2020 was a year that moved the world more towards digitalization than ever before. Ecommerce boomed and shifted the focus of retail businesses to online fulfilment, and with this shift towards digital commerce also came a shift in consumer demands.
While convenience has certainly become an important factor for retailers looking to set themselves apart from the competition, other factors have become more important too…
Consumers Want Speed, Flexibility and More Control
Full visibility on shipments and control over what supplies are delivered when and at what locations. It sounds like a business-to-business environment doesn’t it? However, consumers are increasingly demanding this same level of visibility.
Even before consumers make a decision to buy something they want to know if there is enough stock available to fulfil their order and they want to see when goods can be delivered to whatever location they want.
Then, once the order is placed, consumers want to stay in control and be able to check or update their order, add or remove items, or change a delivery address without having to listen to terrible ‘hold music’ while waiting for a customer service agent to become available at some far-away call centre.
Another factor that touches on both control and convenience for consumers is having a choice when it comes to delivery options. They may want to have it delivered at home, or at the office, or at a parcel pick-up point, or maybe at the store. Time has also become an increasingly important factor too. Maybe you’ll want it today, tomorrow or even on a specific future date.
Regardless of dates, fact of the matter remains, retailers need to have have multiple options available and have the flexibility to accommodate the delivery demands of consumers, both in terms of location and speed of delivery.
Retail Fulfilment Processes Need to Match Consumer Expectations
Traditionally, retailers were operating with batch driven processes in their warehouses. That works great when you know the demand you need to fulfil ahead of time. With the increasing demand for flexibility in speed that consumers demand, batch driven processes no longer work.
Fulfilment processes in the warehouse need to be flexible. Orders need to be fulfilled in real-time, taking into account last-minute changes from the consumer while keeping a close eye on cut-off times.
Successful retailers not only adapt their processes and the speed in which they execute them to the speed the consumer demands, but they also use multiple channels to reach their customers.
This can be via traditional retail outlets, a direct-to-consumer webshop, affiliates, or other channels. They make sure their products can reach consumers in various ways as well. With consumer demand always changing this means flexibility in how processes and systems are set up is absolutely paramount.
Supply Chain Software Needs Speed and Flexibility Too
There is a burning question on the lips of all supply chain and operations chiefs: are our current warehouse and order-management systems up to the task today, but more importantly, tomorrow?
With the speed markets are moving right now, companies don’t have the time or luxury to wait for the next software release which is scheduled for some time next year to add (for example) new omnichannel functionality to their system. When it comes to their system capabilities retailers have very much the same high demands when it comes to speed as their customers.
They want it now, and if not now then certainly soon. Any software system that wants to keep up with that speed, can’t rely on periodically released developments and updates. Updates and upgrades to customer systems need to be done at speed.
Systems that are set up based on microservices are flexible and respond fast. Functionality can be updated or added to customer systems instantly by plugging in new services, almost like downloading a new app on your phone and using it a few minutes later.
Speed Doesn’t Ensure Success
Yes, speed is important, but companies need to make sure they are not achieving speed for the sake of speed. We see it time and again: speed needs to be harnessed and controlled.
Take Formula 1 as an example. An F1 car may be superfast on the long stretch, but if there are a lot of corners and tight chicanes or if the track is full of other cars, a vehicle with a lower top speed may be faster overall.
When it comes to omnichannel retail, a ‘reverse engineering’ approach is often the best way to tackle the challenge: start at the end of the journey with the consumer and work back through the processes, to the software architecture that underpins it all.
In doing it this way, when rapid consumer shifts occur, your supply chain network, systems and people will have strong IT foundations in place, enabling them to speed up, slow down and realign with minimal impact to any point in the supply chain. Do this and you’ll have a winning combination of speed, flexibility, control and (crucially) happy customers!
This blog is sponsored by Manhattan Associates