Flexible fulfillment is more than a 2-hour delivery window

October 26, 2017

The future of delivery isn't just speed, but context

By Guy Courtin, Vice President Industry Strategy at Infor Retail

When it comes to retail delivery options, customers usually only have a few options to choose from: fast, cheap, or free. And with each of these options comes a different, but broad, scope of service. Fast service comes at a premium and isn’t always available, cheap service usually offers a range of two to five business days, and free often comes at an even wider range and with less visibility to when a product will actually show up. Rarely does a retailer let its customer choose exactly when or how something arrives. Simple? Yes. Convenient? Not always. But that could all change as retailers continue to focus on the personalized supply chain.

Picture the following: Marie sees an amazing pair of suede pumps on Retailer ABC’s website, on sale, in her size, and in the exact oxblood color she has been looking for. And she could really use them for her next work event.

At least that last part is what Marie convinced herself of as she hit the buy button. Marie is a loyal customer of Retailer ABC, so they have all her buying history and want to ensure she receives top notch service. But here’s the catch: Her options for shipping would normally fall in what she considers an acceptable window … if she weren’t heading out of town for a long weekend. Now Marie must hope they can either deliver the shoes before she leaves, that a neighbor can pick up the box if it arrives while she is gone, or maybe even see if Retailer ABC can change her delivery date or destination. Alas, they cannot. So now Marie will be worried during her mini-vacation that her shoes might be sitting out in the rain or possibly stolen from her front stoop. Not the experience Marie wants, and not the service Retailer ABC wants to deliver.

As more retail fulfillment takes on different flavors, these types of situations will only become more common. So, what does the future hold? Can we dream of a world of ambient commerce and the fulfillment capabilities to keep pace? Yes. Let’s imagine what it would look like:

My phone knows where I am all the time; why can’t my retailer?

I travel quite a lot – well, at least some people tell me that. One aspect I have grown to enjoy is how my airline app and my travel agent app communicate with my calendar. Since we live in a mobile-first world, why couldn’t my commerce experiences do the same? Let’s look at the above example. Rather than just offering delivery to a home address, couldn’t the digital retail experience also see that Marie had a trip scheduled during that delivery window? What if she could then be offered delivery to the city she was visiting? How about integrating with Marie's hotel app for delivery right to her home away from home? How about offering pickup at a local store where Marie's visiting? If that store has a unique offering and great customer experience, she may even discover more to purchase there.

Simply put, the retailer’s network needs to leverage the digital insights that are easily accessible within a smart phone. Sure, this level of data sharing and interaction could open up some privacy concerns – but as consumers and retailers deepen their relationships, it’s not entirely out of the realm that customers could eventually opt-in to send better signals to their various service providers about how and when they’ll be available in return for better, more relevant service.

Flexible delivery time isn’t always about getting my stuff in two hours – maybe I want it in two weeks

Just like mom said – sometimes it’s better to wait. Again, using the above example, Marie wasn’t going to be home during the shipping window. The retailer, by pulling information from her digital profile, would have had a notion of this reality. Rather than offering basic delivery options, could Retailer ABC not offer a tiered delivery approach? Need it overnight? Sure, for a premium. Want it during the normal delivery time frame? OK ,that’s free. Want it later? We can do that. Do we charge you? Maybe, but since you are a loyal customer we'll offer it as a service. The last mile delivery time frame must become increasingly flexible. And while this does add a layer of complexity for the retailer, consumers will start demanding it. In turn, retailers must demand more of their execution networks to allow more varied and optimal fulfillment.

Make the delivery part of the experience!

As the digital ecosystem throws off more data than I can handle, what are the nuggets I should take that could help make the experience for Marie that much more appealing? Take Mark and Graham, which gift wraps all its items so when you get that delivery (of something you ordered), it feels that much more special. Well let’s think of each delivery as an opportunity to provide a little more customization of experience. Because I have Marie’s shopping history, and I have her browsing history, can I figure out this order is mostly likely linked to a big meeting she has in a few weeks? Let’s add a word of encouragement to the order. Wish her luck for that next big meeting. Of course, this assumes we opt-in to give retailers access to such a degree of information.

In a world of ambient commerce, we are always able to shop, and always expect orders to be fulfilled in a way that matches our wants and needs. As our expectations continue to evolve and take on new forms, can the retail supply chain keep up? Retailers must continue to push themselves when it comes to how they fulfill and service the last mile of delivery. As the example of Marie demonstrates, the opportunity to provide greater flexibility of delivery to the customer will become a vital aspect of the retailing experience. It’s up to savvy retailers to seize the opportunity. It’s time for retailers and their supply networks to truly deliver in a way that fits their customers’ lives. Retail fulfillment can no longer simply be click and forget; it must truly exhibit a level of flexibility and dexterity that only a fully connected network can offer.

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