Omnichannel retail fulfillment operations have become the next big “thing” for e-commerce merchants of all sizes. In the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, where so much of the purchasing economy is now fully digital due to quarantine restrictions shutting down shops, customers have become more and more accustomed to the conveniences of free 2-day shipping and excellent customer service. This rise of e-commerce during these unprecedented times has the positive effect of giving the industry a much-needed breath of fresh air, but makes it all that much harder for your average seller to meet these steadily-climbing demands and goals. Omnichannel fulfillment has become not only an option, but an absolute necessity in order for merchants to compete.
But what is omnichannel fulfillment, and why is it important? How does it work? Read on to inform yourself with informational tools that will help you grow your business.
To put it simply, omnichannel fulfillment (and order and inventory management) is a fulfillment strategy wherein businesses use multiple selling channels to distribute and fulfill customer orders, regardless of which channel an order is placed through. Picking, packing, and shipping orders from multiple channels is no small feat. Instead of having only one inventory base to think about, merchants have to be extra careful to make sure that they don’t accidentally oversell their inventory. If a seller has 100 pieces of inventory across three separate channels, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that they could sell out in all three, overselling their actual stock by 200 units! But if you allocate inventory equally, having 33 units in each store, one may sell out quicker than the others, rendering that store dead weight until the goods can be shifted around.
Thankfully, modern omnichannel warehousing and order fulfillment strategy allows for SKUs from multiple channels to be synchronized in order to prevent this sort of happenstance. Numbers are logged and reported in real time so that nothing is overlooked. No matter how customers wish to make a purchase, whether on your brand’s website or on a large e-commerce marketplace platform, inventory is accessed through one centralized channel to avoid overselling.
From there, no matter where the customer orders from, the order goes to one centralized database. After scanning the location of the final delivery, the software can make an executive decision as to which warehouse or retail location to ship out of, all to ensure maximum efficiency in the distribution process. Rather than shipping to the customer from one centralized location, which may add precious hours or days onto delivery time that modern businesses simply don’t have to spare, the AI can check whether there are products at a retail or storage location closer to the customer. Merchants can even offer BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store) or curbside pickup options to the discerning customer, who can then have their goods in hand even quicker than it would take to ship, as these options usually only take a couple of hours in processing time at most.
All this convenience, however, means very little if a seller is left in the dark as to what’s going on. Raw numbers are all very well and good, but they can be difficult for anyone aside from an economist or mathematician to understand. For an omnichannel support software to be truly excellent, graphics, explanations, and real-time updates must be provided to the end user. Thankfully, most top software companies offer this feature and many others, so the merchant or seller using them can always inform themselves about how much inventory they have left and which channels are selling the most.
A merchant may be asking themselves why they would bother with setting up and integrating yet another tool into their logistics operations. The truth is, we live in a post-Amazon and post-Covid world. Customers no longer have any tolerance for products with heavy delays in shipping. They get frustrated even if a product takes longer than two or three days to arrive at their door, and will refrain from ordering from the same place again. At worst, they even inform other potential-customers about the shipping delays, encouraging them not to buy. And because of the e-commerce boom in 2020 due to the global pandemic, widespread changes have been forced across the industry. The bar has been