The 2013 Omnichannel Retail Experience: Are You Prepared to Deliver?

Any retailer knows the importance of providing a positive customer experience across all of the brand's channels, whether those channels are in-store, online, contacting a call center or using a mobile device. What's different today is that consumers now want the same experience across all of these channels – and the flexibility to use more than one channel to make a purchase or return. The challenge for retailers is to build an omni-channel supply chain strategy that can deliver a seamless customer experience.

According to the 2012 Omnichannel Retail Experience report from the Aberdeen Group, 50 percent of industry leaders indicated their top strategic objective for 2012 was to ensure product availability across all channels. As they move toward more integrated fulfillment, retailers must reassess their supply chains to ensure they can deliver on the omnichannel promise.

Optimizing store fulfillment
An important step in the omnichannel journey is to determine how store fulfillment can play a role in maximizing the consumer experience and customer profitability. It can be a complicated process but retailers do not have to undergo it alone. Some third-party logistics providers can work with retailers to set up a virtual demand environment. Retailers test different routing scenarios to determine which ones will help them meet customer service goals while maximizing profitability.

Retailers should also consider conducting a supply chain optimization study to identify the most efficient store fulfillment operations. Given the complexities of having to train store staff to pick, pack and ship combined with the factor of potential space constraints in stores, having too many stores set up to ship could be costly and inefficient for the retailer.

Simple processing
Once a retailer's store fulfillment network has been mapped out, the next step is getting store employees trained and prepared to implement omnichannel operations. Many of these staff may be part-time, underscoring the need to make the process as simple as possible. One potential solution is to create a visual aid that helps employees "see" what they are picking in order to reduce incorrect shipments. Beyond training, it's also critical to have access to technology tools that help employees track the status of shipments. 

Leveraging technology tools 
Visibility tools and technology solutions save retailers time. From an inbound perspective, retailers can schedule employees around incoming shipments. In distribution centers, technology tools helps retailers receive merchandise and process back orders or returns.  According to the Aberdeen Group study, retailers with products in stock – at the right price - and deliver to consumers through a variety of channels have a competitive advantage.

Also, technology solutions integrated into a retailer's order entry, point of sale or ERP systems will enable them to react quickly to consumer demand.

Simplifying returns
A key factor in driving purchasing behavior and brand loyalty among consumers is simple: provide an easy returns process.  According to comScore's 2012 Online Shopping Customer Experience Study, commissioned by UPS, 63 percent of consumers review an online retailer's return policy before making a purchase. Consumers also said they are looking for convenience such as return labels in outgoing shipments. Delivering a positive omnichannel customer experience is creating a simple, convenient returns process that accommodates returns through multiple customer access points.

The omnichannel experience is defined by many industry experts as the final step in the evolution of retailing.  With the right supply chain strategy, retailers can create a positive and seamless customer experience across multiple channels. 

Melanie Alavi is a retail manager for UPS.
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