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Strategic insights into the direct commerce industry, including ecommerce, direct marketing and related fields

9 Steps to Multichannel Commerce

This is a slide deck, which I produced and uploaded to slideshare.net.  Click here.

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The fourth step to multichannel commerce

Step 1 = a single, unified product master

Step 2 = a cross-platform, multi-channel order management system

Step 3 = a single view of inventory, updated in near-real-time.

Step 4 = a warehouse management system capable of item-unit-picking and parcel shipping (fulfillment processing)

More and more warehouse operators are coming to an appreciation of the differences between shipping to stores and shipping to consumer.  For those who don’t, the most typical problem is that both processes use similar terms, but the definition of the term varies with the environment within which you’re working.

Picking for a shipment to a store, is often at the case level.  Picking for a consumer is almost always at the unit level.  A case contains multiple units of a single item.  Pallets contain multiple cases, which may be of a single unit or mixed units — but all in cases.

Fulfillment of consumer orders usually requires:

  • more complicated picking instructions
  • variable picking strategies
  • more difficult packing (read “slower”)
  • slotting optimization (to reduce picker travel time)
  • more sensitive cut-offs for picking orders
  • coordination with multiple parcel carriers (USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL and others) for pick ups based upon class of service (ground or expedited)
  • near-real-time updating of order status and inventory status

These are just the highlights … the actual list goes on much longer.  I’m only trying to highlight the differences between retail fulfillment and consumer fulfillment.

More and more Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are capable of handling both retail and consumer fulfillment.  So, the more difficult matter is personnel management and scheduling.  In a typical retail operation, staff peaks in August-September for shipping Christmas inventory to stores.  And the staff increase is 20-30 percent over base levels.

However, for consumer fulfillment the increase in staff may reach 200-500 percent and run from early November thru mid- to late-December.  This dramatic increase puts a premium on the ability of Human Resources to hire quickly and well; plus the ability to train new people on any specialized tasks.

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The third step to multichannel commerce

Step 1 = a single, unified product master

Step 2 = a cross-platform, multi-channel order management system

Step 3 = a single view of inventory, updated in near-real-time.

This really is a tall order, because, unless you’ve bought into a major software solution, which has this capability built-in, it’s a pretty complicated process.  You have to set up numerous rules about inventory allocation, updating various channels (do you treat all channels the same or do some channels get priority over other channels).

Many merchants find it difficult (if not counter productive) to try to sell the “last available unit” on a web site, but will sell it from a store or the call center.  However, optimal inventory utilization calls for making inventory available where demand is … so you have to find the right balance for your business.  And it may take you time to get comfortable with all of the implications of this problem.

If you can sell any unit thru any channel, you’re most likely to get the highest value for that unit.  And that is likely one of your objectives.

However — and this bears repeating — synchronizing inventory across multiple channels (especially, if it includes brick & mortar stores) is a tall order.  High five to you, if you’ve put this in place.

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The first step to multichannel commerce

This is certainly not the only step — I need to emphasize that point, up front.  But it is the first step.  Because if you’re going to sell your merchandise consistently across multiple channels, you need to have one master source of product information.

So, the first step is a Product Masterfile.

It should include all the product numbers, descriptions, images, specifications, suppliers, pricing alternatives, internal buyers … everything you know or might need to know about any specific product that you sell.

If you have this unified source of information, then you’ll be able to provide consistent information to your customers, regardless of which channel they are using.

I’ve been surprised, even in the past couple of years, how many of my clients do not yet have this unified, single source of information about their products … certainly, many companies do … but many still don’t.

If you don’t have this, put high on your prioritized to-do-list.

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