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Renewing order fulfilment methods in a changing retail world

If traditional fulfilment is going into a store and taking away your purchase then what is omni-channel fulfilment and what impact is this having on retailers? This is the question being considered by many within the retail sector and one which X2 Computing is helping to provide solutions to.

How is the omni-channel retail world affecting the order fulfilment strategies of your customers?

Omnichannel retailing has shifted customer expectations with consumers anticipating a seamless experience whether they are using their mobile device, are online or are visiting the store. With consumers demanding much more from traditional supply chains retailers must adapt or face losing out to the competition.

The retailers we’'e working with are recognising that fulfilment strategies need to fit more seamlessly into consumer lifestyles. Coles in Australia is a great example of this offering in-store, online, home delivery as well as click & collect not only from their stores but also collection from lockers at over 3,500 Esso petrol stations. Throughout Australia, click & collect is now being used by many of the major supermarkets and retailers.

The popularity of dark stores is also growing with Sainsbury’s recently announcing plans to open a dark store dedicated to fulfilling online grocery orders. Building dark stores into the company infrastructure has proven invaluable for the customers we have worked with allowing stock to be organised in a more efficient way to cope with online orders and allowing longer picking hours.

Based on your work with retailers, what are key factors to consider when planning omni-channel fulfilment?

Developing intelligent systems across the enterprise infrastructure is the first step to ensuring successful omnichannel fulfilment. You don't want to be fulfiling online orders with stock from the store and then disappointing walk in customers. Therefore planning forward orders with sales forecasts and creating an effective process have been important considerations for our customers. 

Delivery times are also a hot topic at the moment with retailers offering same day deliveries, or even delivery within hours from new companies like Shutl. As a result picking and order fulfilment systems need to be geared up to cope with such a fast paced demand.

Looking at exactly where you're going to fulfil orders from is also important. As mentioned dark stores and distribution centres have proven more efficient and cost effective so it may be that companies need to look at current properties and real estate and consider re-purposing buildings. Alternatively if you’re going to pick in store an effective system such as X2’s Mobile Picking solution needs to be used in order to picking to be completed using the most efficient route around the store and with minimal errors. Inventory management across the whole process to give maximum visibility is also crucial.

What evidence is there to show technology can aid the in-store order fulfilment process?  

In order for omnichannel retailing to work effectively employees need to have as much information available to them as possible. With the consumer becoming more and more empowered with instant access to information through mobile devices, it's crucial that the store can do the same. Retailers need to able to push real-time information around the store as well as into the warehouse and using mobile devices such as tablets and handhelds can facilitate this.

Automating the picking system with tablet computers, best of breed software and custom designed trolleys has shown to deliver potential productivity gains of 30-50% compared to previous processes. Working with Continente in Portugal X2 designed picking trolleys with larger wagons which would be left in the main aisle whilst a smaller detachable section with a tablet computer would be taken down the individual smaller aisle.

In the front of store operations, using technology to automate routine tasks can also free up time for staff to spend on customer service. Retailers who make Wi-Fi available to staff and customers throughout their stores see opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling using tablet computers, kiosks and the customer's smartphone.

What advice would you offer to retailers looking to bring new technology into the operations?

Consider total cost of ownership and the suitability of the device and software for the specific application. Does the device need to be rugged and withstand a retail or warehouse environment?

What's the most practical screen size and how are the devices going to be supported?

The comprehensive easy to use solutions and support we've given to our customers have proved invaluable in busy stores and warehouses as down time can prove very expensive and can create inconsistences in the customer experience.

Also look at how to make the most of the technology by fully integrating it into operations giving access to data previously out of reach. The value of real-time data is only really unlocked if the information is used correctly and acted on quickly. Educating staff and empowering them with the technology to do this will be pivotal to successful omnichannel fulfilment.

X2 Computing will be showcasing all of their latest technology on stand 530 at RBTE in March 2014.