The demand for flexible fulfilment is growing and the temporary closure of retail stores around the country has created an opportunity for retailers to consider their operations. Craig Summers, UK Managing Director of Manhattan Associates outlines ways of optimising store inventory and fulfilment with industry-leading technology, RFID.
Consumers expect inventory availability information and flexible fulfilment options that support their busy lifestyles, whether it’s shopping online with a view into local store inventory, selecting to pick up their online purchases instore or opting for same-day delivery to meet an immediate need.
In fact, by 2023 the UK click-and-collect market is predicted to grow to £9.8bn, a rise of 45.8%. As the customer demand for flexibility and convenience increases, retailers are looking for new ways to optimise their existing assets to satisfy rising consumer expectations.
Craig Summers explains how turning retail stores into fulfilment centres to provide ship from store and click-and-collect options is one of the strategic manoeuvres retailers are making to meet the demand.
Protecting profit margins
Retail stores, including store associates, were not originally intended to operate as fulfilment centres. Simply put, store layouts and inventory were not designed to be optimised for fulfilment like warehouses. What’s more, store associates are not trained to be order-pickers like warehouse staff.
The risk for retailers is that the store cannot keep up with fulfilment demands of digital commerce while simultaneously supporting walk-in shoppers, potentially risking poor customer service and damaging customer satisfaction. Furthermore, retailers run the risk of diluting margins if store fulfilment operations become increasingly costly.
As growth in flexible order fulfilment options like ship from store continues, retailers should aim to build upon the strength of their current store operations to ensure they can profitably deliver customer fulfilment promises. Improving store inventory and fulfilment capabilities to enable the store to more accurately and efficiently fulfil online orders is crucial to satisfying customers and protecting margins.
The RFID opportunity
The key to offering various store fulfilment options is having near real-time visibility into the availability and precise location of store inventory by using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. By utilising inventory in stores, not just in distribution centres, for the fulfilment of online orders, retailers will be prepared to meet expectations for convenience and immediacy, while reducing disappointment and lost sales created by out-of-stock situations.
With that information in hand, retailers will be empowered to confidently promise customers fulfilment options including specific instore order pick-up times or same-day delivery. Further, timely and accurate inventory information can be used to optimise instore order picking processes, enabling store associates to find, pick, and prepare orders with the accuracy and efficiency that reduces operational costs while ensuring service level commitments.
By having instore stock data clearly visible in a system that is capable of providing a single view of all stock across the retailer’s network (irrespective of location), smart fulfilment decisions can be made. For example, a retailer can then decide if, with the data in mind, it makes more sense to ship from a store, a DC or a DSV to ensure the customer’s expectations are met.
A new retail reality
Using RFID instore equips store associates with everything they need to provide a seamless, modern customer experience. In fact, RFID in stores is proven to significantly improve stock accuracy and consumer trust of having the right products available to fulfil demand.
If a customer walks into the store to purchase a pair of shoes and requires them in a certain size, the store associate can confidently access store inventory via a handheld device. This means the store associates doesn’t have to return to the customer empty handed after manually checking the stock room, and they can then order the product for the customer if it isn’t in stock in their particular store – thanks to RFID, store associates can also locate items quickly and efficiently.
The new retail reality is here already. With the help of innovative RFID technology, retailers are turning their stores into fulfilment centres to strategically meet customer demand for convenience and immediacy. Meeting this demand is not easy, but when correctly optimising store inventory and fulfilment, the complexity subsides, providing retailers with the opportunity to deliver on their anytime, anywhere, omnichannel promise.