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The elements that make up the omnichannel have an increasing tendency to overlap, says Power. Consumers today can order directly from the retail store and have the item shipped to their homes. Or an online order can be fulfilled at the retail outlet. Regardless of which path the order takes, “visibility of inventory is a critical component.” Merchandisers need to exercise “due diligence” in their I.T. processes, taking care to create the most efficient algorithm for fulfillment.
High-level warehouse-management systems can enable the fulfillment channel so that retailers can know precisely where inventory is located and how much quantity is on hand, all on a real-time basis. Speed is of the essence, says Power: consumers today are increasingly demanding overnight delivery, or two to three days at the most.
Many companies have yet to achieve that dream of instant visibility. “I can’t say that a lot are best in class,” says Power, “but the awareness is there now. And that will continue to grow.”
Distributed order-management systems can handle all types of fulfillment, including each-picks, full cases, wholesale orders and items going direct to the consumer. (“Goods-to-person” orders are taking off, Power says.)
New technology is helping companies to embrace the hybrid distribution-center model. At the same time, every retailer needs to engage in a detailed cost-to-service calculation. From the very start, companies need to ensure that they’re implementing automation that is flexible, scalable and not overly capital-intensive. Cloud-based systems can provide a relatively low-cost means of acquiring new software applications, Power says.
“The I.T. vetting process must happen first,” he stresses. “That’s critical.”
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