Three Ways In-store Fulfillment Benefits Customers

The retail and supply chain industries are buzzing with strategies for succeeding in a multichannel marketplace: How do you give customers the choices they want on the channels they want, while fulfilling the order in a way that's convenient for the customer and efficient and profitable for the retailer? Circling around this question, though, is yet a larger one – and one I believe to be more fundamentally important: to protect your brand and reputation, how do you ensure a consistent customer experience across all channels?

Apparel retailers are starting to think further outside of the warehouse box about how to incorporate brick-and-mortar stores into the order fulfillment process. In-store order fulfillment is a key area where the latest supply chain technology is blurring the line between stores and warehouses — allowing stores processes to function in ways formerly limited to a warehouse management system (WMS), and helping to create a more seamless customer experience.

Benefits of an in-store fulfillment solution
In-store fulfillment is the ability to fulfill an order — no matter its origin — from a brick-and-mortar store.

Supply chain technology can now bridge this gap across order channels, offering retailers more flexibility and continuity between multiple locations, as well as linking and managing resources across multiple facilities.

An in-store fulfillment solution offers huge benefits to a retailer in terms of efficiency, accuracy and speed. Standardized processes and centralized systems ensure better communication; greater inventory visibility means faster, more accurate fulfillment; and a labor force that can move more efficiently will fulfill an order faster while preserving the brand-right, in-store experience. These three areas form a foundation for a superior customer experience, no matter the channel.

Let's take a closer look at how an in-store order fulfillment solution delivers these benefits.

Manage store processes more efficiently
Apparel is challenging to pick in a store; it's not standardized in a box and it comes in different styles, colors and sizes that add to the complexity and risk of a picking error. On top of that, your labor is much more fluid in a store than in a warehouse, with a wider variety of skillsets and seasonality considerations that can create inconsistencies in service. These factors, among others, make process standardization all the more important for retailers that wish to implement in-store order fulfillment.

An in-store order fulfillment solution operates on a platform that can integrate with the systems in your store and in your warehouse. This is critical for standardizing processes and increasing efficiencies and speed across your locations. The solution supports unique picking requirements, such as variable weights and product image displays, to assist with locating a product in a store.

You can also integrate order management, store replenishment, supply chain planning, POS, planogram and ERP systems for better process consistency and automation. Item substitution processes as directed by the customer help with faster fulfillment and ultimately deliver a satisfying customer experience that builds your brand equity.

Leverage greater inventory visibility
A WMS tracks inventory by the case level, which means that codes are used to track products in bulk. But in your store, tracking inventory is more difficult, as items may arrive in cases but are stocked and sold individually. Efficiently managing inventory across locations and channels is at the heart of multichannel retailing and a successful in-store order fulfillment plan.

An in-store order fulfillment solution can maintain real-time inventory visibility at every stocking location from which fulfillment can occur, as well as track what inventory is on its way into those locations and when it will arrive. You can track and trace products down to the lot and item level, conduct periodic cycle counts, inventory look-ups, and capture key data along the way to find merchandise quickly and efficiently. This gives you instant knowledge of exactly where your products are at all times for better-decision making around order fulfillment.

Cycle counting and inventory adjustment controls maintain inventory accuracy, allowing you to better avoid stock-outs and overstocks, and deliver the right customer experience right away — because you may not get a second chance.

Optimize the in-store labor force
Managing the order and managing the store team go hand-in-hand in a multi-channel environment. An in-store order fulfillment solution is fluent in both warehouse and in-store processes, so it can direct the store team to optimize pick tasks, keep labor costs low and meet customer expectations for a seamless experience. It also provides work queue, labor and productivity management to support the management of store associates.

The time it takes to fulfill an order in the store won't be as predictable as in the warehouse, or as easy to control. An in-store order fulfillment solution sets realistic – and flexible – expectations for the store team, who will likely be interrupted by shoppers or will have to check multiple locations to track down an item. With this flexibility, you can preserve the in-store experience for customers and efficiently fulfill the order for customers outside of the store.

Brand right, every time
Accurately and consistently fulfilling multi-channel orders is especially critical for retailers because the orders represent significantly higher costs and may carry more brand impact than a traditional setting. Customers expect the same efficient and accurate experience whether they are buying a product off the shelf or off your website. An in-store order fulfillment solution provides the standardization, visibility and optimization your store needs to handle orders and provide a consistent customer experience across channels.

Chuck Fuerst is director of product strategy for HighJump, a global provider of supply chain management software.