[Updated post from March 16, 2021]
Despite all the discussions about the omnichannel frontier within the retail and e-commerce space, fulfillment is rarely touched on in any depth.
Fulfillment is the backbone of successful omnichannel retailing. Without a powerful omnichannel fulfillment strategy, it’s impossible to meet consumer expectations for seamless, interconnected shopping journeys across channels. Unified inventory management and real-time data sharing are essential ingredients to guarantee customer satisfaction in this evolving retail landscape – but this can feel much easier said than done.
Seamlessly coordinating fulfillment across multiple channels and warehouse locations is no small task, especially as customer expectations for rapid delivery continue to rise. As omnichannel retailing moves firmly into the mainstream, retailers are finding themselves under considerable pressure to get with the program – or risk being left behind.
In this post, we’re going to cover the essential checklist for an effective omnichannel fulfillment strategy at your retail operation.
According to a survey by Emplifi, 53% of respondents have left a brand in the past 12 months after a single negative experience. To meet customer expectations for seamless order and delivery experiences in e-commerce, your brand needs to have the basic benchmarks covered. This includes:
Your Perfect Order Rate (POR) is determined by how often your business is able to hit those targets above. While a POR of 100% isn’t realistic for most brands, keeping it as high as possible is essential to keep customers coming back for repeat purchases.
By investing in your omnichannel fulfillment strategy, you can eliminate costly, manual processes from your workflow that are more likely to result in mistakes that impact your Perfect Order Rate. The more perfect orders you can create, the more customers that will become a source of recurring revenue for your brand.
The process we refer to as ‘omnichannel fulfillment’ can be broken down into dozens of individual workflows: processing orders, pick and pack, labeling, shipping, and more – all of which can be responsible for lengthy delays or extra costs. Order management, inventory storage, and order fulfillment all need to happen smoothly for a seamless omnichannel fulfillment experience.
Inefficient fulfillment processes don’t just affect the loyalty of your customers. No matter whether it’s unoptimized warehouse storage, costly cross-country shipping, or a lack of fulfillment automation, not refining your strategy will result in omnichannel fulfillment becoming slower – and more expensive – over time.
Looking for ways to streamline your omnichannel fulfillment process is crucial to keep pace with rising customer expectations for rapid delivery – and avoid your costs spiralling as you pursue those coveted two-day shipping speeds.
This one is a no-brainer: the more effective your omnichannel fulfillment strategy is, the happier your customers are going to be.
In e-commerce, it’s not just the first impression that matters; the feelings that customers are left with at the point of delivery also play a key role in determining loyalty. From the moment they hit ‘place order’, the efficiency of your fulfillment process will define the quality of the post-purchase experience.
The post-purchase stage offers your business some of the most valuable opportunities to engage customers and build trust in your brand. From unboxing experiences to email delivery updates and online return portals, these omnichannel touchpoints are key to exceeding customer expectations for seamless, cross-channel shopping journeys.
It’s no secret that COVID-19 has changed the way consumers shop – and this has long-term implications for omnichannel retailers. Hybrid fulfillment services such as BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-Up In-Store) and curbside pick-up have gone from fringe services to mainstream services during the pandemic. Some brands, according to KIBO Commerce, saw a 563% Surge in BOPIS orders during the peak of the pandemic in 2020.
In 2022, we’re seeing first-hand how this flexibility is forming the basis for changing consumer expectations. Shoppers expect to be able to switch back and forth between different channels at their leisure, from social media to desktop e-commerce or browsing mobile apps while in-store. In sum, true omnichannel rests on enabling customers to navigate seamless, multidirectional shopping journeys.
What does this mean for omnichannel retailers? It’s no longer acceptable to silo your selling channels. Preventing customers from returning their online orders in-store, for example, results in negative post-purchase experiences that could threaten customer retention. By making online-to-offline retail services a priority, you can keep customer satisfaction high.
It wasn’t all that long ago that businesses had to grapple with using different systems not designed to share information. To remedy this, developers have moved towards OpenAPI Specification (OAS). Open API, or open Application Programming Interface, allows one software application to integrate with another by making backend data freely available to developers.
The birth of the so-called ‘API economy’ has allowed fulfillment operations to become sophisticated with sharing data and offering real-time visibility. Integrations can pass orders seamlessly between your e-commerce store to your WSM for faster order processing, sync with a third-party returns management system to process returns on your behalf, and even send shipping updates to your customers automatically.
Without seamless integrations, your brand will constantly be in the dark on crucial information about your operation. It’s impossible to run a successful omnichannel fulfillment strategy without knowing how much inventory you have on hand, or how many orders are outstanding. Make sure your business has a robust ecosystem of APIs that are working in harmony to ensure you have the most accurate data at your fingertips.
The importance of good customer care often gets lost in the pressure to get goods from A to B. But in a competitive retail landscape, customer care is often a brand’s biggest differentiating factor. According to Microsoft’s customer service study, 90% of consumers see customer care as a key factor in whether they choose to support a brand.
Consistency across customer service channels is an area where many omnichannel retailers struggle. Imagine that a customer has to go into a storefront to get product information that they cannot find online. This is a big sign that your omnichannel customer service strategy is not as robust as it could be.
There are many tools at your disposal to bridge the gap between online and offline customer service. Utilizing Facebook and Instagram direct messaging or live chat functionality on your website, for example, allows customers to start conversations and foster an active relationship with your brand. This means lower levels of delivery anxiety and stronger customer loyalty.
‘Automation’ is often a codeword for ‘expensive’ and ‘complicated’. Yet fulfillment automation can actually create major cost savings and simplify challenging fulfillment processes.
Fulfillment across e-commerce, retail and wholesale is often bogged down by repetitive, manual workflows. These take away time from maximizing growth opportunities. Inefficient fulfillment also means bigger labor costs, difficulty scaling, and slower delivery timeframes, which impacts relationships with both vendors and customers.
For omnichannel retailers, automation is key to achieving rapid order processing. No matter whether it’s a BOPIS order or for home delivery, an OMS system that’s able to identify which location can fulfill orders the fastest can shave hours or even days off delivery timeframes.
Furthermore, robotics infrastructure is steadily making its way into warehouse facilities. Robots can assist floor staff in picking/packing more efficiently. This includes mapping warehouses to choose the fastest travel routes and using AI to suggest better storage strategies according to common picking patterns.
Omnichannel fulfillment can be a complex and overwhelming ecosystem, but it’s an essential part of offering a true omnichannel experience. It’s the challenges of integrated inventory management that create unparalleled convenience for your customers – and the growing popularity of offline to online retail shows they want more of it.
By giving your customers maximum flexibility during their shopping and post-purchase journeys, you have more opportunities to grow your business and enhance the customer experience.
To achieve best-in-class omnichannel fulfillment, it’s wise to partner with an experienced omnichannel fulfillment provider who can use their extensive knowledge to coordinate a scalable and technologically-advanced strategy. If you aren’t sure how to begin the search, check out our guide on 21 questions you should ask to find the right fulfillment provider.