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Finding the Sweet Spot for Retail Fulfillment

Anybody who’s run a lemonade stand knows that traditional retailing is harder than it looks. You need demand, product, a facility, a location, promotion, traffic, pricing, inventory, and safeguards against shrinkage and perishability. Then there’s fulfillment – the final handoff where companies leave you with their best feels-good impression. Is the lemonade ice cold, undiluted, and the right sweetness as you expediently process the payment?

Fulfillment is tricky. Brick and mortar retailers have helped shorten lines with self-service check-out stations and tools that allow customers to scan products at the shelf.

Meanwhile, they’ve had to push against online powerhouses by entering the online marketplace with its demanding logistics, speed of delivery, and consumers’ love affair with free shipping. They bring with them an advantage – numerous branded locations available to marry with online fulfillment strategies.

These new omnichannel retailers are busy working to find the sweet spot for fulfillment, using one or more of the models that continue to evolve.

Online Direct

Here’s where retailers go one-on-one with their online competitors. Customers order online and expect shipments to show up on their doorstep. Meeting customer expectations for rapid fulfillment with minimal shipping charges can be difficult. More than half of retailers that don’t offer free shipping, free returns, or same-day delivery have plans to add these services, according to a study by Zebra Technologies Corp.

Same Day Delivery

This model seeks to mimic the online-direct experience, by utilizing a retailer’s in-store or outsourced resources to quickly deliver goods from local inventory to an address. Purchases such as groceries often benefit from this option, allowing customers to restock their pantry without leaving the house.

BOPIS – Pay Online, Pickup In Store

Retailers have experimented with various in-store pickup options for years, utilizing counters and lockers. Now a more sophisticated version has appeared to closely mimic the online-direct or same-day experience at the physical store. Customers who order and pay online can also pick up goods at curbside or specially marked areas in a parking lot. That’s especially helpful for customers who purchase bulky items or for parents with children in the car. Distinctive signage is essential to making BOPIS a success for retailers, often including technologies that create a seamless customer experience even in the parking lot.

ROPIS – Reserve Online, Pay In Store

This strategy truly differentiates omnichannel retailers from their online competitors, especially when it comes to selling oversized items, hard-to-fit items, or high-end goods. People still want to touch or try on certain types of merchandise, such as home furnishings, appliances, and apparel. ROPIS ensures that their particular item of interest will be in stock, simply awaiting their final look before the purchase is completed.

The Sweet Spot

Retailers are likely to offer more than one fulfillment option, developing and fine-tuning the mix of online-direct, same-day, BOPIS and ROPIS that’s most likely to satisfy their own customers and maximize their brand. Each one presents challenges in inventory management, processes, facility and sign requirements, and employee training – all of which must be in place before a new option is launched.

Innovation and technology will continue to drive the ways that retailers make that final fulfillment handoff, one that leaves you with a feels-good impression. Sometimes that might even mean something that only a traditional retailer can offer: lemonade by the glass.