Fulfillment is one of the most important cogs in the logistics machine, which is why getting it right is one of the most important things shippers can do in order to better serve their customers and increase efficiency in their supply chain. One way to do this is to employ omni-channel fulfillment, a fulfillment “mechanism” that has gained traction over the years due to an increase in online shopping, topped by a decrease in foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores across the country.
There are many benefits to deploying omni-channel fulfillment:
- Cost reductions: businesses can choose the most cost-effective way to ship items when more channels are available
- Improved customer service: customers will be more appreciative of multiple methods of delivery and pickup
- Greater reliability: if an issue occurs on a single channel, the shipper has other options available to get freight to its destination on time (or at least with a shorter delay)
Hitting the brakes
Before we get into the strategies and challenges facing those who employ omni-channel fulfillment, you may be asking yourself just what it is. Let’s hit the brakes, back up, and define omni-channel fulfillment before we get started.
Omni-channel fulfillment is the process by which companies deploy multiple channels to fulfill orders placed by customers. Some businesses who have an online store only fulfill orders by shipping items directly to a customer’s home. Deploying an omni-channel fulfillment strategy would mean that same business now offers multiple methods for a customer to receive their item, including:
- Direct to a customer’s home
- Shipped to a store near them for pickup
- Pickup directly from a warehouse location
- Shipped to a partner (locker location, pickup depot, etc.).
The same process can be deployed for returns. Customers can choose to ship the item back to a business, return the item locally to a brick-and-mortar store, etc.
Hitting the gas
Now that the definition of omni-channel fulfillment is safely in the rearview mirror, let’s hit the gas and outline how shippers can effectively deploy omni-channel fulfillment. There are several challenges associated with omni-channel fulfillment:
- Inventory organization and tracking: when multiple channels of fulfillment and delivery are open, it can become hard to reliably track inventory levels
- Mixed items for delivery: certain items may need to be picked up from the supplier or sent to stores for local pickup, others can be shipped directly to residential locations. The problem arises when a customer orders items that have different shipping/pickup requirements
- Channel specific issues: each new channel brings with it issues that businesses may have never confronted before
Planning your omni-channel fulfillment strategy
Just like anything in the logistics industry, proper planning is the key to hitting the ground running and increasing the chances of success. When planning an omni-channel fulfillment program, take the following advice from our logistics experts:
- Invest in infrastructure: from inventory management systems to ecommerce systems and shopping cart management, make sure you have invested in IT infrastructure that is reliable, easy to use and familiar with your internal staff.
- Analyze demand: different channels will have different peak seasons, commonly ordered items, etc. Pay attention to the trends in order to make inventory available based on trends from prior years.
- Consult a partner: if you lack experience in any area (warehousing, fulfillment, shipping, etc., work with a third-party logistics company that offers those services)
- Plan before you start: do not rush into omni-channel fulfillment. Make sure you have a plan in place and are prepared before launch
Need some help?
It just so happens that King Solutions has plenty of experience launching and managing omni-channel fulfillment strategies for clients across the nation. Have questions about setting up this beneficial process at your business? Contact me today!