It means using store locations as distribution centers to either ship products to customers or allowing customers to pick their order up inside or outside of the store (buy-online-pickup-in-store, or BOPIS). And from a customer standpoint, it means using an app or website to place orders and enjoying extra convenience and choice. For retailers, it means fulfilling the order using the customer’s preferred delivery or pickup options, then leveraging multiple footprints to fulfill that order (inventory at the store, from another store or from a distribution center).
Prior to 2020, many retailers didn’t feel a pressing sense of urgency to implement flexible order fulfillment methods since the majority of their sales were still being driven by in-store shopping. While they knew that seamless omnichannel experiences were becoming an expectation and that they’d eventually need to define what this meant for their customers, this shift was also slated to happen gradually.
Then the pandemic happened.
Due to safety concerns and government regulations, consumer shopping behavior abruptly shifted towards an increased interaction with digital channels: according to Statista, the quarterly share of e-commerce sales of total U.S. retail sales increased by about 36 percent from Q1 to Q2 2020.
Additionally, a consumer survey conducted at the end of 2020 by NCR’s Retail Transformation Consulting Team found that 70 percent of those surveyed are shopping in person less frequently, and these consumers increasingly prefer flexible order fulfillment methods (a 45 percent increase in preference for buy online, pick-up in-store; a 94 percent increase in preference for buy online, deliver).
To remain competitive and meet customer demands, brick-and-mortar retailers have been pushed to quickly implement flexibility in how consumers are able to receive their products. Those with existing online channels had to adjust operations to enable more flexibility in how orders were being fulfilled; others without an online presence developed or outsourced quick solutions.
We and other industry leaders expect many of these new shopping behaviors to become permanent and that consumers will continue to demand more seamless and flexible shopping experiences. Because of this, retailers need to think through how they implement ordering and fulfillment methods in a way that meets customer expectations and is operationally secure.
Related: How brick-and-mortar retailers can win back customers in 2021
Here are a few of the many areas that retailers should consider as they look to operationalize flexible order fulfillment: