The pandemic saw store closures, pressure on supply chains and increased eCommerce sales in many sectors. Retail Hive members really had to innovate with their fulfilment models, with a noticeable trend being the prevalence of ship from store. The back rooms at brick-and-mortar retail stores took on a new role: distribution and fulfilment centres.
Last month we invited recommended partner Fluent Commerce to host a discussion on the heroic role of ship from store. As a group we explored how retail leaders transformed their stores to DCs, solving a plethora of pressures and creating new opportunities – from relieving inventory shortages through to up-skilling store associates to pick and pack orders.
As well as the obvious benefits in terms of efficiency and cost, more unexpected benefits included plaudits from customers for their more sustainable fulfilment strategy and an optimized returns process. As a result many of these initiatives are being retained as high streets re-open.
We asked a couple of members to share their success stories with the community.
Will Williams, former Sr. Director of Retail of Away has a great story about how agility and problem solving were showcased in a “beautiful nightmare” scenario with a ship from store solution.
“Away took the decision to have the first ever sale in the company’s lifetime. For their customers, that meant the first time in six years that they’d ever received this sort of promotional message from the brand, and sales exceeded our expectations! We ended up overselling transactions, due to the volume and demand. The only way to avoid a customer experience calamity was to make sure that we got ahead of the communications to our customers and fulfilled as many orders as possible. And so that’s where we really enlisted the power of the stores, pivoting our strategy to utilize them where possible, not just as fulfilment centers, but as all-round Customer Experience Solution centers”.
For Away, whilst it was a bit of a roller coaster along the way, they learned the value of agility and created an environment where the whole business was comfortable making decisions quickly and coming up with creative ways to utilize different physical locations, whether they be stores or “solution centres.”
Read more about how an international retailer took agility to the next level and implemented a new Ship from Store model in just 5 days.
Other members scrambled to put in place drop ships which really helped with inventory pressure and delivery delays during the lockdowns. Thomas Miang Perez, Managing Director, Georg Jensen highlights the pivotal role of their drop ship model…
“We work with a lot of the big US retailers like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales etc. Of course, when the pandemic started and they closed their stores, their online business started to grow BUT they didn’t have a delivery system in place that could cope with the increased volume of orders. As a result, one of our focus points was to build up a drop shipping model with our retail partners, so we were able to capture the growth they had in eCommerce. And though it took a few weeks to set up it worked really well and meant we could fulfil the customer demand we saw.
“We really learned a lot from this model. It has given us a much better view of what we’re selling and when we’re selling it across all of our retail accounts. So, this was a big win and something that we have to prioritize going forward.”
For Georg Jensen, drop shipping will stay part of their strategy thanks to preventing out-of stock situations and meeting customer expectations profitably. For more ideas on how to better manage inventory pressure take a look at “Advanced Sourcing Strategies – Optimize your Omnichannel Fulfillment”.
Meanwhile other members found that their store associates really became the stars of the show. An eCommerce Director of a boutique fashion label says:
“Our amazing retail team – store associates and customer care – were able to physically pick, package and ship volumes of eComm orders on the same day, which meant we could offer an overnight guarantee on orders fulfilled from the store.”
Another member from a luxury fashion brand also switched the focus of their store managers, putting each manager through training in order to optimize their ability to get orders out on time and to the best level of quality. They also worked hard to create and measure KPIs for orders and to motivate managers to hit them. Looking back the member says “It’s been a steep learning curve but it’s also a very rare occasion that we’ve had this amount of time to be one-on-one with our stores before, and so it actually provided us with a great opportunity to focus on them and get them up to speed on where we were intending to shift the business.”
It was almost by accident that premium men’s athletic apparel brand, Rhone, discovered their retail stores could operate as great fulfilment centers.
“During the lockdown we attempted to deliver a virtual concierge service from the store, but we quickly found this didn’t work for our male customer demographic – so we changed direction and closed our stores.” said David Benavides, VP, Retail at Rhone.
By sheer coincidence, the day they went live with a new ERP system, just happened to be the same date as a warehouse facility change. Through some unforeseen integration issues, their eCommerce found themselves unable to fulfill many orders for their customers. Coming from a problem solving ideology, they decided to get all-hands-on-deck and fulfil these orders from the inventory they were holding in stores. Not sending customers their products was not an option.
“Our amazing retail team – store associates and customer care – were able to physically pick, package and ship these orders on the same day, which meant we could offer an overnight guarantee on orders fulfilled from the store.
The responsiveness of the retail team minimized disappointment to customers, and kept everyone busy and adding value to the business and to the customers. Now that their retail stores are open again, and back to fulfilling from the warehouse facilities, Rhone’s focus is to continue to partner closely with their customer care teams to ensure that they’re delivering the very best service possible. By bringing customer care associates into store during the pandemic, they have been able to touch, feel and really experience their products, first-hand. This has enabled them to give a more informed experience via their phone and online chat systems.
The only way to avoid a customer experience calamity was to make sure that we got ahead of the communications to our customers and fulfilled as many orders as possible.”
It has given us a much better view of what we’re selling and when we’re selling it across all of our retail accounts.”
It’s been a steep learning curve but it’s also a very rare occasion that we’ve had this amount of time to be one-on-one with our stores before.”
The responsiveness of the retail team minimized disappointment to customers, and kept everyone busy and adding value to the business and to the customers.”