How to build a supply chain for multichannel retail?

For a very long time, retailers used a linear approach to the supply chain. It meant that products moved in just one direction. Products would move between the manufacturer, the wholesaler, the retailer and onto the sales channel. This sales channel meant the brick and mortar store, in all its variations, for a very long time. Now it’s time to build a supply chain for multichannel retail.

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With the internet revolution came the concept of eCommerce, where customers would place the orders on an internet store front and they would receive it at home. Medium and large retailers used the same method of silo-management to the online store.

One way supply chain

The “silo” approach meant that each new sales channel would be treated as a separate silo, independent from the other stores. Basically the in-store operations were one thing, the ecommerce operations a totally different thing. Ideally – there was no connection between them.

But this doesn’t work. The fact is that there are very few exclusive online shoppers. People like to spend time in stores, touching merchandise, they spend time on social media, get informed, place calls to ask for info and generally live in a complex world that mixes online and offline experiences.

Your customers deserve a multichannel supply channel

Customers demand new options from retailers, things such as “buy online, pick-up in store”, “order in store, receive at home” – things one might note are common sense.

If you want to build a supply chain for multichannel retail, you need to step up your game. And it’s not just marketing. Customers demand a real change in the way they are engaged. Companies such as Macy’s have invested in creating experiences that handle multiple journey maps for their customers and the results are satisfying.

Supply chain for multichannel retail / omnichannel retail

To make this work retailers adopt a thing called omnichannel supply chain. This is a supply chain built for in store and online commerce, as well as other channels (social media, live shopping etc.) .

The biggest difference between this type of approach and the previous is the fact that it is omni-directional. Whereas the classic supply chain was mostly linear, flowing from one place (manufacturer) to the other (customer), the omnichannel supply chain moves products across multiple sales channels.

How can I build a supply chain for multichannel retail?

Here’s some tips:

  • make inventory transparent across all sales channels (online, in-store, warehouses, suppliers and others)
  • clearly understand what is your customer journey (ex.: customer places a call in the call center, gets informed, places the order online, picks and pays for the order in a brick and mortar store)
  • connect your company with external suppliers to manage all potential fulfillment in your supply chain

The live shopping assistant is replacing the store associate

2020 saw the emergence of a new breed of commerce – the live shopping experience. In this type of experience customers would interact with a live shopping influencer, watch products in real time and when ready, purchase the products directly in stream. At the center of it sits a very important person: the live shopping assistant or influencer.

We’ll see an increasing number of people switching to this kind of job in 2021.

The live shopping assistant as a new job

As the marketing industry would point out the influencers already do this on the likes of Instagram and Snapchat. I see a new breed of “influencer”. The one who knows a product category very well, is well trained (practice makes perfect) in speaking with customers and … needs a more fulfilling job. A store associate in the age of live: the live shopping assistant.

Can live shopping create jobs for the laid-off retail workers?

In 2020 2 million retail workers lost their jobs to the changes brought in by the pandemic. Many of them had to quickly find alternatives when their stores were closed.

Now live shopping will hopefully bring back some hope and more fulfilling, better paid jobs and gigs. Unlike the traditional store associate job, the live shopping assistant/influencer has the potential to become a real superstar.

In more established live shopping markets, such as China, live shopping streamers such as Viya are gathering millions of customers in their live shows and selling brands such as Tesla, Procter and Gamble. Fun fact – she even sold a package sent to outer space for $6 million.

Listen to “Is the live shopping assistant the future of retail jobs?” below:

Why the store associate as we knew it is not a viable career path anymore?

For a very long time the store associate has been at the heart of brick and mortar stores. Store associates would greet customers, respond to queries, help find products and generally help customers with their purchases.

However, the emergence of digital tools and especially smartphones has rendered store associates almost obsolete. But that may change with live stream shopping and they may become the leading actors in the age of live shopping.

In a recent study by MillwardBrown that focused on customers purchasing athletic footwear we can see just how useful a store associate is these days.

Of those that chose to shop in store, only 12% listed the sales person as one of the reason to purchase offline. Most (88%) chose to try on the product before purchasing.

It’s not just sports shoes. A study by Deloitte Digital shows that customers would rather receive help from an interactive kiosk or their own smartphone rather than a store associate.

