With its legacy store network already in place, growing online sales and the new marketplace, Staples can compete with Amazon on an omnichannel level. Its vendors can now access its online sales channels but with future improvements, their products will be probably ordered offline as well.
The second biggest change is in Staples’ logistics strategy. So far the company relied heavily on its own fulfillment centers. Now orders are increasingly shipped by vendors through drop shipping. This is the most efficient way for Staples to increase its product count and it seems to be working: Staples increased its product count from 30 000 in 2012 to 200 000 in 2013 to a whooping 1.5 million SKUs in 2014, according to Internet Retailer.
As Internet Retailer reports, Staples is still curating the vendors’ offers but it will soon switch to a fully integrated platform in 2015. Even now the new tool allows vendors to receive orders, see real-time alerts, access analytics data and manage inventory, without the cost Commercehub’s technology implied.
Could waiting for online orders to arrive actually be a pleasant experience? What about all those next day delivery and in-store pick-up features retailers brag about? What is the point in that?
Apparently not only is it pleasant but it may sometimes be more fun than buying products in store. The anticipation of orders arriving at our doors keep us on our toes. As a recent Razorfish report mentions, 76% of American consumers and 72% of UK consumers are more excited when their order is delivered at home than when they buy it in store.
Let’s stop for a moment and really look at these numbers: 3 out of 4 customers in the US, UK, Brazil and China would rather wait for purchases than receiving them right away.
This are amazing findings. It shows that instant gratification may no longer be the optimum trigger in marketing messages. It also means that what we thought was a liability for online sales is actually an asset, if used properly.
Building anticipation and delivering items on time is making customers happier than receiving it right away.
The distinction between online and offline is already irrelevant thanks to the smartphone
But don’t think that customers have lost their interest for offline OR online purchases. The channels have started blending with the help of smartphones. The same study reveals that:
1. Digital has a major impact on the retailer’s brand: Almost all those interviewed responded that a bad web store negatively impacts their opinion on the brand. 84% of consumers in Brazil, 92% in China, 73% in US and 79% in the UK are turned off by lousy digital experiences.
2. Customer journeys are not delivering what the customer wants: a cross-channel experience that works. Retailers are not yet delivering on the omnichannel promise. This leads to frustration and a growing gap between what the consumer wants and what the retailer delivers.
3. There is a huge difference between Gen Xers and Millennials, in terms of shopping. That difference lies in how much they rely on their smartphones. Millennials use their phones at least twice as much as Gen Xers when shopping offline (see figure above).
So why not bet everything on ecommerce? Why change direction again and include those “old” brick and mortar stores, and warehouses and such? Why build omnichannel retail facilities?
Short answer: because the customer is not a robot. The customer does not have to shop online. It will shop online when it feels better.
Ecommerce is indeed a revolution in the way we do business and indeed it has changed the retail landscape but consumers still exist in the physical world. Consumers do spend time online but they also walk by store fronts, they like to touch the products they buy and they like to see how fashion items, for example, look like in real life.
That means that real life stores will continue to exist. But so will online stores, sales call centers, interactive kiosks and marketplace outlets.
Retailers need to figure out how to connect all these channels. This new wave of customer centric retail is called omnichannel retail. The term means that no matter the sales channel, everything behind the scenes is connected. The inventory is universally available to all stores. The customer info is available on all channels also, so he or she can be instantly recognized and offers personalized. Product info is also available cross channels but most important – Fulfillment can be managed on all possible points so as to serve the customer in the timeliest and most effective manner.
Managing Omnichannel Fulfillment
One of the biggest challenges in omnichannel retail is fulfilling orders cross channels. Today, retailers that deal with both online and offline sales have to split fulfillment in two separate areas, each with specific operations.
The first is offline fulfillment, namely what happens in brick and mortar stores. Offline sales have been optimized to run on a pretty specific supply chain, not very flexible. It starts with the manufacturer, continues with forwarding merchandise to the wholesale buyer and then products end up stored in the retailer’s warehouses and stores.
Because ecommerce came as an addition to existing sales channels, it was added to the existing supply chain as a type of extra store, with its own specific operations.
However things got complicated when the web store had to split into the mobile store, the interactive kiosk, the marketplace outlet and others. Then customers wanted to buy online and pick up offline. But they didn’t stop here: they wanted to order in the store and receive home, ask for inventory info in the offline store and more. Pretty soon they started demanding it so now omnichannel retail is a question of customer service.
Retailers realized that what the retail world is facing is both a huge challenge in terms of customer demands and a huge opportunity. Those companies shifting their business strategies to fit the new, empowered consumer, will be the leaders of tomorrow.
But to do that, retailers need to develop new order management software hubs. These order management hubs need to connect all fulfillment options to all sales channels. That means that all stores, all warehouses, all suppliers, all drop shippers need to be connected and managed by an order management tool that filters orders from all stores, both online and offline, interactive kiosks, call centers, mobile apps and others.
Some companies are handling omnichannel orders just great. Others need to improve their policies and most of all their IT infrastructure. To do that they have to figure out what factors need to be taken into account when fulfilling orders. Here are the top 6 most important:
Most important factors in omnichannel fulfillment
1. Proximity to customer – this obvious indicator will track which is the closest fulfillment outlet that can ship orders to customers.
