4 Technologies to Help You Crush Your Omni-Channel Order Distribution Goals
Ecommerce and shopping apps have created a dramatic shift in the world of order fulfillment, as fewer and fewer retailers are finding it viable to rely solely on their physical, brick-and-mortar stores to drive sales. The way that customers shop has changed, causing retailers to reconfigure their businesses in order to meet these new expectations.
Omni-channel fulfillment is an order fulfillment strategy wherein orders are fulfilled through a number of distribution channels (ecommerce, retail, wholesale) from a number of locations, all depending on what is most efficient and cost-effective. It can take many forms, depending on the needs of the customer and business.
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As an order fulfillment strategy, investing in omni-channel order fulfillment can bring retailers a number of benefits, including:
- Increased sales and revenue, because businesses are better able to attract new customers
- Increased buyer satisfaction, leading to better retention of business
- Decreased overhead, as inventory storage becomes more efficient and consolidated
While these benefits may make pursuing omni-channel look particularly appealing, it is important to keep in mind that the strategy does come with it’s own challenges. Two of the most pressing challenges of implementing an omni-channel fulfillment strategy include:
- The need for accurate, real-time inventory visibility throughout all channels
- The need to pick and ship dissimilar order types at the same time and at the same location
Below, we take a closer look at four technologies that retailers can use to address these challenges and meet their omni-channel goals.
1. Inventory Management System
One of the great benefits of omni-channel order fulfillment is the fact that it allows retailers to fulfill orders that come from a variety of sources through a variety of channels. This is beneficial to the customer, who is given additional choices in how they can shop (online, through an app, in-store) as well as how they receive their order (direct, in-store pick up). And it’s beneficial to the retailer, because in many cases it can reduce order cycle time as well as reduce shipping costs.
But the key to making the whole system work is inventory. Retailers must have a clear sense of where inventory is throughout the entire supply chain, through all channels and at all times. Without this insight, it would be impossible to guarantee order delivery or plan product replenishment in an efficient and cost-effective way.
A modern inventory management system, which monitors inventory through all channels, will be an essential investment for any retail operation interested in pursuing omni-channel fulfillment. Without such a system in place, it would be impossible to make it work.
2. Goods-to-Person (G2P)
By its very definition, an omni-channel fulfillment strategy will need to pick and ship dissimilar order types, at the same time, all from a single location. Without an appropriate system in place, this reality can cause confusion, reduce worker efficiency, and an increase in the likelihood of errors.
Some retailers may find investing in a goods-to-person system to be an effective way of handling the issue. By utilizing mini-load AS/RS shuttles and other G2P technologies, all split case picking can be done from a single shuttle system, with pick stations configured differently for retail and ecommerce orders.
Automated sortation will play an outsize role in any omni-channel operation, especially those who choose not to pursue a G2P picking strategy, because it gives you the ability to sort both large and small orders—a key challenge for omni-channel fulfillment.
Retail orders are often anywhere from 30–60 line items, with 50–100 units per order. This results in orders consisting of multiple cartons. Ecommerce orders, on the other hand, are typically much smaller: 1–8 line items and 1–8 units per order. This usually results in a single carton per order.
An automated sortation system makes the process of sorting these dissimilar order types much easier. This remains true for both linear (shoe type) sorters, as well as for unit (loop type) sorters such as tilt tray sorters and cross-best sorters.
4. Warehouse Management System (WES)
Omni-channel order fulfillment typically requires a lot of moving pieces. In addition to those mentioned above—inventory management, picking strategy, sortation—omni-channel operations also require packaging and shipping management, product replenishment, and all of the other tech, systems, and solutions that every other warehouse or distribution center relies on.
Because a failure or inefficiency in one function will bleed out into the others, all of these components need to work in lock step in order for the operation to be efficient and successful. (This is especially true in omni-channel facilities utilizing automated sortation and wave picking.)
It’s important to have a comprehensive warehouse execution software (WES) in place to keep all components of your operation running smoothly. From inventory management to order management, automation management, and shipping and receiving, having a single system in place allows all of your systems and technologies to communicate with each other in order to create an efficient workflow.
Anticipating the Challenges
Whether implementing a new order fulfillment strategy or optimizing an existing strategy and facility, it’s important to remember that it is normal to face some challenges. The key to success will be not in avoiding them, but in how you react to them. A trusted systems integrator can help you anticipate those challenges and create a plan to meet them head-on.