As you can see above the willingness to use a smartphone rather than discuss with a sales associate is almost double. Even an impersonal unmanned device such as an interactive kiosk would fare better than a store associate.

Product distribution in 2021 – 3 things that are changing

Why is product distribution so important? Because it’s a big chunk of the cost of shipping a physical product. How so? Well – a very important part of retail is pricing. The most important part of pricing is the cost. To get a complete view of how much a product would cost, retailers think in terms of net landed cost.

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What is net landed cost?

The net landed cost is the sum of costs associated with manufacturing and distribution. When thinking in terms of net landed cost you have a better chance of understanding your total cost.

Net landed cost = Costs(Product manufacturing + Product distribution)

A common fallacy is thinking of costs just in terms of manufacturing, either from a purchase only point of view (how much you pay your supplier for a given product) or a more inclusive manufacturing point of view. The manufacturing point of view assumes that even if you are not manufacturing the product yourself, you still have the liberty to choose another supplier or change merchandising altogether.

The most important advancements in retail, in terms of supply and cost effectiveness, have focused largely on manufacturing costs in the past decades. This has lead to increasingly efficient production lines, a more competitive manufacturing market, shifting manufacturing overseas and many others.

Traditional product distribution - large stores where buyers can buy the product
A key to Walmart’s success is selecting suppliers with an optimum manufacturing cost / quality

This manufacturing improvement trend has had beneficial results on the customers life through more accessible, more diversified merchandise. It also meant companies managed to sell more, to more people. Companies such as Walmart have grown to their existing magnitude thanks to a wide network of suppliers, providing them with products manufactured at the best possible cost.

Product distribution lagged behind for a long time. Explosion of ecommerce is changing this.

Lots of retailers improved their ties to manufacturing but there was one part that has been left mostly untouched. That was the product distribution. Distribution costs have decreased but not dropped.

To get a better view of why, get a glimpse of what are the factors that weigh in the distribution costs basket. Here you have costs associated with getting a product from the manufacturer to the customer. This includes freight, stocking, customs, costs associated with store development and maintenance, marketing costs, customer support and others. This is a very large area and a lot of work to be done. And  it happens on a very wide area (globally) and in many un-optimized industries. Freight is still in the 20th century in many parts of the world.

Product distribution and delivery is changed by technology, data and omnichannel retailing

Today, distribution is changing, and it’s changing fast. As a result, the associated costs will follow.

At the forefront of this change we have several factors, one of which is omnichannel retail. Omnichannel means working with product delivery across all channels. The other two key game changers are technology data. This is how they weigh in and these are the areas that will be soon transformed:

Improving merchandise distribution by improving logistics

Logistics have not been fully transformed by technology. For example, freight has been virtually unchanged in the past decades. Think about it this way: cargo ships are still loaded after excel files are checked, faxes are sent and handshakes seal deals. For a large part, the industry is archaic and it’s but a question of time until it will be transformed. There is a lot of room for disruption and companies such as Freightos have challenged the status-quo and promise 10-17x ROI. In weeks.

And it’s not just freight. Fleets of small vans contractors have taken up the Uber model and are now roaming the streets of Hong Kong to deliver goods the likes of DHL and UPS can’t.

Product distribution company GoGoVan
GoGoVan is a Smart Logistics company, connecting individual contractors to larger companies in need of their services

Working with shipping hubs + local stores decreases product distribution costs

Working with a combination of warehouses and local distribution centers (such as local stores) makes possible and desirable a few things that previous retail models couldn’t. First of all it allows for a better inventory transparency and improved shipping effectiveness.

In the past customers would otherwise expect orders placed online to be shipped at home with larger costs and delayed shipping. Now they can just pick up orders in store. The 2020 Covid-19 outbreak accelerated this trend.

Even more: they can have the closest store ship their purchases shipped at home, instead of mixing the order in a large, central warehouse.

Omnichannel retail means selling online, in-store and distributing products from multiple hubs in a way that makes it cheaper, faster and more reliable. It also makes possible having just a limited number of products in store and keep the most either in the warehouse to be shipped when convenient or with a supplier. By reducing store footprint companies can reduce fixed costs associated with marketing and distribution of products, thus decreasing costs.