2. Inventory levels across all fulfillment outlets – that includes inventory levels in the warehouses, stores, goods in consignment, drop shippers or even supplier and manufacturers. Yes, sometimes it can be more effective to ship directly from the manufacturer or the supplier than it would if the goods were shipped from the store or the warehouse.
3. Order split costs – orders that have more than one product per customer sometimes need to be split to multiple locations that have the products in stock. Products can be shipped individually or shipped to a single fulfillment facility (store or warehouse) and then shipped to the customer. Ideally, orders are fulfilled from the same point but sometimes that is not possible. In this case, the order management software should recommend the most efficient route products should take to the customer.
4. Information on customer history – fulfillment has to factor in the customer previous purchases and behavior. Retailers have loyalty programs that offer better costs and features to more loyal customer. A speedy fulfillment, complimentary gifts or just a thank you note may be outputs from the customer history.
5. Fulfillment capacity per location – estimating the maximum fulfillment load for each location can help prevent overload situations where store associates have too much orders to fulfill and can’t manage their day-to-day tasks. It can also prevent overloading several warehouses and leave others with zero workload, just because a specific area has placed more orders.
6. Seasonal fluctuations – stores get really crowded on holidays and store associates are way better answering customer questions than they are packing orders. Seasonal fluctuations need to be taken into account when implementing omnichannel retail.
There is no shortage of logistics needs in the world. As the world gets smaller, more products have to be moved. Recent changes in consumer behavior helped increase the volume of moved goods. Almost $19 trillion worth of goods were imported and exported in 2013, 5 times as much as in 1990.
This 19 trillion market is stuck for the moment with two very big problems leading to ineffectiveness. The first one is technology infrastructure. As goods move to and from very different countries and cultures, there is no unified backbone for making shipments happen. As such, logistics are somewhat slow, compared to other areas in the commerce landscape.
The second big problem is the last-mile delivery. The likes of FedEx and UPS are great at moving goods from New York to Shanghai and the other way around. They’re not really that great at building local delivery networks, able to ship goods fast and cheap. As you might notice, this is a bit of a problem for ambitious retail companies such as Amazon, Walmart or Alibaba, aiming for global dominance.
But worry not.
Investors have picked up on the opportunity to disrupt the $19 trillion market and have turned their investments to logistics companies. According to Crunchbase, investments in logistics startups went from 0.1% of total investments in 2012, to 1.37% in 2014. The total amount invested in 2014 in logistics startups ($1.8 billions) means an increase of 1370%. That is a sure sign that something big is really just around the corner.
As the market is ripe for disruption and investors are generously tapping into logistics, a lot of companies will be showing up on the logistics radar.
Among all these, here are 5 companies that might be the model these investors are looking for:
No.4: Amazon is trying to ship goods with drones
After Jeff Bezos announced Amazon is building a drone-delivery service, a lot of people (me included) were questioning whether this could be real or just a PR stunt. It seems that not only is Amazon serious about the drones, but it is also very focused on building the model for the next generation of logistics operations. It has invested more than $14 billions since 2010 in its warehouses.
It has invested in robotic fulfillment operations, purchasing and integrating Kiva Systems. Becoming one of the most automated fulfillment and shipping company, it leads the way in large scale ecommerce logistics. As a result, the company is improved its operations vastly. In 2012 it managed to ship 10 million products per day, leading to 1.05 billion products shipped in the last quarter of 2012.
No. 3: Freightos takes a shot at a trillion dollar market: the cargo industry
It may come a shock to those reading this but the cargo industry is really in need of some technology updating. A lot of work in the freight (cargo) industry is done with the help of emails, spreadsheets and … fax machines.
Freightos aims to change all that with a SaaS product that connects those in need and those offering freight services. Unlike the previous way of managing shipping costs, Freightos provides a cloud application that can allow for real-time responses.
No.2: GoGoVan connects vans, delivers the last mile
Remember the thing about the last mile the likes of FedEx just can’t handle? It turns out they really don’t want to handle that last mile. Large logistics companies in Hong Kong outsource 70% of their local operations, estimates Gabriel Fong, CEO of Hong Kong GoGoVan.
The company employs Uber’s taxi-hailing model to connect van drivers and those in need of moving goods. They basically replace the old and ineffective call center with a mobile app.
GoGoVan estimated that 35 000 of Hong Kong’s vans are owned by freelancers. These freelancers usually subscribe to a call center which can forward requests and lease radio communication equipment. It’s usually ineffective for both the van-driver and the customer so GoGoVan decided there is a market there.
Right now GoGoVan has 18 000 vans registered with their service so things are going great.
No.1: Uber has transformed the cab industry, it can go further
Uber started as a car-sharing service but soon turned into a multi-billion company, available in 45 countries and 200 cities. It has done that by allowing those with an acceptable vehicle play cab-driver for anyone willing to pay.
The company so far successfully dodged cab regulations and managed to change the way people move in the urban environment.
Lately they have figured out that if they can move people from point A to point B they can also do that with merchandise. After experimenting with a fast delivery service called UberRUSH, trying on a Corner Store service and shipping Christmas Trees, Uber got it: It can do logistics.
Specifically – urban logistics. After all – it really is not that hard to adapt the model to minivans (see GoGoVan above).
I can’t wait to get my online orders delivered in a black luxury sedan. Hear that, Uber?