Cloud-based supply chain software for retail allows retail chains to compete with online-only retailers and provide better service to customers, while at the same time helping to lower shipping costs in the “last mile”—at the point of customer interaction.
As the line between online and offline retail blurs, customers increasingly expect brick-and-mortar retail to provide “Amazon-like” service for online customers. That means that the retail supply chain no longer ends at the retail store. Increasingly, retail stores act in almost a distribution capacity as a place where online returns may be processed, products shipped between stores, or even shipped directly to customers to fulfill online orders. In this model, stores become warehouses as well as storefronts.
This creates special challenges for retailers without the capacity to accurately process, track and analyze parcel shipments between stores, warehouses and customers. Customer service is an issue too, since without specialized software to analyze service levels of different shipping options, delivery cannot be optimized to meet the needs of the customer. Large retail chains often have logistics applications that handle these kinds of issues at the warehouse level, but deploying the software to do this in stores can be cost prohibitive.
Enter cloud-based supply chain software for retail. These applications can be deployed on desktops and mobile devices to provide the ability to control, track and analyze parcel shipping so that retail stores can improve customer service around deliveries while reducing costs and driving more efficiency from these “last mile” shipments.
What benefits does cloud-based supply chain software for retail offer to retail brands?
Benefit #1: Managing the Last Mile
For most retailers with global supply chain operations, supply chain technology has played a big role in helping to source and move products from manufacturing facilities through the logistics chain that may include air freight, container ships, rail and truck, all the way to the distribution facility. This same technology also assists with moving large shipments from the distribution facility to the retail store, usually by truck.
However, what these applications do less well is move smaller shipments and parcels that “last mile” from the store to the customer, or from a distribution center directly to a customer. These kinds of shipments have the greatest ability to directly impact the customer experience, but most logistics applications aren’t set up to handle them. The complex nature of supply chain technology that’s intended to manage larger shipments from factories to warehouse floors make them a less than ideal fit for a retail store implementation where team members lack the training and experience to effectively use the software.
With cloud-based supply chain software for retail, these issues associated with moving parcels directly to the customer are addressed. The cloud model allows retailers to roll out the software to large numbers of stores quickly and easily. The application is specifically designed to handle parcel shipments, so it is easier for retail store employees to use. And it allows retailers to deliver the same quality of service customers have come to expect with online retail, while still managing costs associated with parcel shipping.
Benefit #2: Small IT Footprint
One of the challenges with deploying most logistics applications at the store level is that they require a significant investment in IT and a large IT footprint as compared to the amount of shipping that will actually take place in stores.
In a distribution center or warehouse, shipments are coming and going all day long, each one worth potentially thousands of dollars. In this scenario, it’s worthwhile to invest in the server capacity and any needed upgrades to existing hardware or software such as workstations, operating systems because there will be fewer overall workstations needing access, and they will be handling more shipments of higher value.
In a retail store, there are fewer shipments, and less value associated with each one, so spending a lot of money to install complex logistics software in each store doesn’t make a lot of sense. And yet, there is still a need to better manage the costs and efficiency of those shipments. At the store level, cloud-based supply chain software for retail can be rolled out to any workstation or mobile device that has an internet connection. Upgrades to existing equipment are not necessary. And the software is expressly designed to meet the needs of a retail store for shipping parcels—making it a better fit for retail stores that do not have supply chain specialists on staff.
Benefit #3: Competing with Online Retail
Amazon has changed the game for retailers, who now face exceedingly high customer expectations. Brick-and-mortar retailers are now expected to keep every product they carry in stock—online and in stores. If Items aren’t in stock, customers expect to be able to get those items delivered in a day or less, preferably to their homes at the time of their choosing. Convenience to the customer and speed of fulfillment are paramount.
Obviously, that creates a big challenge for retailers. It’s impossible to predict accurately what items will be in demand on a given day in a specific retail store, yet in order to prevent customers from leaving stores in favor of shopping online, retailers must find a way to fulfill customer demand. This means retailers must find items in stock in other locations, and ship them directly to the customer, or offer to transfer them from one store to another. Increasingly, customers aren’t willing to wait for “the weekly truck” to move those small shipments.
Cloud-based supply chain software allows retail stores to quickly and accurately send small shipments to stores or customers via parcel carrier at minimal cost. This helps retailers in the battle to stay competitive with online retail by providing the same level of service to the customer regardless of whether they are shopping online or in stores.
Retail brands face more competition than ever, in an increasingly difficult space. They must find ways to meet an increasingly high bar for customer service, while at the same time reducing costs. Cloud-based supply chain software for retail can helps them do this with enhanced visibility and control into the most important shipments of all—those “last mile” shipments directly to the customer.