Better product distribution through better data improves marketing and advertising

John Wanamaker was a retail innovator. He is credited with the fixed price and money back guarantee marketing concepts. Wanamaker was one of the pioneers of the department store and loved advertising. He is also credited with the famous saying :

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Good thing that was more than a century ago.

“Show me your budget.”

Marketing is now changing rapidly and unfortunately for some advertising agencies, long gone are the days when the Mad Men of advertising charged millions for concepts that could or could not work.

With the rise of digital commerce and omnichannel retail and the smartphone to bridge the gaps, data is all around. Marketing is now data driven and the half of budget Wanamaker complained about can now be easily tracked.

Advertising is data driven and marketing costs are constantly improving.

By improving distribution and decreasing distribution costs we have two very important things happening. The first is that companies engaged in improving this area will be more profitable and more inclined to continue on this path.

The second thing is that lower distribution costs mean better prices for the consumers, therefore an improved appetite for consumption. Improved profitability and decreased prices – these are two very strong forces that will shape tomorrow’s retail. And it’s happening today.

3 Strategy Mistakes by Big Ecommerce Sites

It’s impossible to predict the future and basically that’s what strategy is. Based on historic evidence, data and outside factors, companies try to predict how the market is going to evolve and how they can best benefit from this evolution.

While strategy is rarely un-debatable and never perfectly executed, it is a very important part in evolving companies. Having a vision and the plan to achieve that vision is what makes companies such as Amazon, Walmart or Apple stay ahead of the competition.

But sometimes things go wrong and strategy mistakes happen. Here are three cases:

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1. Overstock plans to develop media service, as predicted by The Onion

Overstock is one of the largest online retailers in the US. It is an Utah based retail company that has a 20 years background in commerce.

The company sells more than 1 million items on the Overstock.com web-store. The products used to range from home deco to jewelry to electronics to cars to insurance (both cars and insurance categories are now discontinued). Did I mention they run a pet adoption online service? And a farmer’s market?

You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this. Focus is really not their strongest asset. The company has basically organised its strategy around the old “let’s just try everything and see what sticks” motto. This is, of course, the winning formula to tackle Amazon. This and of course Bitcoin, a surefire solution by the company’s CEO to fight the upcoming zombie revolution.

No, really, he actually said that:

“Someday, either zombies walk the Earth or something close to that[…]. Bitcoin is the solution.”

Patrick Byrne, Overstock CEO and Bitcoin Messiah. Source: Wired.

The strategy is so hilarious, Onion can predict it

Overstock’s strategy turned “un-focused” to hilarious when it announced its new media service aimed at Amazon’s Prime earlier this year. A bold move one might say, as Overstock is missing a few things called content, digital infrastructure, hardware (think about the Kindle), Amazon’s market share and media know-how. But they did get featured in the Onion a full 2 years before they’ve made the move.

2. Walmart spins off its ecommerce operation, then acquires it, then ignores it, then develops it, then makes it central. Sort of.

Make no mistake. Walmart is huge. Walmart is on top of the retail food chain (excuse the pun). It has more than 11.000 stores, in 27 countries and employs more than 2.2 million people. The company is the biggest retailer in the world with a revenue of $485 billion.

President and CEO of Wal-Mart Global eCommerce Neil Ashe

But that doesn’t mean it should be successful online, does it?

Walmart’s digital strategy is a bit … puzzling, if I may. The company’s “ecommerce” store has been online since 1996, about the same time Amazon started to grow. Unlike Amazon, Walmart.com didn’t really matter in the company strategy until 1999. That’s when the company announced the customers that no orders placed after the 14th of December could be fulfilled in due time for the holidays.

Walmart then decided to spin off that pesky thing called the online store in 2000 and transferred the operations in Silicon Valley, under a partnership with Accel Ventures. The reason, as mentioned in a throw-back article from 2002, is that online is “not where their customer base is”.

After an unusually horrible decision to shut down the store for a month in the fall of 2000, for a revamp, the store was just as bad as before. But it did managed to miss the 2000 holidays season due to a late re-start.

The company eventually realised the blunder and in 2001 bought back Accel’s share in the ecommerce company. Good thing they’ve realized just how important ecommerce was. It didn’t even take long to improve and redesign the webstore: just 5 years, until 2006.

