Two years has been a long time in the world of online fulfilment and the focus at this year’s Retail Fulfilment Summit, which returned after an absence of two years, certainly reflected that. There was a lot of discussion about being customer centric, dealing with scale, embracing new technology and striving to meet customer expectations for faster delivery. All of this has been discussed in the context of the significant upheaval and extraordinary growth experienced since the pandemic hit.
Whilst an event like this summit is a great opportunity to celebrate the success of others, there was a sense of aspiration from most attendees. Many are still not able to meet their customers expectations. Most acutely, this relates to an inability to get goods to customers fast enough. Not from a lack of trying or desire, but because their systems are letting them down. Indeed, whilst there was a lot of discussion about last mile and gig-economy based innovation to improve delivery speed, there was an overwhelming sense that “we’re not there yet” because of more foundational issues.
Of those, the one that stood out to me was that many are still not able to offer true click and collect from stores. Whilst staff and store constraints were often given as reasons, the most common reason was a lack of confidence in knowing where the stock is or how accurate the stock is. As such, many are sending click and collect orders from central distribution hubs to stores for collection. This negates the speed and convenience that Click and Collect can give, whilst forcing the retailer to recoup those costs by charging for the service. Paying for and waiting longer than expected for Click and Collect is not what customers now expect and isn’t allowing the retailer to exploit some of their advantages over pure play retailers.
Indeed, some pure play retailers like Milk Run are exceeding what the traditional players can do by offering deliveries in minutes, not hours. The emergence of these types of new business models were being discussed frequently at the summit. The customer experience they are providing and how they are growing off the back of those amazing experiences seemed to be creating greater urgency at the C-Level of other retailers to lift their game.
The benefits of store-based fulfilment and what it takes to realise that is something I spoke about on the conference stage. I discussed my own experiences with trying to get store fulfilment to work more than a decade ago and why, back then, it was just too hard. My experience emulated what many of what conference attendees still complained of; stock visibility, employees not being appropriately engaged and systems failing to enable success. Times change, however, and with the right people, processes, and technology in place it can work.
Indeed, I highlighted examples from overseas that showed that store-based fulfilment can indeed be cheaper and faster than DC based fulfilment. More pointedly, given the focus on customer expectations at the Summit, I demonstrated that one of the great gains with store-based fulfilment is the ability to get products to the customer faster and for less.
Given that we have a solution in the market to significantly improve fulfilment efficiency and customer experience, I think we’re going to have a busy 12 months.
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