How hard can eCommerce be? If you've been kicking back and assuming that your fulfillment center will do just fine as it is, you could be in for a rude awakening. With complications driven by ubiquitous omni-channel efforts and customer demands that are only increasing in complexity as time goes on, supply chain professionals have had their hands full keeping up. Make no mistake—the slow-but-steady flow of orders from eCommerce sources is poised to turn into a flood, and you've got some work to do if you don't want to drown in your own success.
It's Not an A or B Choice
Omni-channel has permanently muddied the waters when it comes to sorting customers into a physical or digital demographic bin. Customers today want to order from smartphones, tablets, websites, phone and yes, even catalogs still or shop from the store itself, armed with price comparison apps and price-matching policies. They want the opportunity to pick up their digital order in a nearby physical store, or make returns vice-versa, without tripping over the seams connecting the two. That's a tall order for an already-busy fulfillment staff, but big names like Walmart, Target and Home Depot are rising to the omni-channel fulfillment challenge, according to the Wall Street Journal's Kim Nash. Not only are these heavy hitters building new, larger fulfillment hubs to keep up with demand, they're tapping into existing retail store networks to use them as satellite shipping centers. Learn from their example and don't focus on bigger-better-more alone; take stock of the resources you currently have and determine if they can assist in making your fulfillment process more efficient.
Unusual New Sales Opportunities
Successful eCommerce brands are learning that sometimes they have to loosen their grip on the proverbial reins to win the race. Not all winning eCommerce strategies require companies to have a stranglehold on their venue or presentation. Aggregate "flash sale" style sites like NoMoreRack and TheRealReal each grew by more than 200% in the past year, according to RJ Metrics. As a shipping professional, that signals a need for a transparent, easily-implemented fulfillment process on your end. A streamlined warehouse that can rise to meet the ordering demands of any source, regardless of setup, method or origin. How proprietary is your current approach? If it doesn't offer your shipment methods enough room to "breathe" and adapt to the demands of new venues, it's time to focus on flexibility in your fulfillment center.
Stay Informed and Up To Date
Not all supply chains are created equal, and it's entirely possible your own won't experience much disruption in the wake of new innovations. That doesn't mean you should sit idle, or assume you've got all the information you need. Reading articles from peers in the industry, following logistics news sources and experts on social media, and staying tapped in to popular blogs is the best way to stay current.
Adaptable fulfillment pros kept ahead of disruption when 3PLs shifted to dimensional weight pricing last year, for example, because they had considered the rumors and leaks before they hit more mainstream outlets. Knowing about shipping port union unrest, or innovations in packaging materials can safeguard your operational bottom line—but only when you're paying attention.
Ecommerce Platforms' Catalin Zorzini recommends following several eCommerce industry blogs at once to get a complete picture of events that could affect your warehouse workflow.
Your fulfillment center as you know it may be a stranger to the one you'll operate next year, or even next quarter. The very core of shipping and fulfillment is changing rapidly: make sure you don't get left behind for sticking to the "old ways" a little too diligently.