Visibility of inventory should reach all segments of an omnichannel company.
The simple act of selling products has been in a constant state of flux for more than a decade now. Whether you're primarily an online or physical retail business, you've no doubt experienced the pressure to expand beyond your starting point and offer consumers products through a variety of means. What kind of behind-the-scenes infrastructure would make such a system possible and profitable, and do you have what it takes to build it?
Becoming proficient in omnichannel operations is set to become a major factor over the coming years, ready or not. That means it's time to assess both the internal and external options to ensure your supply chain and overall fulfillment operations are up to the task. The alternative is offering a less efficient service than your competitors - not an approach you want to take.
The requirements of omnichannel
When looking at what specific elements make up an omnichannel supply chain, it pays to think in terms of field and industry segment. Supply and Demand Chain Executive pointed out that the exact form a new distribution method will take can vary widely. That means, for example, that retailers such as Macy's will likely want to set up different fulfillment options than grocery stores, while all of these physical-first stores will surely be coming to omnichannel from a different angle than online stores branching into in-person sales.
While omnichannel retail can seem like a physical challenge, harmonizing retail locations and distribution centers to create a seamless network that clients can interact with is largely an IT matter. Without the right technology working behind the scenes, it will be hugely difficult to get goods where they need to be. Inventory systems have to reckon with the new, more complex style of distribution, and with visibility into inventories across the whole company.
This access also has to extend to customers - a good internal view of inventory will help your business move products effectively, but unless the system is enabling better shopping outcomes, it isn't living up to its potential. Buyers in stores, using the main company website, ordering through third-party storefronts or using apps should be able to access the whole inventory, as well as receive good service when they have questions. An ideal commerce platform will offer that experience.
"It's time to assess both the internal and external fulfillment options."
Implementing new systems
Becoming a true omnichannel business, offering any service or product through a variety of channels in a coherent and on-brand way, has presented a serious challenge. With new requirements becoming rites of passage for retailers, these companies have been taking new measures to stay in line with expectations. Retail Dive recently indicated a trend you may have already witnessed in your own sector - more third-party IT. As the source pointed out, in-house IT has been a standard for years, but more companies are working up alliances with outside partners to boost their effectiveness.
"[I]n the last five to seven years, [retailers] are turning to outsourcing more than they had in the previous five years," ISG Senior Partner Harvey Gluckman told the news provider. "The biggest reason is these companies are trying to transform themselves as digital enablement technologies and other emerging technologies have taken hold."
Are retailers ready to go omnichannel?
Gluckman told the source that it's hard to overstate how many technologies are involved in being a leading retailer today. The list includes mobile enablement, search features and the IT tools powering high-speed logistics. Solving the challenges associated with omnichannel logistics typically calls for a wave of modern solutions. Often, internal IT departments need help to bring these plans to fruition. This is especially true in cases where, as Gluckman noted, tech leaders are already looking beyond current best practices and searching for the next generation of advantages - from the Internet of Things, for example.
The new playing field
When dealing with omnichannel retail, there are definitely difficulties to face, and these may go beyond your organization's internal ability to handle them. This raises the question of whether you should push ahead with the full modernization effort and unify your channels. In many cases, and numerous markets, the answer is that you should, and the reason why has everything to do with expectations. Consumers today are looking for the type of seamless experiences that only a good omnichannel retailer can deliver, and delivering on these shoppers' wants and needs is hugely important.