As you probably know, the multichannel supply chain is a direct response to the internet’s rise as the center of our commercial lives — and the wealth of options it provides consumers today. However, wringing the most efficiency out of this setup is anything but simple.
Why technology isn’t enough
The internet gives all sizes and types of business a foot in the door. It’s especially empowering for organizations with a physical as well as a digital presence. You’ll hear about different software solutions, but throwing tech at the problem isn’t enough.
When you have multiple channels through which to move and sell merchandise, modern businesses tend to silo their operations, creating a disjointed experience for consumers and, oftentimes, miscommunication between that company’s departments.
In other words, the transparency promised by supply chain management systems isn’t attainable if the visibility within your organization is already compromised or not fully thought-through.
Optimizing multichannel supply chains in the real world
Today, retailers find themselves with a balancing act as they court, sell and support their customer base. Unsurprisingly, the keys to optimizing your multichannel presence are a clarity of vision and an understanding of how your potential customer seeks the products they need.
Consider the following as you maximize your supply chain efficiency:
One immediate, though admittedly basic, way to introduce automation to your supply chain is to build automation into your returns process. More and more, return policies — and the degree to which they eliminate headaches — are becoming a major value proposition for consumers. Think about the hassle of emailing customer service about a defective product, waiting for a reply, buying postage and then driving to a FedEx drop-box to return a product that doesn’t work. Unfortunately, this process is a magnet for internal errors too.
There are several practical ways to introduce light automation into the process, one of which is to add automatic authorization for returns up to a certain amount. This process is often called “conditional authorization.”
What can you automate beyond returns? How about picking, sorting and packing incoming and outgoing merchandise?
Real-world examples are already turning heads. DHL and other companies have already demonstrated the benefits of applying machine learning to logistical challenges like multi-order picking.
In fact, there are already software platforms commercially available that incorporate, among other things, RF technologies and voice directions to blend the human touch with the benefits technology. This change represents an investment, but the gains are already speaking for themselves.
In other words, software platforms can now plot efficient routes through crowded warehouses Additionally, warehouse employees are already working, in some cases, alongside robots helping move and sort product. Plus, software can track complicated shipments and inventory movement. Warehouses with robotic automation and warehouse management software can optimize routines and continue to optimize as the business grows.
- Employee training
There are many opportunities to consider when it comes to employee training and multichannel selling. One of the biggest in the pursuit of continuity-of-experience for your customers is consistency with coupons, promotions and loyalty perks.
We’ve all felt the sting of making a brick-and-mortar or online purchase and seeing our points didn’t transfer. Employee training — including awareness of ongoing discounts, promotions, institutional partnerships and more — is vital to employee satisfaction and maintaining predictable outcomes.
Employees must receive training on proper security measures. In this era of digitally-assisted supply chains, many retailers keep customer information in the cloud — meaning cybersecurity relies in equal parts on the thoroughness of our training and the robustness of our technology.
More simply, you need a culture that produces trustworthy employees to hold the “keys” to your “kingdom.” One way to build that culture is to invest in an employee security awareness program to help ensure nothing is left to chance.
Additionally, there are several other ways employee training can help bolster your commitment to efficiency. An increasingly popular method involves the creation of ongoing learning programs. By incentivizing employees to explore additional resources from leaders in your industry, you can instill a growth mindset and subtly encourage workers to think about better ways to carry out their work.
Transparency, analytics and logistics
Presently, little more than 80 percent of retailers have the infrastructure in place for total inventory visibility across locations. This area is one of several where transparency and accessibility across your organization can be a huge boon to productivity. If developing a software solution in-house sounds daunting, consider partnering with a third-party to help you develop tools to handle shrinkage, misplaced inventory and even accurately forecast demand.
Applying supply chain analytics can help you anticipate — and respond more quickly to — spikes or drops in demand and upcoming production bottlenecks. When you use analytics to gather data such information across all your partners, the end result is a far leaner process and significant cost savings. Major corporations like Eastman Chemical regularly hire analytics experts, but even mid-sized companies can gain a lot by considering this type of talent.
Altogether, investing in transparent supply chain technologies, hiring analytics professionals, forecasting demand and more carefully plotting restock locations can deliver greater flexibility, continuity and profitability.
By bringing a potent combination of technology and human insight to your multi-channel supply chain you can maximize your operating efficiency. Begin by clearly stating your problems and goals. From there, shape what you do, and the technology you use, around the human element — rather than the other way around.