Magazine Article | October 21, 2016

Mobile Guidance For Store-Level Fulfillment

By Matt Pillar, chief editor

November 2016 Innovative Retail Technologies

One of the major trends observed in recent iterations of our “Retail Tech Spending Report” is the incredible level of mobile device deployment in retail stores. Early on, the end game for these devices was decidedly POS. Now, the research (see the report on page 6) tells us that the mobile devices being shipped to stores will increasingly see duty as associate task management enablers.

That’s timely, given all the changes to the store associate’s job description of late. Not the least of those changes is the store associate’s newfound responsibility for store-level fulfillment.

Consider that warehouses and distribution centers have invested millions of dollars in spatial science and automation to squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of pick, pack, and ship operations. Yes, those warehouses and DCs are tasked with handling an incredible number of those tasks, 24/7/365. That might not be the case in stores, where a handful to a few dozen ship-from-store orders might be routed in a given day. But, that volume is growing, and store associates typically face a few more variables than their warehouse and DC counterparts.

The folks in the supply chain boxes don’t have a responsibility to cater to unpredictable customer requests and expectations. They don’t have to dedicate hours of each day to merchandising and shelf presentation. They don’t have to fill in at cash wraps when the lines up front get too long. That’s not to take anything away from their critical role in the grand scheme of things. But, if DC associates are granted the benefits of pick-to-light, robotics, and automation, is it too much for a store associate to ask for a mobile device that can help them locate a SKU for a customer, guide them through the most logical shelf stocking sequence when the trucks roll in, and map out the most efficient picking path when tasked by a corporate algorithm with the store-level fulfillment of online orders?

"Legacy approaches to the management of store associates’ tasks aren’t conducive to the new omni-channel reality."

The technology is there. Modern commerce platforms provide virtual access to enterprise-wide inventory. Today’s order management tools efficiently enable the fluidity of that inventory — the ability to allocate it to another store, prepare it for instore pickup, or ready it for delivery to the customer’s home. CRM programs with modern store mapping and task management applications provide a 360-degree view of the enterprise and its customers. When extended to mobile devices, these programs empower store associates to execute.

Today’s store associates need mobile guidance to efficiently weave customer service, inventory management, ship-from-store, and general “shop keeping” tasks into the flow of their shifts. Whether accessing a customer’s purchase history to enhance her experience with the brand, obtaining the holistic view of network inventory necessary to save a sale, or supporting digital channels and logical fulfillment methodology by efficiently managing pick, pack, and ship operations in the ship-from-store environment, mobile access to the commerce platform — and task management governance — are necessary to efficient execution.

Legacy approaches to the management of store associates’ tasks aren’t conducive to the new omni-channel reality. Served up on a mobile device, the marriage of the extended digital enterprise and task management tools encourage and direct associates to move beyond the four walls, past the status quo, and execute on salesenabling tasks they simply couldn’t do just a few years ago.