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Mamas & Papas on managing delivery expectations

Ever-demanding customers are putting retailers of all shapes and sizes under increasing pressure to deliver online orders in the shortest possible timeframe. Next-day delivery, one-hour delivery, 30-minute delivery – when will it end?  

And there probably isn’t a sector more demanding or emotional than nursery retail, with expectant parents needing their products in a very timely manner. When you combine this with the fact that buying products in the early stages of pregnancy is considered risky by those who are superstitious, retailers like Mamas & Papas are left with a very short window of time to fulfil their customers’ needs… and that’s before the baby arrives and parents realise they need a extra muslins during a 2am feed.

But Chris Greenwood, CIO of Mamas & Papas, which sells online, through its 30 retail stores and worldwide through distributors and franchise partners, says immediate delivery still isn’t necessarily the right move for every retailer. “Does anyone want a one-hour wardrobe delivery?”

He says the future of fulfilment isn’t going to be all about drones being deployed by retailers to shorten the delivery timeframe even more, but “giving customers the delivery options that are most appropriate to your business sector”.

And the key to excellent fulfilment, according to Mamas and Papas, is communicating with customers. “Vans break down, stock might not be delivered – all types of things can go wrong in the supply chain.”

Single view of stock and warehouse management

One way this retailer has sped up delivery in a business-appropriate way has been to gain an accurate single view of its stock plugged into an innovative real-time warehouse management system (WMS) which allows employees to pick by voice. This WMS was built by Greenwood’s team in-house and can ensure an online order exit the warehouse in under 30 minutes, helping it meet next-day delivery cut-off times.

Greenwood says the WMS was built in order for the business to become as efficient as possible. After going to market and not finding a solution which would meet the needs of its regular products as well as larger furniture items, the IT team decided to embark on its own build, which Greenwood says was “not for the faint-hearted”. A team of six developers worked full time for 18 months to create the solution which the company has been using for the last four years.

This combined with its single view of stock, which has always been available within the business due to its origins as a wholesaler, means its logistics business can be as efficient as possible.

Voice picking at the Mamas & Papas warehouse
Voice picking at the Mamas & Papas warehouse

Keeping promises

“Retail has got two problems: a lot of technology to make it work, but retail generally doesn’t have the budget to spend that much on tech. There are loads of things we would love to try, RFID for instance, but it’s cost prohibitive unless you have really high margins,” explains Greenwood who has worked at Mamas & Papas for 29 years and seen an incredible amount of change within retail during that time.

"Retail has got two problems: a lot of technology to make it work, but retail generally doesn’t have the budget to spend that much on tech"

“When I started Windows had only just come out,” he laughs. “But probably the biggest change I’ve seen is the use of up-to-date analytics and everything has become a lot more immediate.”

He advises retailers to concentrate on getting the operational side of the business running seamlessly rather than the “fancy” technologies that sit on top. And for retailers who are looking for off-the-shelf solutions this means ensuring they can all speak to each other. “It’s OK to present products brilliantly, but if it’s all built on sand that causes problems in the future. We need to make sure we don’t let customers down and are able to keep our promises – we’re good at doing that because we’re absolutely certain where our stock can be.”

This accuracy over its stock levels means Mamas & Papas can offer one-hour click & collect for customers from its 30 UK stores. “This means everyone knows where our stock is in the country, and customers can split their order for one item to be delivered and another collected from store – it’s not used a huge amount, but when it is, it can really make a difference,” he says, noting that 28% of sales over the last 12 months came from eCommerce.

And when customers do come to a store to pick up their orders, they are now welcomed with a raft of classes and activities, such as baby yoga and first aid. In addition, Mamas & Papas also offers personal shoppers to introduce new parents to the products they didn’t know they needed to buy.

“Our customers want to touch and feel the products, if they’re buying furniture or a car seat or figuring out whether they can fold that pushchair and get it in the boot of their car,” explains Greenwood when asked whether the high street is doomed. “You can do your best to convey that information online, but at some point you want to touch and feel, but then the high street becomes a very expensive showroom.”

He continues: “We need to make sure that we’re doing exactly the right projects that are going to deliver the most commercial benefit and make sure we don’t introduce any inefficiencies into the organisation.”

Greenwood says retailers tend to look at what competitors are doing with technology before making their own decisions. “We need to make sure we don’t just do a me too there,” he says. “Don’t try to be Amazon, be true to yourself, otherwise you’ll just create promises you can’t keep if you offer everything to everyone.”