Alex Stevens, manager of business development with OPEX Material Handling, discusses some of the drivers behind the omni-channel, and details the challenges that it presents for warehouse operations.
The definition of “omni-channel” differs according to product type and category, says Stevens. Each company has its own unique features that dictate how they sell to customers through various channels, whether online or traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
One of the drivers behind the phenomenon is the ubiquity of cell phones, which allow for “instant gratification.” But merchandisers are eager to reach customers on all platforms, in the belief that the maintenance of multiple channels results in higher levels of customer satisfaction.
“Customers love having options,” says Stevens. Even those who routinely choose free three- to five-day shipping want to know that they can pick up or return online orders at a store if they so desire.
Buyers no longer see a distinction between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar, Stevens says. The key word describing today’s omni-channel is “seamless.” They want identical service whether they’re obtaining product in a store, through parcel delivery or from locker locations.
Retailers, for their part, are scrambling to provide that level of service across all channels. “Everyone feels like they’re behind,” says Stevens. “It really amplifies whatever pressures are already there.”
The same level of flexibility has to apply to distribution centers. Many are being retooled to handle multiple channels within the same facility. Material-handling systems must be able to process shipments no matter how the orders are being fulfilled. And the balance can shift from day to day, says Stevens.