Here are four things to consider that will lead to a profitable omni-channel operation:
1. Don't wait. Rightfully so, retailers have a sense of urgency. They know the consumer doesn't think in terms of channel and has come to expect a seamless experience with every interaction with the retailer. Retailers, almost universally, feel they are behind in this new environment, and they are. They have about 12 to 18 months to put the programs in place even if they haven't sorted out all the costs and economics necessary to make it the most optimal system. By then most retailers will have implemented some level of omni-channel consumer-oriented processes. Waiting until all the details are sorted out means they could have missed the boat and given their competitors an advantage. Having said that, more importantly in the long run, is to invest in an infrastructure that has the ability to layer in more cost optimization to omni-channel business processes over time. This will require a technology platform that enables retailers to not only provide a seamless consumer experience near term but over time also do it profitably. Start now, but plan for long-term profits.
2. To make omni-channel work the right technology must be put in place. This goes for the store associate as well. To account for traditionally high turnover, retailers must equip their associates with easy-to-use, highly intuitive and mostly mobile technology. The hourly associate's focus isn't likely to be on your inventory or accuracy. You've got to make it easy and integral to their job function. Home Depot is a good example of a company committed to providing associates with the right technology to get the job done. They have outfitted their employees with hand-held devices, Motorola MC75's, that enable mobile POS, inventory look-up, and voice communications. Very versatile and easy to use. By giving them the right technology, retailers can ensure accuracy and control without requiring that each associate be a "supply chain guru."
3. Management needs to re-think their workforce. As more selling channels have opened up requiring a much more complicated supply chain and order fulfillment processes, more things will be competing for your store associate's time. As the volume of business increases with an omni-channel program in place, it impacts how management should plan for labor currently and in the future. Labor forecasting will become even more essential. With new tasks being pushed to the store, store operations must consider whether it is better to have a mix of labor in the store or dedicate certain functions to certain personnel? If management doesn't start planning now for the impact of omni-channel retailing and its inherent fluctuations, when volumes do increase they will not be able to control labor costs and ensure they have resources scheduled to meet consumers heightened expectations.
4. A POS is just that. Some retailers are relying on their POS systems to handle basic inventory tasks like receiving. As a stop-gap measure it can work in the short term. But POS systems were never designed to meet the needs of e-commerce. They weren't designed to help facilitate cycle counting and all the inventory-centric activities that now have to take place in the store. They weren't designed for parcel-based shipping and tracking of those orders. POS, especially in its mobile form, still has a key place, but retailers must look at alternative strategies to find technology that's going to help them evolve from a pure cash & carry operation to a channel-agnostic service center. A POS system can never do this.
A great deal of planning and strategy must go into a successful omni-channel operation. This new retail world can make or break the best of companies. Waiting until you have all the pieces in place is too late. Investing in a platform-based technology that can optimize costs and profits across the entire retail chain is essential for long-term success. Re-thinking the potential and structure of your associate program and outfitting them with the most intuitive technology will put you a step ahead of the competition.
Source: Manhattan Associates
Keywords: Retail, RFID, Wireless, Bar Code & Voice, Business Intelligence & Analytics, Technology, Business Strategy Alignment, Global Supply Chain Management, Omni-Channel, Retailing, Labor Forecasting, Point Of Sale Systems, POS
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