Omni-channel is a concept that's been dominating so much of the fulfillment conversation these days—it wouldn’t be a stretch to image supply chain managers muttering it in their sleep. While the simplest interpretation of this all-in-one methodology would put the onus on an efficient fulfillment center to streamline communication and keep up with demand, in reality, omni-channel is much more layered. Successful implementation requires the team work of many more individuals and departments beyond the warehouse.
Let's take a comprehensive look at how many facets of a company are actually involved in such an approach.
While omni-channel can certainly incorporates non-digital mediums—brick-and-mortar stores, print ads, mailers, etc.—the impetus behind implementing such a methodology has, overwhelmingly, been online fulfillment. Even for so-called plug-and-play sites that allow a business to simply input UPC codes or stock numbers to auto-populate a listing, a base understanding of the site infrastructure is necessary. Without your IT team, you wouldn't be able to seamlessly connect channels, leverage marketing or invest in outreach opportunities on a given third-party sales platform.
Manufacturers and Suppliers
Consistency across a product line lends authority, and their ability to provide vital shipping information, stock images and copy makes manufacturers an integral team member to have actively collaborating. In addition to better listings, working closely with a given supplier will allow you to brace for impact in an expected item shortage and delight your customers with timely rollouts of brand new items.
Research & Development
Sure, your company probably knows what your customers want and how much they're willing to pay, but logistics like shipping integrity might not be top of mind. If you've been receiving reports of broken or damaged shipments, your R&D team can track down the source of the problem and are usually able to offer a fix, such as a sturdier container or a product/package reconfiguration that can survive the tender mercies of a shipper as your product is en route to a customer. Additionally, this is the team that can invigorate a product line with add-on accessories and 'solve' certain problems that can impact consumer satisfaction.
As Mark Woodward notes on Supply & Demand Chain Executive, R&D is also partially responsible for new product introduction (NPI), the vital crossroad of design and manufacturing.
When you're trying to track down replacement parts for an item or trace a missing shipment, taking calls from disgruntled customers about your out-of-stock status is probably dead last on your to-do list. Your sales department not only encourages profit and product movement, they can be an invaluable "time shield" in a crunch, where customers would normally swarm you with questions. If only for sparing your free time for more important duties within your fulfillment center, the sales team deserves a nod. Sales can also work closely with operations planning for a better, brighter outlook for your bottom line in the coming months and years.
On Supply Chain 247, Christopher Russell refers to the S&OP departments as a type of balancing act, with supply on one side and demand on the other. While this is certainly true, operations planning has the additional benefit of working with sales to ensure that your omni-channel efforts aren't going to waste. This one-two punch stretches each budget dollar and, when carefully selected and monitored, gives you an insider look at your own product offerings and their potential for success before they ever even hit stores.
Each of these departments, along with many other partners, are the cornerstones of your omni-channel efforts as a business and are ignored at your own peril. Never be afraid to ask questions of your employees, your vendors and other management staff when it comes to improvement. No matter what your fulfillment center workflow may look like at this exact moment, there's always time for continual improvement—both in your product lines and your approach to omni-channel initiatives.