Walmart was also quick to realize it can make a connection between the online and offline channels. In 2007, 11 years after it launched its online store, it launched the Site to Store program, allowing customers to order online and pick up in store.

Blunder after blunder, the company eventually realized the importance of stepping into a new era, one where customers are connected to Walmart digitally. The company has since changed its perception on ecommerce, hired talent and started experimenting with upcoming technologies.

Actually, in 2020, Walmart made one of its boldest move to the digital world – acquiring  a share in TikTok, the emerging social media outlet. This might seem weird at first but it makes sense when thinking about live stream shopping. Live, rich social media seems to be the most effective way to sell online when it comes to Gen Z’s and millenials.

But if there’s something worse than an un-focused strategy and a rigid strategy, that has to be … no strategy:

3. Fab.com turns from gay social networking site to daily discounter to flash sales retailer to catalogue retailer to custom furniture designer. Within 4 years. Then switches to selling Yoga mats and classes.

Yeah, you couldn’t make this up.

There are very few cases where the lack of strategy and extensive investments are seen so clear within the same company. Fab is one of these rare fails. The company was founded by Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer and experimented with some pivots. Six that I know of, mentioned above.

Fab’s evolution

It went on to raise a total of $336 million and for a while it could have been the next Amazon, or Ikea, or Apple, or whatever founder Jason Goldberg thought was the fad of the day. Eventually it went on to be a huge whole in the investors’ pockets and was acquired by an undisclosed sum in march 2015.

The whole story is outlined in this cautionary tale. It could be a very funny strategy fail if it weren’t such a sad story for investors, founders, employees and in the end – the whole online retail market. Fab is the story of what could have been, if someone were to lay out a smart strategy. Or some strategy for that matter.

2021 update:

However – one thing is for sure. Jason Goldberg is one hell of a resilient dude. 2021 is the year of Yoga mats and classes for Fab.

Digital Influence in Online and In-store Commerce

Is Brick and Mortar commerce dead? Absolutely not. Is eCommerce the most important sales channel in the future? Irrelevant. Neither online or offline sales really matter in the big picture. What matters is how customers shop and how much has digital changed the way retailers do business.

In 2013 36% of overall sales in US were influenced by digital. As social media influencers gained more and more … well … influence, this trend continued and now 49% of the total number of consumers in the US depend on influencers when purchasing, with 60% of teens depending on recommendations from celebrities and people they follow on social media.

So what does this mean for you and your commerce business?

1. Sales are now lead by (social media) influencers

This is not new by any means. Influent people will drive sales.

What’s new is the media they use to do this and their profiles. In the past we were influenced by celebrities smiling at us from glossy magazines and the TV.

Now the influencers that drive sales are people with access to a mobile phone, an internet connection, a channel on one of the social media outlets and a care for their following.

Reaching out to these new influencers is now a key factor in building your brand, your community and your sales.

2. Influencers are now an actual sales channel

A growing trend in emerging social networks is to build their business models on something outside of advertising. One such business model is commerce based revenue rather than advertising. As Facebook and YouTube have hyper-optimized their advertising models, newer social media outlets needed to innovate.

Enter live stream shopping. With this model, influencers can sell directly to their followers, charge a certain commission fee or even build their own product lines.

3. Brick and mortar shopping is definitely not dying. Unless it has to.

89% of all retail sales still happen in the confines of a physical store. Wait, what?

It seems that what’s causing retailers problems is failure to engage customers on all channels. Customers are pre-buying (shopping) on ecommerce sites but they pick-up, try on and eventually buy a lot of things in the physical store.

With Covid changing this in 2020, ecommerce stores have received more traffic and sales and brick and mortar stores need to join digital sales somehow. Some use live stream shopping to do that.

The trick here is getting the big picture right. To thrive – use different customer journey points and engage digitally in a relevant way. Customers may shop online and get an assortment ready but they want to enjoy the experience. Either in-store when possible or digitally through live videos. Just placing discounts in the mobile app doesn’t work. Each part in the shopping experience has to be personalised to that particular medium and need.

What is Demand Sensing? It’s a $1.1 Trillion Opportunity for Online and In-Store Retailers

Consumer demand is the one thing that can decide whether a retailer is successful or not. Of course, there is a whole field of marketing studies to determine how we can influence consumers to purchase. But a really important aspect of how good retailers fare in the market is their ability to “sense” demand, not just influence it.

In a recent study, IHL Group claims Overstocks and Out-of-Stocks cost retailers almost $1.1 trillion world-wide. To put it in perspective, that figure is the size of Australia’s GDP.

What that means is that Overstocks and Out-of-stocks, collectively defined as Inventory Distortion, are a problem that cost retailers world-wide 7.5% of their gross revenue.

The most important overstock causes

The figures translate into poor performance, decreased customer satisfaction, decreased sales and increased costs of inventory warehousing and inventory spoilage. Basically there are two really simple outcomes:

  • Either retailers stock up on too much inventory which turns to increased warehousing costs and spoiled products.
  • …Or they don’t and they miss on sales opportunities

Either way, one thing is for sure: Inventory Distortion leads to poor commerce performance.

How do you solve Inventory Distortion? (Not exactly) Simple: Demand Sensing

Demand Sensing is a concept and set of technologies that make use of analytical and prediction models to estimate … well … demand. Imagine a retailer that runs a network of 10 stores, one online store and has a mobile app that drives sales also, along side a call center. Maybe they engage in some sort of live shopping to improve their performance.

Said retailer probably has an inventory management system, an warehouse management system, a sales reporting tool and probably some type of integration with suppliers and manufacturers.

Let’s imagine this retailer selling a type of red shirts that is available in one of the 10 stores and that inventory is not available online. If a customer will visit 3 of the stores in search of that particular red shirt and then search for it online and still not find it, it will probably consider it to be out of stock and the retailer would lose a sale opportunity.

You probably see where the problem lies: even though the product was available, it was not available to the customer and opportunities were lost. The same thing goes for products that are not exposed to the customers, or they are, say, unreachable on the shelf or unfindable on the web store if the search engine is not fit for the job.

The opposite situation, where demand is not correctly estimated and out-of-stocks become a reality, are just as bad as sales opportunities are lost.

The solution lies in gathering enough data across all sales channels, compiling this data and using models to predict demand. That easier said than done because …

To make demand sensing a reality, inventory transparency has to be achieved

As you are reading a blog on omnichannel retail, the term was bound to appear somewhere along the line. So here it is. You can’t have Demand Sensing without a connected sales operation and inventory transparency. All inventory sources have to be connected and data should be generally available. So should sales data across channels.

The picture below shows an example of omnichannel supply chain, one where all the operational pieces work together and share data. When such a structure is implemented, demand is easily “sensed” and estimated and thus inventory distortion can decrease.

So now we have the data. Implementing omnichannel retail can lead do a better demand sensing and therefore improve inventory distortion, a small glitch in the global retail system costing “only” $1.1 trillion.

3 Factors that are Slowing Down Multichannel Commerce. And one that accelerated it in 2020.

Across the globe, retailers have picked up on the omnichannel trend and try to give the customers what they want: the same level of service across all sales channels.

Some are doing better than others but everyone’s trying. Especially for multi-channel retailers, the switch is essential in keeping up with an increasing competition from online pure-plays.

The switch is not easy and certain bottlenecks stand out:

1. Multichannel commerce (ecommerce + in-store) is sometimes treated as a marketing or tech buzzword. Hint: it’s not

When you say omnichannel you say “all channels”. When you say multi-channel – pretty much the same thing as most channels are in-store or ecommerce. You have to think of all the sales and distribution channels you manage. Hence the “omni”. That certainly looks like a marketing area and to a certain degree, it is.

But to make omnichannel a reality instead of long consultative talks, you have to go beyond marketing and into the dark woods of technology systems and process management. That’s the hard part. The change comes when companies and especially executives leave aside their differences and interact to connect cross-department processes.

Yes, omnichannel is marketing driven but it needs inventory transparency, it needs technology investment and updating and it needs a change in internal processes and culture.

Yes, culture because…

2. There’s a lot of sales cannibalization between channels

Mid to large retailers that switched from brick and mortar to multi-channel did this by adding silo-ed sales structures one after another. First came the brick and mortar operation, then came the online store, the call-center, the mobile sales and so on.

Each of these channels eventually developed into a full-fledged sub-organization. It is not uncommon to see, for example, ecommerce departments with full operational structures from purchasing, warehouse management, picking and packing, sales, marketing and others.

