Why is Omnichannel so hard?

omnichannel challenges

Today, retail executives struggle with omnichannel demands and expectations. According to a report from Retail Dive, only “21 percent of retail executives are more confident now than a year ago about their company’s ability to deliver omnichannel services”.

The challenge of implementing omnichannel capabilities is so hard for many reasons. The shop-anywhere, pick-up anywhere, ship anywhere, return anywhere expectations of today’s shopper drives demands on the infrastructure of retailers and ecommerce merchants like never before.

Here are just a few of the challenges facing today’s mid-sized retailers and ecommerce merchants:

Technology

Retailers and merchants need to get different systems that were designed to operate autonomously to now interact seamlessly, as if they were one comprehensive system. Examples are many, such as warehouse management systems (WMS), designed to manage and track product procurement, receipt, storage fulfillment and shipping now needing to interact with mobile point-of-sale (POS) systems. This type of integration was never needed in the past. The POS only needed to manage the products physically present in one particular retail location, and manage the sale transaction and process the payment for the sale of those products. The WMS only needed to manage what products were ordered for delivery to the warehouse, what products were stored within the warehouse, and what products needed to be shipped from the warehouse.

Now in an omnichannel world, the POS system needs to be able to look into the warehouse to see if a product that a customer is requesting but is not available in that store is available within a warehouse or distribution center, and if it is to be able to place that order immediately and have the product picked, packed and shipped directly to the customer or to the store location to be picked up by the customer.

Employee Skill Set

Just as the software and technology infrastructure needs to change dramatically to satisfy the needs of omnichannel, so does the skill sets and behavior of the retail staff and personnel at merchants. For example, many retailers are using their retail locations as mini-warehouses, fulfilling orders that they receive via their web stores or through their call centers directly from the inventory in their retail locations. This allows them to reduce shipping costs and accelerate time to delivery, as well as reduce or eliminate the cost of centralized warehouses or distribution centers.

Now think about the retail sales teams in those stores. In addition to assisting customers and conducting in-person sales transactions, they are now asked to pick, pack and ship products – becoming part of the fulfillment process in addition to the sales process. There are significant implications for staff training as well as facilities for packing and shipping operations.

These are just a couple high profile examples of the complexities of satisfying omnichannel shopper demands. Watch for future posts on how savvy mid-market businesses are solving these needs using the right omnichannel order management systems.

“42% of eBusiness leaders have either implemented or plan to implement the ability to view store inventory information online within the next two years. Around one-third also plan to offer at least one other omnichannel fulfillment capability — buy online/pick up in-store, ship-to-store, ship-from-store, endless aisle — within the same time frame.”
-Brendan Witcher, Forrester

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