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Ship-from-store: New delivery methods for omnichannel retail

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17th Dec 2014
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Concerns about online shopping being a ‘threat’ to bricks-and-mortar stores is slowly giving way to new challenges. Retailers are beginning to see high street stores as assets to fulfill orders across channels. The shift towards omnichannel has caused ecommerce platforms to become flexible across mobile and desktop channels, and the same forces are causing bricks-and-mortar locations to double up as fulfillment hubs for online orders.

Retailers looking to get the most from their high street blueprint are turning to in-store fulfillment, and taking a fresh look at the role of store staff.

In-store fulfillment is most visible from the surge in popularity of click-and-collect, a trend that Verdict Research expects to grow by 82% in the next five years. While click-and-collect is rightly considered an important battleground for omnichannel retailers, a retail world with multiple order channels requires multiple fulfillment channels. Retailers need to operate across these channels to offer optimum customer convenience, and ship-from-store is an excellent complimentary method of in-store fulfillment.

Ship-from-store

Not every customer has to cross a store threshold for a physical portfolio to give retailers an edge.  We are seeing ship-from-store as an increasingly agile way of shortening fulfillment time. By allowing retailers to source stock for deliveries from across their high street portfolio instead of from one or two central distribution centres, ship-from-store provides better stock visibility. This in turn reduces the likelihood of turning customers away due to stock shortage, while balancing retailers’ inventories across geographies and providing an opportunity to shift in-store products in less popular sizes and colours by holding online-only “flash” sales. Feedback from eBay Enterprise's customers indicates that ship-from-store can lead to increased sales of up to 20%.

Allowing local stores to contribute to fulfilment also encourages retailers to better enable the staff who deal the most with customers on the ground. Empowering customer-facing staff to help process orders gives them an insight into how the business operates, allowing them to feel more invested in the business and answer customer queries more effectively. Because much of the processing of these orders can take place in down time, retailers can also maximise the contribution from their staff - for example - prior to opening or during quieter trading periods.

Staffing-up 

It’s clear that these two initiatives alone will see store staff roles evolve beyond traditional ‘retail’. That means new job descriptions and reformed training structures as omnichannel retailers place equal emphasis on in-store staff fulfilling online and in-store purchases. New recruits should be walked through how to use in-store fulfilment technology and told how and when to process these orders during the day. The final step should be to follow up with a plain language fulfilment manual, supported by management that is both flexible and open to troubleshooting issues in real time.

Uptake of in-store fulfilment model will not only benefit customers. As well as being central to an employee’s role it should be part of their remuneration, allowing retailers to encourage and motivate new responsibilities and ways of thinking. This might mean crediting a portion of sales to the staff that process online orders to show that these sales are of equal importance. This also encourages staff to recommend online sales to customers where previous structures may have been a disincentive.

Upselling opportunities

Customers often use click-and-collect as a supplement to their shopping rather than a replacement, using time saved to extend their shopping ‘reach’. Research by eBay shows that three-quarters of click-and-collect shoppers buy additional goods and services when collecting parcels.  Staff processing these orders should see the interaction as an opportunity to assist customers with any requests or queries; customers often opt for collection ahead of delivery for this interaction. Retailers should encourage staff to see these touchpoints as an opportunity to build brand loyalty, or even suggest further sales where appropriate.

While the death of the high street has been long predicted, it hasn’t come to pass yet, although the ‘traditional’ store model is gone and won’t be coming back. Retailers need to take it back to first principles when looking to adapt their models to the new landscape.

Excelling in retail does not entail an arms race for the newest technology; rather it is about enabling customers throughout their purchase journey by providing them with flexible purchase and fulfilment options. For high street stores, this means ensuring that staff members are friendly, well trained and able to assist with customer service and fulfilment across ecommerce as well as traditional retail. Even though ecommerce is an increasing source of revenue to retailers, the industry will always be a people-led business.

Michael Kliger is vice president international for eBay Enterprise

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