When such structures emerge, a certain type of independence emerges also and this can lead to channel cannibalisation. Simply put it’s one channel stealing sales from another, instead of working together for the customer and the common (company) good.

That’s why a change in culture is much needed when striving to implement omnichannel retail policies. Any customer should be encouraged to buy from any channel, as long as it stays within the retailer’s domain.

3. BAGA is a lot more complicated than it seems

BAGA stands for “Buy Anywhere, Get Anywhere“. Buy online, pick up in store. Or at home. Buy in the physical store and receive at home. Place an order on the phone and pick up in store.

It’s complicated just working with two or three of these scenarios. When you add general inventory transparency, cross-store orders and supplier availability it gets a lot more complicated.

That’s why a BAGA policy should be built after implementing:

  1. inventory transparency policy and technology. This should spread across the full inventory spectrum including warehouses, stores, in-movement goods and suppliers.
  2. customer master-data management. The customer is the same across all channels and should be recognized and its treatment personalized on demand. Think of this area as a CRM on steroids that spreads across all channels.
  3. product master-data management. Product information should be available on all channels, when needed and in the right format.
  4. cross-channel marketing policies. Think marketing independent of channel and at the same time available on all.

These are just three of the most important factors that slow down omnichannel adoption. The fourth is probably the fact that some companies are just so tired of working their way through ecommerce adoption that they are unwilling to move forward.

It takes willingness to discover the benefits and what omnichannel is. For many, the switch is rather simple in terms of technology. It does bare costs in willingness to learn new concepts and implement these concepts within the company.

4. Coronavirus made all stores go warp-speed on multichannel adoption

In 2020 all businesses had to go all digital and all channels, in order to survive. Most affected were the brick and mortar chains, with 15000 stores closed and roughly 2 million employees laid off.

As the economy shows signs of rebounding, even in the midst of the pandemic, most of the re-growth has been based on the response companies have had into improving their experiences across channels.

How do pickup lockers work?

As online and offline commerce are getting closer to each other and customers schedules are getting more and more crowded, pick up lockers seem to become more useful and popular. Ever asked yourself – how do pickup lockers work? 

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They are versatile, easy to use and something customers need from online and in-store retailers. So let’s dig in and see how they work and who should use them.

What is a Pick Up Locker?

First off – what is a pick up locker? Simply put it is an area of lockers where retailers can drop off merchandise and customers can pick it up. Amazon has been a pioneer in this field, with Amazon Lockers opening up the gates to a new type of fulfilment.

The pick up lockers work by assigning a specific location to packages and sending pick up codes to customers. The customers can then go to their designated pick up location, enter the security code and grab their packages.

After Amazon has built their first experimental pick up lockers, others soon followed.

Some of those that developed their own systems of pick up (and ship) lockers are 3PL companies. For example FedEx and UPS have developed quite advanced pick up and drop off locations. UPS has named theirs “Access Points” and they’re building a network able to sustain growing demand.

FedEx has developed a network of “Ship&Get Self Service Lockers“. With their lockers one can drop off items for shipment or receive packages.

Both are growing really fast and soon others will follow suit. Even startups have ventured in this area with some highlights being Swapbox, an Y Combinator startup and Bufferbox, a company that was recently acquired by Google. However, due to the fact that this is a very competitive, capital intensive niche, both startups are now dead.

So yes, they are popular but how do pickup lockers work, especially from a retailer point of view?

How do pickup lockers work for large retailers?

One very specific use case for the pick-up locker system would be large retail chains. For example Walmart announced their Grab & Go lockers following their Site to Store Self Service Lockers experiment.

Apart from the internal fulfilment challenges, retailers need to focus on some key aspects regarding the development and implementation of such pick up locker systems:

1. How can pickup lockers be secured?

For obvious reasons there needs to be a secure access to shipped goods. To do so each drop off will have to issue a security code that can be decrypted and accessed with the private code the customer will receive.

The systems will also have to have fall-back security systems such as video surveillance and locking systems in case of hacking attempts (there will be some).

Security code should work online but also have a fall-back local solution that can work in case internet connection is off.

2. Connecting the lockers with logistics

The pick-up locker system works with other fulfilment operations and will have to input status data directly into TMS (transport management systems) so shipping personnel could be directed to the correct pick up locker area and the specific pick up locker.

