One of the most important competitive advantages that a retailer can possess in today's marketplace is the capacity to provide an "omni-channel" customer experience. This means that the company will engage with the customer at any one of multiple touch points, according to the customer's preference. Thereafter, the company will deliver purchased goods to the customer through any one of multiple fulfillment channels; again, according to the customer's preference.
The term "omni-channel" itself is nothing more than a fancy way for a retailer to promise its consumer base: "We'll fulfill your orders however you'd like us to: completely in-store, as a store pickup for an online order, or as a direct delivery to your home."
Balancing Customer Demand with Internal Capabilities
Of course, for such a promise to hold any weight at all, it's necessary for the retailer to possess adequate internal capabilities to meet the demands of their customers. This requires a robust and adaptable infrastructure, which many organizations simply have not established yet.
Think of the myriad moving parts that make up a full-service omni-channel process.
- There's the transportation aspect, either in-house or (more frequently) outsourced to a 3rd party logistics provider.
- There's the technical aspect (a functional and user-friendly website, or a stout intra-company network, for example).
- Then, of course, there are the sales and marketing pieces that must be integrated into the process across all fulfillment channels (in-store associates, call center agents, incidental sales from installers and service providers, and so forth).
Many companies simply do not have the resources for such a comprehensive approach to the omni-channel experience. In such a scenario, what are some options that these SMBs could examine?
The "endless aisle" approach to sales is becoming increasingly popular. One of the more radical variations of this technique is the interactive kiosk that features a company's entire product catalog (and/or the entire product catalog of its suppliers). Customers can come into a store and browse through a virtually endless selection of goods, then choose the fulfillment option that best suits them, (either in-store pickup or direct delivery).
Investing in the endless aisle can help to reduce the need for high levels of in-store stock, and even appeal to a broader consumer demographic. Of course, once the order is placed, it needs to be fulfilled, which is usually where 3PL's come into the picture.
How the Third Party Logistics Industry is Changing
The 3PL industry is adapting to the demands of the omni-channel along with its counterparts in the retail/eCommerce industry. There are many ways in which logistics providers work hard to accommodate the customer's omni-channel experience, while at the same time maximizing profitability, both for their business partners and for themselves.
- Many 3PL's partner with retailers to change delivery routes in real-time. That's right: in real-time. This capability helps to cut down on fuel costs and inefficient routing.
- A 3PL with a network that is deeply integrated into their partner's omni-channel infrastructure can also make strategic exceptions to segmented delivery guidelines (e.g. a large box truck driver delivering a small electronic product to a customer's residence, along with the bigger products).
The Future of the Omni-Channel Experience
Omni-channel strategies will only become more sophisticated and streamlined in the coming years. The margin between omni-channel-oriented competitors is becoming increasingly thin.
You might look at Walmart's continual addition of pickup towers to its stores (500 more by the end of 2019!) as a portent of things to come. Brick and mortar retailers and eCommerce businesses alike operate in a customer-centric market, and omni-channel deployment is one of the primary ways to meet customer expectations.
If you'd like to learn more about how a partnership with CTL Global can exponentially multiply your omni-channel capabilities, and thus enhance your customers' experiences, reach out to us today.