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Retailers’ secret advantage for lightning-fast order deliveries

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How and when an order is delivered plays a huge role in the experience of an omnichannel retail consumer. Particularly in an industry where retailers offer most of the same items at similar prices, the speed of delivery can be a customer’s deciding factor.

The need for speed and convenience in our lives – combined with shorter and shorter delivery promises by online giants like Amazon – have helped shift expectations from multi-day deliveries to one day or even one hour. This can seem like a nearly impossible expectation for brick-and-mortar stores, but it turns out that these retailers already have an important advantage.

Rather than a cost burden, a brick-and-mortar storefront can actually be a differentiator that helps drive one-hour delivery times. Unlike the larger online retailers that depend on warehouses located in metropolitan areas, you have a built-in launching pad for lightning-fast delivery.

Let’s examine how in-store order fulfillment can help meet the demand for one-hour delivery times.

Logistics considerations
Here’s what needs to happen: Upon completion of the online order, it’s transferred from your eCommerce system to a work queue that triggers a task for a store associate to pick and pack the order. The system should direct the associate on the optimal pick path through the store to locate the inventory. Then the associate uses a mobile device to locate the item, verify it’s what the customer ordered, confirm the pick, and stage it for delivery while giving the driver enough time to meet the delivery deadline.

No problem, right?

To achieve fast in-store order fulfillment processes that support a one-hour delivery promise, your store operations have been set up strategically and with flexible processes. Consider:

Pick times: Picking processes are critical for minimizing travel time throughout the store, which is the most significant time expended when picking orders. Some retailers use one store associate to pick multiple orders, while others rely on a zone method that assigns particular employees to pick particular areas of a store. Either way, your systems should direct pickers on a logical path and sequence to minimize fulfillment times.

Resource management: Manage store resources like you would in a warehouse. Look at the schedules and ensure you have the associates to support your delivery promises. Consider using labor metrics to determine how you are progressing against your customer promises, how individual employees are performing and how you are managing priorities.

Customer communications: Expect that your customers want real-time information at every step of their order. By leveraging a direct interface through your web store, you can send an instant communication to your customer when the order is fulfilled, on the delivery truck, and when it has been delivered.

How will you complete the last mile?
Retailers are using different delivery models depending on their store needs, resources, and delivery radius. Here are some of the most common:

Dedicated fleets: In this scenario, a retailer has a fleet of vehicles with the sole responsibility of delivering items from the store to the customer. They often employ sophisticated routing tools to make sure deliveries are made at the right time and within a logical, minimal-mile path.

Dedicated individuals: Think of it like the pizza delivery concept: You have one employee who makes very local deliveries to your customers, perhaps within just a few miles of your store. This can keep delivery costs low and delivery times very short.

Customer pick up: This can be an efficient and positive experience for you and the customer if you’re strategic about shaping the right experience. Think about whether you want customers coming into the store or driving to a pick-up window to get their order, how much time you want a store employee interacting with a customer, and so on.

Storage lockers: These are convenient pick-up sites located in your customers’ neighborhoods. After an online order is picked, the store delivers it to a storage locker. The customer, equipped with a unique code to open the locker, can arrive whenever it’s convenient to retrieve the items.

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