Guest Commentary: A New Best Friend for Santa’s Elves: How a WMS Drives Efficiency in Omni-Channel Retail

This time of year, many children have high expectations for what they hope will be delivered for the holidays. For those of us adults who are buying for them or anyone, our expectations aren’t any lower: We want the ability to purchase however and wherever we want, and receive it as fast as possible in the most convenient location.

For retailers that don’t have an army of elves to cater to the needs of each customer, the right supply chain management technology can efficiently and quickly manage the fulfillment of orders online, in-store, and deliver the goods to the consumer in multiple ways. Some companies are already pushing the envelope in delivery strategies: Wal-Mart offers in-store pick-up for orders placed online, and Sears and K-Mart will bring the online purchases out to a customer’s car in some locations.

A warehouse management system (WMS) can be the central tool for many omni-channel retail efforts. It bridges the online and in-store consumer experience to optimize the shopper’s time and serves as the primary integration point between the online and in-store activities, as well as between the retail store and warehouse environment.

Here’s how it works:

In-store employees are directed to pick items at a specific time to ensure they are ready for the customer, but minimize disruption for shoppers in the building. Once the items are selected, the cart is packaged and ready for pick-up when the customer arrives. The nature of a WMS allows for any item in the store to be ordered, picked and delivered this way – avoiding the trade-off of consumer choice for convenience. The WMS can also be triggered to provide product photos to optimize order picking, manage the receive, shelf fill and refill operations, and integrate with existing systems such as online shopping, point-of-sale, store planograms and distributed order management systems that manage and direct omni-channel orders.

Turning a retail team into a personal shopping team of sorts doesn’t mean a retailer has to sacrifice margin or the value of getting a consumer into their store. Accurate and timely fulfillment by the WMS minimizes labor cost and keeps profits on track. If your WMS is adaptable and configurable, it can continue to support your dedicated fulfillment center in the event that your online business outgrows in-store fulfillment.

Consumer demands are changing and the expectation of being able to buy, fulfill and return anywhere means that retailers are getting creative and increasingly proactive in their logistics strategies. For those omni-channel retailers with an adaptable warehouse management system, the integration of in-store activities with varying order sources can drive efficiencies that will not only make their holidays brighter, but fulfill the high expectations of both the gift buyer and receiver.

Gary Nemmers is the senior vice president and general manager, supply chain execution group, at HighJump Software. He is responsible for all operations pertaining to the supply chain solutions group, including strategy, general management, sales, professional services and marketing. His role encompasses growing and servicing the supply chain management offering through direct and indirect channels worldwide.

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