In recent years, many retailers have focused much of their time and investment in a continuing battle with online brands. This is despite the fact that online retail accounts for an average of 10.8% of total retail sales in Western Europe, according to data from the Centre for Retail Research. The High Street, although under massive pressure, is far from dead and UK consumers still value the in-person experience of shopping in a bricks-and-mortar environment.
Yet, change is ever present across the retail economy, and omni-channel retailers continue to innovate and adapt to our evolving shopping, and the hugely competitive nature of modern consumer retail.
Looking at how some of the biggest names are changing their approach helps to illustrate the point. In the US, for example, the biggest traditional retailers like Walmart and Target are converging their physical stores with digital services to deliver the local convenience today’s consumers now demand. By changing how their stores can deliver a convenient service, they are seeking competitive advantages that digital-only businesses can’t easily replicate.
Amazon appears to understand the convenience trends and has grasped the opportunity to launch over 20 automated ‘Amazon Go’ stores across the US. It recently also announced plans to sell its pioneering ‘Just Walk Out’ cashier-less checkout technology to other retailers, representing another step in the drive to make high street shopping more convenient for consumers.
Utilising technology to bridge the gap between digital and real-world is just the start, and today’s flexible and agile cloud-native solutions make it easy for retailers to automate processes, adopt new technologies, and improve their ability to react to changing markets. Central to the convenience store model is the ability technology provides to deliver visibility and finger-tip inventory control that’s needed to take advantage of location and maintain the convenience edge.
Retailers using today’s cloud-powered distributed order management systems can achieve a real-time enterprise-wide view of their inventory that allows consumers to see what’s available and where. At the same time, these systems make it easy for store-based staff to see what products are available, in what quantity, and in what locations.
This result is that truly unified commerce across the entire online and physical retail estate is now a reality, as bricks-and-mortar stores morph into combined shop front, warehouse, and distribution centres. What’s more, these systems also provide in-store teams with the easy-to-use tools they need to handle customer collections, exchanges and returns.
As a result, High Street retailers can spend time where shops are closed to build a differentiated in-person experience that’s both localised and convenient. What’s more, by giving customers a greater choice of in-store services, retailers can create additional opportunities to showcase products and demonstrate their service capabilities.
Convenience Shopping Relies on Intelligent Fulfilment
Alongside better order and inventory management, retailers are also turning to the built-in intelligence of these new distributed order management systems to make smarter fulfilment decisions that balance the needs of retail businesses and their customers.
Distributed order management platforms, can deliver insights into how long, and at what cost, items can be shipped from one location to another – whether that’s a warehouse, store, pick-up point or house. The most powerful solutions are also able to identify what options are the most cost-effective and efficient for delivery, and then automatically fulfil orders based on the best efficiency and speed ratio.
This is an important point because efficiently balancing product availability against delivery timelines and demand/capacity constraints can enable retailers to offer enhancements or reduced delivery costs to loyalty programme members. In doing so, they also gain the ability to split inventory within an order to apply the most effective shipping options. And because customer service staff now have real-time visibility of stock they can make fast decisions on how to quickly get orders to the customers.
On a broader business level, contemporary distributed order management systems close the capability gaps and financial burdens of turning bricks-and-mortar stores into assets that cross digital/physical boundaries. From faster, more convenient delivery options to initiating ship-from-store options and fulfilment innovations, these solutions enable retailers to maximise convenience in a way that meets consumer need without compromising on efficiency and profitability.
While convenience has always been part of the retail lexicon, we’re now seeing the re-emergence of consumer-led convenience, where retailers innovate to bring consumers an in-person experience, the ultimate blend of online and in-person shopping.
Credit: Graham Jackson, CEO, Fluent Commerce