Modern Retail

The growing importance of flexible fulfilment

Flexible fulfilment

The COVID pandemic has seen a dramatic shift in the way that people shop. In 2020 alone, online sales grew by 46%. Those that previously preferred instore shopping had no other option but to buy online, with new cohorts being introduced to the world of ecommerce. Flexible fulfilment options were suddenly required.

For many, they realised just how easy online shopping can be, particularly when retailers design a customer-focused approach.

Despite retail stores reopening, the growth of ecommerce shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Instead, customers are expected to buy from retailers that can facilitate an omnichannel offering, including instore, home delivery and click and collect.

The growing need for a flexible approach to retail has put pressure on supply chains, making it essential to adapt fulfilment in a way that caters for a wide range of consumer preferences.

Makeshift fulfilment processes

As retail stores closed their doors during lockdowns, shoppers turned to ecommerce. This drastic change in consumer behaviour forced retailers to make quick fixes in order to survive.

Those that didn’t previously have a significant online presence or offer home delivery had to find ways to offer this in a hurry. While this was a great way to keep business coming in, it meant that these fulfilment processes weren’t designed to be scaled up or down, and weren’t often the most efficient.

Flexible fulfilment

Now is the time for long-term strategy

The growth of ecommerce is here to stay and retailers finally have a little breathing room to re-group. Now is the time to invest into fulfilment strategies that will deliver long-term benefits. 

Here are the three main ways to make sure your chosen method can be flexible:

  1. Invest in warehousing and real-time inventory management systems
    Real-time visibility is key to understanding stock levels, anticipating trends, preventing wastage and replenishing inventory. Introducing processes that make inventory management simple can reduce workload for retailers, as well as helping to fulfil orders efficiently and quickly.
  2. Offer a variety of delivery and collection options

When retailers have access to real-time inventory levels, they can create a synchronised approach to stock availability and sales. A well designed system will mean that retailers know how much stock they have, where it is located and how long it will take to reach any chosen destination. By creating a process that communicates all relevant information, retailers can offer a wide range of delivery and collection options with confidence.

  1. Invest in staff and logistics
    The rise of ecommerce has resulted in fulfilment companies needing more staff and warehousing space. Now is the time to invest into staff and facilities that can deliver in line with your ongoing requirements.

Flexible fulfilment is key

Retailers must analyse their fulfilment processes and develop partnerships in order to meet changing demands.

Here are some of the reasons that you should look to introduce a flexible fulfilment model:

  1. Choice
    Being able to offer a variety of delivery and collection options helps to attract loyal customers. Catering for a wide range of preferences will enable retailers to attract the largest possible customer base.
  1. Efficiency
    Planning a fulfilment strategy that facilitates a wide range of storage and delivery methods can improve efficiency and productivity. Having access to real-time inventory levels is another way to be agile, saving time through automation wherever possible.
  1. Adaptability
    As we have seen, the retail landscape can change quickly. Having a flexible approach to fulfilment enables retailers to adapt as required. Regardless of any challenges that retailers are faced with, those that are able to pivot to a different model will be best positioned to overcome any difficulties.
  2. Customer experience
    When implemented well, a fulfilment strategy designed for omnichannel retail can help retailers to overtake competitors and stand out from the crowd. It also means retailers are able to convey accurate delivery and stock information, creating a positive and memorable customer experience.

By focusing on agility, retailers can create processes that are resilient and will be able to go from strength to strength, despite any challenges that they may face in the future.

Click here to read more from Modern Retail’s June 2021 Guide to Fulfilment.

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Holly Worthington

Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail's Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today's ever-changing market.