You don’t need analyst reports to tell you that retail is now omnichannel. You can see for yourself – in your customers’ shopping behaviors, and even in your own – that buying today often begins in one channel and ends in another.
That’s why smart retailers are investing in capabilities like ship from store. To that end, innovative companies are leveraging their existing workforce investments to deploy store associates as fulfillment experts.
Retailers we work with who enable ship from store in this way can see a 25% lift in incremental sales. They’re leveraging inventory across channels. They’re simultaneously improving the customer experience and building customer relationships.
But extending your stores and associates to handle fulfillment isn’t a trivial exercise. To be successful, you need to transform mindsets, incentivize the right behaviors, implement ship-from-store best practices and align corporate functions.
A Fulfilling Job – With the Right Incentives
Ship from store benefits retailers in two ways. First, it lets you expose store inventory to deepen product offerings in your webstore – and ultimately increase sales. Second, it positions you to deliver a better customer experience, enabling shoppers to more easily find the products they want, when they want them.
But stores aren’t fulfillment centers. Fulfillment centers are designed for high-volume sales and fulfillment efficiency. Stores, on the other hand, were created to serve in-person customers, with the right level of staffing and storage to support that purpose.
So don’t think of your stores as fulfillment centers. Instead, adapt each store, depending on size and location, to support ship from store in ways that make sense. In addition, extend the roles of existing sales associates to include fulfillment expertise.
That will require a change in mindset for managers and associates alike. To achieve that cultural shift, you need to incentivize new behaviors. Your managers need to understand how ship from store fits into your company’s strategy. And associates need to recognize that they can increase sales by enabling them across channels.
Pick, Pack, Ship: Achieving Best Practices
Achieving success with ship from store also requires focus on fundamentals. Follow these best practices:
- Picking – Stores aren’t designed for picking efficiency. But your fulfillment technology can help. Your application should organize items in a way that allows associates to pick them efficiently.
At a boutique retail location with limited inventory and storage space, you might cap online orders at 10 or 20 a day. In this case, you might pick by individual order for efficient packing.
At a large retail site, you might ship 50 or 100 online orders a day. In this case, it’s more efficient to pick by department or store area.
- Packing – An important aspect of packing is item validation for fulfillment accuracy. You don’t want to undermine your customer experience with inaccurate orders.
At a small store with a 10-order-a-day limit, you can pick and pack by order, and manual validation is simple. At a large location shipping 100 daily orders, it’s easy to mix up similar items, sizes and colors among orders. A software-enabled pack check lets you scan UPC codes and systematically match the right items with the right orders.
- Shipping – Many ship-from-store retailers believe they should rate-shop among carriers and service levels to optimize customer service and profitability. But limited store staff and space makes this approach unwieldy.
For simplicity, select two primary carriers, with last-mile delivery handed off to the Postal Service. Likewise, schedule pickups for the same time every day, so associates know when to complete picking and packing. Then be sure your webstore indicates the cutoff time.
Ship From Store to Success
Just as important, you have to align technology, data and processes across channels to make ship from store successful. You need cross-channel inventory tracking, with confidence in your point-of-sale (POS) system to capture inventory at the store level and reflect that data in your webstore.
Inaccurate inventory data at the store level results in online orders being bounced from store to store. It also increases the number of split shipments, which cuts into your profitability.
But the first and most important step toward effective ship from store is to gain consensus and support across stakeholders. And this is where we’ve seen some retailers struggle.
You need multiple business functions in place: corporate strategy, store operations, online operations and technology infrastructure. Those teams can sometimes be siloed. They all need to understand why you’re pursuing omnichannel commerce, why efficient and accurate execution is important, and how ship from store will benefit everyone.
Achieving that alignment upfront will make ship from store less of a top-down mandate and more of a joint effort. That will help ensure ship from store delivers the sales and profitability uplift you seek. And it will help make omnichannel commerce the exceptional experience your customers demand.
Anthony Hockaday is director of client services for Radial.