As packages differ in size, specific information regarding the type of lockers that are available should be available in real time so packages are stored correctly.

3. How do pickup lockers communicate?

So far most pick up lockers use alphanumeric codes to help users get accustomed to picking up their packages without any hassle. But these codes pose threats in terms of security. While these codes can always be an option and can be easily sent to any device, with smartphones and smartphone apps on the rise, some other solutions may work even better.

One such option would be QR codes embedded in the retailer’s mobile application. The codes can be generated on the fly based on a secured algorithm that neither exposes the code and can also work within the application the customer already uses, thus improving loyalty.

4. What is the future of connectivity for pickup lockers?

With so many developing their own pick-up locker systems, a connectivity protocol should become the norm. With such a protocol FedEx could ship to either Amazon, Walmart or even UPS lockers for example, improving cross-retailer experience and creating economies of scale.

That being said, the development of pick-up locker systems is obviously a bit more complex than these few paragraphs but I wanted to give you a starting point and explore some of the challenges.

Covid killed the Retail Star. Will Live Video Shopping revive it?

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many stores to close temporarily or permanently. The trend is consistent across Europe and US. While the US retailers have been hit first and hardest, with over 14 000 stores closed and almost 2 million retailer workers being laid off, this wave of store closures will reach the EU soon. Initially store chains and SMB retail companies have been partly protected by government intervention and job supporting measures but this is unlikely to continue indefinitely.

The retail market at large has been transformed by ecommerce retailers in the past 20 years. With the recent Covid-19 pandemic, this trend has increased. Brick and mortar retailers are seeing their unit economics being displaced by challenger brands, mostly focused on online shopping and fast fulfilment. Traditional retailers are forced to carefully consider store space, employees headcount and their online operations.

First it took the brick and mortar stores

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many stores to close temporarily or permanently. The trend is consistent across Europe and US.  While the US retailers have been hit first and hardest, with over 14 000 stores closed and almost 2 million retailer workers being laid off, this wave of store closures will reach the EU soon. Initially store chains and SMB retail companies have been partly protected by government intervention and job supporting measures but this is unlikely to continue indefinitely. 

Retail chains such as H&M are starting closing operations as they saw their operations already in the read with 50% decreases in sales.

While ecommerce stores have saw initial surges in sales due to consumers ordering online this will probably see a backlash in the future. The increase in online sales was caused primarily by existing online purchasing trends and partly by consumers’ fear of Covid-19 infections. These increases in sales have been limited to products with repeated purchase habits. 

But online retail won’t be too good for too long

Many customers are unable to experience products like they did before and this in time will surely affect online retailers. After surge in sales many of them are able to return to the slow and steady rate of increase. However, this rate has not passed 20% in Europe historically .

This means that without a way to bridge the gap between online and in-store experiences, total retail sales are likely to decrease, stores will close and many retail workers will eventually be laid off. In this scenario a paradox of increased retail demand and decreased retail offering will result in an increase in prices, inflation and job losses.

Unless…

The store of the future is live

Quick question: what makes Instagram, Snapchat and Tik-Tok a good choice for Gen-Z? Is it the social networking features? Nope, many apps have that. Is it the video and rich media? Closer but not quite there. It’s the live interaction, one on one and one to many. In some cases, such as Fortnite – it’s many to many.

And retailers are tapping into this.

We noticed that both online and in-store retailers consider live stream shopping a viable model for existing operations.

Brick and mortar retailers see live stream shopping a way for them to decrease costs with retail spaces while at the same time retaining their strengths. They see live streaming as a way to quickly and seamlessly connect digital-savvy consumers to their in-store experiences.

Online retailers see live streaming as a way for them to quickly solve problems in terms of their customers experiencing products. In the past they have experienced with experience-only stores, open-on-delivery processes and return logistics. All of these have improved conversion rates but at the same time have increased unit economics and operational costs.

So what is next? Probably – live shopping operations. Taobao has been promoting this for quite some time with high success. Amazon has jumped on board and even Google has launched ShopLoop, a video shopping app. Live shopping software will probably continue to gain traction as the retailers need a way to reach their customers in an immersive way and consumers need better experiences than two-dimensional ecommerce stores or closed stores might offer.