4 Steps to Operations and Fulfillment Transformation

The retail landscape of yesterday is no more. Global supply chain challenges, inflation and a shift to online consumerism have upended the traditional retailer and customer relationship. Retailers can no longer turn a blind eye to the reality that today’s increasingly online shoppers are savvier than ever and quick to make snap judgements about brands for as little as delayed shipping. 

However, with challenging conditions comes the opportunity for transformative change. With ecommerce already on the upswing and expected to grow to one-quarter of all global retail sales by 2026, retailers have a golden opportunity to capitalize on this disruptive time and protect their brand against future supply chain bottlenecks while establishing themselves as industry leaders.

Today’s fast-paced world leaves consumers strapped for cash and time. Burgeoning demands for exemplary customer service and lightning-fast order fulfillment leave unprepared retailers scrambling for their share of the market. Data-heavy, complex operations hamper efforts to deliver positive customer service interactions, address errors and fulfill orders accurately. It’s time we shed light on why operations are the lifeblood of retail organizations, and four steps your company can take today to leverage integration to optimize its operations for increased customer satisfaction.

Customer communications: Perhaps the most defining trait of the digital consumer of today is their expectation of transparent, real-time communications. From order placement to shipping notifications, consumers demand regular updates about their orders or returns. In other words, consumers desire the ability to follow their order as it seamlessly transitions from one stage of the purchasing process to the next.

Within most companies, customer success teams leverage massive amounts of data across different applications, databases and departments to develop a holistic view of the customer. But hampered by data silos and isolated applications, success teams often lack access to accurate, real-time information that can resolve customer disputes and questions quickly.

Integration solutions can synchronize data between customer tickets, orders and financials to develop a comprehensive view of the customer. By implementing an integration platform, success teams can consolidate customer data into one main hub, reduce the flow of inaccurate data and position themselves to deliver seamless order updates throughout the entire buying process.

Order-to-fulfillment: With skyrocketing costs, order fulfillment represents the greatest opportunity for retailers to drive revenue. On top of customers expecting fulfillment within a business day at most, for most retailers, orders will not be financially recognized until they are fulfilled, making timely fulfillment critical for optimizing revenue numbers.

As companies like Amazon continue to disrupt the industry with its model for short turnaround times, ecommerce retailers can compete by automating third-party logistics (3PL) requests to fulfill orders quickly and accurately. From the moment an order is placed to front door delivery, customers demand quick order processing. But complex warehouse networks, inventory levels, product updates and inbound shipments cause retailers to often struggle when trying to handle these data loads. By leveraging integration, retailers can sync customer data, such as names, orders and addresses, in real time between ERP, 3PL, warehouse management and other fulfillment systems.

Inventory levels: Successful order fulfillment requires full integration between warehouses and 3PLs to seamlessly transition orders through all stages of the delivery process. In different cases, retailers may either operate their own warehouses, outsource fulfillment to a 3PL or combine the two in a hybrid fulfillment strategy.

Seeing as repeat customers are responsible for 44% of total revenue despite only accounting for 21% of a brand’s customer base, retailers should strive to communicate accurate inventory levels to ensure a smooth purchase process. Shipping delays can deter customers from repeat business, and even a single order cancellation due to an out-of-stock item can entirely eliminate customers from returning. Improving visibility into inventory levels can not only provide accurate information to customers but also your warehouses and 3PLs, leading to a more resilient, cohesive supply chain altogether.

Product catalog: With access to hundreds of brands just a click away, ecommerce customers have more options than ever before. To capture their market share, many retailers have implemented an omnichannel sales approach utilizing brick-and-mortar stores and pop-up events across different geographies in addition to drop-shipping and multiple ecommerce marketplaces and storefronts.

While this is an excellent strategy to meet customers where they are, it can lead to failed customer experience if the processes and systems aren’t up to the task due to a lack of automation. As a result, companies that are burdened by slow, manual processes face the challenge of managing a large number of SKUs across multiple channels without the necessary resources to do so. Integration can help automatically sync product descriptions, price, size, images and inventory across both digital and physical marketplaces. Furthermore, as peak selling periods like the holiday season or summer sales event roll out, retailers can be confident that increased data loads no longer pose a threat to product catalogs.

Against the backdrop of ever-evolving options for services and products, many brands may feel customer loyalty is a thing of the past. But like many aspects of our industry, customer retention still exists. It just requires different avenues to attain it.

Today’s on-demand customers want customer service, and they want it now. If retailers want to find a permanent slot in consumer purchases, they should get ahead of the curve and optimize their operations now, with fully integrated systems that create an optimized and smooth experience for the customer through every step of their journey.

Mark Simon is the VP of Strategy at Celigo. With over two decades of experience in the tech industry, he has spent his time leading teams at a number of different companies, such as Explore Consulting and Evo, where he served as CTO.