I’m here at Retail (R)Evolution, an exclusive conference sponsored by Pitney Bowes to bring together innovators and trailblazers who are tackling retail industry disruption head-on. I’m especially intrigued by the current discussion on the topic of effective unified commerce strategy. Stefan Weitz, Chief Product and Strategy Officer of Radial, is speaking about how to put inventory to work and establish a killer supply chain.
The premise of this session is that, while it might be common to believe that unified commerce is focused on logistics, it’s actually about leveraging investments to improve how a product gets to consumers and how the customers are nurtured.
Getting the product to the consumer effectively is the core objective, but how can a retailer compete against Amazon’s fulfillment network? As Weitz puts it, “Retailers need to get products closer to the consumer in cost-effective ways.” One approach being seen in the marketplace is to convert large retail locations into hybrid distribution centers/retail locations. In so doing, retailers can ship B2C orders from underutilized storage rooms while also providing rapid replenishment to regional retail locations. Or, when such hybrid locations are not possible, some retailers are looking to third parties to strategically distribute products for them. In this way, retailers are able to reduce store footprints, expand in-store assortments, increase sales, improve inventory utilization and maximize margins while reducing the impact of in-store fulfillment programs on store associates. All of this represents a trend toward fulfillment networks that mimic Amazon’s for B2C but with the added benefit of providing replenishment to retail locations.
Weitz is outlining six new rules for unified commerce, the first three being focused on fulfillment and the last three being focused on customer engagement.
- Customers demand convenience, choice and control in regards to order fulfillment options. Due to the fact that customers are becoming increasingly specific, selective and savvy, it’s essential that supply chains are flexible and customized and that they include a mix of fulfillment strategies such as ship-from-store.
- The days of channel-specific inventory are over. Comprehensive inventory data is critical, and it must be combined with a powerful, configurable order allocation engine to enable true omnichannel functionality.
- Customers want an in-store experience, so in-store pick-up is important. Getting more customers in store not only decreases costs and increases consumer optionality, but it affords an opportunity to engage. Also, ship-from-store activity can be complemented by metro distribution centers. Retails should therefore spend time on better in-store pickup and ship-to-store execution in stores.
- The physical world will look a lot more like digital. The frictionless experience of the digital world is being morphed into the physical world. Combining what makes digital appealing with physical assets provides a better experience for consumers – and represents a competitive advantage for retailers.
- A centralized, distributed order management system (OMS) will be the most important piece of technology a retailer can deploy into its enterprise. Centralizing inventory and order information into a single OMS does more than just enable profitable fulfillment decisions. This data can be used to develop a single view of the customer so store associates can provide a more personalized experience. The omnichannel OMS also provides a single view of the inventory, intelligent order allocation and fulfillment routing and comprehensive customer service tools.
- Mobile is the ecommerce shopping channel of choice, and winners recognize this. Form must follow function on these devices in regards to search, product presentation, shopping cart functionality, payment flexibility and returns.
Weitz’s core message is that “the future will be wildly customer-driven, so it’s time to focus on how to scale investments in technology to affect every part of the customer experience.”
This point is being echoed in the subsequent panel discussion. It’s being moderated by Casey Adams, President of Visible Supply Chain Management, and includes Mark Ludwig, Senior Director of Global Trade & Logistics at Tiffany & Co. as well as Stefan Weitz, the speaker from whom we just heard. Frank discussions are taking place about the fact that none of these strategies is, on its own, the panacea. These strategies represent arrows in the quiver all for the desirable outcome of a great customer experience.