Do you have a March Madness bracket filled out for the NCAA basketball finals? Whether you do lots of research on each team or pick randomly, it’s a fun time of year to watch the highs, lows and upsets during the culmination of the college basketball season.
As I filled out my bracket and prepared to dominate my coworkers in the office pool, I realized how much March Madness and the supply chain have in common, especially around in-store fulfillment. In-store fulfillment is an area that many of our retail customers are considering, as it gives them the ability to fulfill an order – no matter its origin – from a brick-and-mortar store. In an omni-channel market, this is critical for ensuring that your orders are fulfilled quickly using whatever means are best for consumers and business objectives. As we work with our retail customers that are considering in-store order fulfillment, there are a few key areas that they – and teams on the road to the NCAA championship – should focus on if they want to succeed.
Master the basics
Sure, a team can have lots of trick plays or high-flying dunks, but they’re not going to advance if they can’t master the basics of the game. The same goes for retailers: while many are exploring new ways to fulfill online orders, they’re also struggling with operationalizing the foundations of order fulfillment, like store pick-up or cross-channel inventory visibility, or fast pick and pack processes. By not having mastery and automation in these areas, they will likely increase their error rate as they scale up to fulfill a growing online order base.
Before implementing an in-store order fulfillment or omni-channel strategy, make sure you have the basics covered so that you can fulfill consumers’ demands for a buy anywhere, deliver anywhere and return anywhere experience. This will also help your systems adapt to an omni-channel environment more smoothly and ultimately provide a better experience for your fans.
Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy
All the plans in the world are worthless if you can’t make the shot. Likewise, your supply chain’s inventory systems and processes – whether in your store or at your warehouse – have to be accurate to justify the investment in in-store fulfillment technology.
Getting all of your systems integrated and acting like a team are the most important steps: Implement a single pool of inventory to which all channels have access, and introduce fulfillment prioritization rules among online, home delivery, store requirements and wholesale orders. In addition, integrate order management, store replenishment, supply chain planning, POS, planogram and ERP systems to give your customers better service and efficiency. Customer experience is critical in the omni-channel world, you might not get a second chance if you don’t execute on that first experience. The ability to communicate among various store and warehouse systems will help you manage your inventory more profitably and give your customers a winning experience.
An upset is inevitable
Just like the 12th seed that beats the 5th seed, you’ll likely have surprises and upsets as you implement in-store order fulfillment technology and processes. Your response will need to be flexible and adaptable during these times.
This starts by recognizing the importance of standardized processes for your in-store teams: labor is much more fluid in a store than in a warehouse, with a wider variety of skillsets and seasonality considerations, so standardization will be extremely important to ensure continuity. Support unique picking requirements, such as variable weights and product image displays, to assist with product locating in stores. Move distribution points closer to buyers for faster lead times and eliminate the frustration of out-of-stock scenarios so that you can build brand equity by connecting customers with the products they want – wherever the product is located.
Build your processes and strategies on a supply chain technology that can adapt to unforeseen situations and continue to support your company’s growth. New challenges, like a changing business model or customer demands, don’t always have to require new solutions. Ensuring you have the right technology foundation to adapt to these changes will make you more successful and profitable in the long run.
Come out ahead
Navigating changes in an omni-channel retail environment requires a mastery of order fulfillment basics, accurate visibility into your inventory, and the ability to flexibly respond to any challenges thrown your way. With a solid foundation and an eye toward the changes that the omni-channel market is bringing, your company can increase the odds that it will come out ahead.
Chuck Fuerst is the director of product strategy at HighJump Software. He has more than 15 years of experience in the technology market, working for supply chain and ERP software companies to deliver innovative solutions. Chuck is responsible for monitoring supply chain industry and technology trends and identifying ways to enhance the value of products for HighJump’s customers. He holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing management and innovation from Concordia University.