even those who are still finalizing their omni-channel strategies — can learn from the impending holiday season and improve for the following year.
This holiday season, merchants should take note of system operations and key pain points to refine and improve systems in the years to come. While it’s unrealistic to expect no holiday hiccups, with the proper omni-channel systems tested and in place, retailers can make the most of the opportunity during this and future peak periods.
About The Author
Chris Shaw is a senior technologist with a passion for the buying experiences of customers around the world. He is a leader in understanding the convergence of digital and physical and how digitally empowered customers are forcing all merchants to respond to a new world order in retailing. Chris has been a marketing and sales leader, services architect and senior IT leader for some of the leading commerce companies in the world.”