Rethinking Your Supply Chain: Five Tips for Implementing Successful Omnichannel Fulfillment

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Rethinking Your Supply Chain: Five Tips for Implementing Successful Omnichannel Fulfillment

By Paul F. Magel, CGS - 09/22/2018

The apparel industry is changing almost as rapidly as customer expectations; yet, wholesalers, retailers and distributors are finding it hard to keep pace. Their customers also want to be able to research inventory in real time, execute price comparisons and move between purchasing channels seamlessly. With various consumer channels available, manufacturers and apparel companies must incorporate a multichannel solution to ensure seamless cross-channel operations onto delivery of customer orders.

The best way to keep pace with the speed of customers’ needs is by implementing an omnichannel fulfillment strategy. To get you started, follow these best practices:

·       Find the right distribution strategy for you: Today, there are various options that wholesalers, retailers and distributors can employ to meet their customers’ fulfillment needs. Companies should look at their unique circumstances to carefully select the strategy that is right for them. While most warehouses are designed to manage cartons and pallets, e-commerce orders require companies to be able to pick, pack and ship items by a single item. Also, there is an increase in workflows; shipping a pallet to one retailer can be one distinct workflow, but picking many items for various online orders requires multiple workflows. Companies are also tasked with needing a returns management area and process, because returns for online orders are much higher than store-bought items. If there is not the space, people, resources and infrastructure to handle delivery fulfillment of wholesale, retail and e-commerce orders, the company can work with a 3PL to manage e-commerce only, or leverage a local store or warehouse, or open a smaller facility in a new location. Going beyond the existing inventory, brands also need to be aware of items that are on the way to the warehouse to ensure there is space on hand and that stock keeps moving. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing the right outfit, and the same goes for your distribution strategy. Before implementing, assess your needs to consider how it will address the supply chain: receiving, picking, replenishment, packing and shipping.

·       Curate the best talent: When cultivating your omnichannel fulfillment strategy, it’s important to consider an organization’s most valuable asset — its people.  Organizations need to ensure they are retraining their current staff for new technology and processes so that they can best support their customers’ needs. In addition to training, when it comes to specialized or technical support companies may need to hire. Currently, data scientists are in high demand as more brands recognize the need to operationalize big data. For example, data scientists at e-commerce retail sites selling thousands of products will build algorithms and models to determine the customers’ behaviors. Their responsibilities may also include helping to detect specifics about products — styles, colors and fabrics — allowing brands to better manage their inventory. The data helps distributors and retailers to reliably forecast inventory while ultimately allowing consumers to seamlessly find what they are looking for — no matter their channel preference.

·       Provide a more social e-commerce experience: Today’s consumers are finding and sharing products with their connections on various social platforms. These social sites are not just showing items, they are teaming with e-commerce channels to further product sales, taking the customer from social sharing to checkout. Instagram and Pinterest, among others, have joined forces with Shopify, BigCommerce and Magento to sell products direct to consumers. These social sites have allowed small businesses and independent brands to have access to millions of new shoppers and potential buyers globally. As with other channels, brands must prepare for daily and heightened seasonal sales. Whether it is back-to-school, the holiday season or a flash sale, brands need to aware of what’s hot and have the right inventory on hand to ship or they could lose future sales.    

·       Automation leads to ROI: While there’s no perfect science to increasing sales, forecasting demand for each channel is a smart place to start. However, for some brands sales forecasting can be time-consuming, requiring analysis and resources they may not have. By implementing an intelligent ERP solution with planning functionality, companies have access to intelligent decisions based on allocation rules, reducing costs and resources. In the case of a flash sale, an intelligent solution will prioritize that event for a specific timeframe over all other channels to ensure successful order fulfillment. With the help of automation technology, companies can eliminate tedious and labor-intensive tasks, while delivering on customer expectations.

·       Say goodbye to departmental silos: Organizations must break down silos to stay competitive in today’s market and make their omnichannel fulfillment strategies successful. A siloed approach is likely to negatively affect a company’s ROI as well as its customers’ experience. Breaking down silos is especially important when an organization works with both wholesaler and retailer markets. Teams need to quickly share ideas with retailers, while also posting those same styles online. If departmental silos stop the flow of concepts, your omnichannel strategy is dead. Communicating with manufacturers in real-time allows for a more seamless work process, while also informing other departments of updates to help them prepare for order fulfillment and sales.

Apparel wholesalers, retailers and distributors must ensure their processes are up to date to meet rising customer expectations. With this, implementing omnichannel operations within the supply chain is no longer a “nice to have” but a “must have.” The right people, technology and strategy can make omnichannel fulfillment a success.