For example, if an online sales event spike means packers can’t keep pace with stock pickers, this could in turn impact parcel collection times. But there might not be enough products to pack if you don’t have sourcing visibility, with direct access to supplier stock levels.
So how can you bring all these elements of the supply chain together? Here are three levers you can pull to make a positive impact on customer experience.
1. Connect siloed systems to enhance stock visibility between stores and DCs
If your customer experience expectations include next-day delivery in certain areas, you’ll need real-time stock visibility to work out the best location to ship from. Only then can you make that promise with confidence.
If you fulfil from stores as well as distribution centres, they all need access to a real time, integrated inventory management system. Often we see businesses working with legacy systems, and they just don’t have the agility to respond at scale when the marketing team decides to launch a flash sale to move inventory. Systems can be even more fragmented in businesses with franchised models, and more complex if you also want to offer a ‘click and collect’ option to customers.
It’s also important to ensure systems connect with third party providers – for example, you need accurate data flow from your marketplace or eCommerce platform through to the manifest to avoid re-keying address details.
2. Establish fulfilment rules to balance the need for speed with cost-effective delivery
During our consulting process, we sometimes challenge the logic behind existing online fulfilment algorithms. In doing so, you could rebalance delivery speed and cost – because there are times when that next-day delivery promise may simply be uneconomical.
Freight optimisation rules can help you save a significant amount on shipping costs over time, without necessarily compromising on customer experience. The key is knowing what customers are prepared to pay for, and what they really need. For example, if the purchase is a gift and they really do need it overnight, they’ll be grateful to have the option to pay a little more for express shipping.
This is something Super Retail Group has also been focusing on.1 “We’ve been working with Australia Post to make sure we're aligned, so we don't fulfil from say, Sydney, when it would be quicker from Brisbane,” says Ethan. “We're working together on a network plan that will lead to a more customer-centric and efficient outcome.”
3. Embed future flexibility to adapt to new tech enhancements
Flexibility is one of the four pillars underpinning supply chain resilience.2 A flexible supply chain lets you scale up and down to market demand, and adapt to unexpected changes. It can also help you take advantage of the latest tech and service developments to continually improve your customer experience.
For example, to make the most of Australia Post’s On Demand and twilight/weekend delivery window,3 your fulfilment platforms will need to be able to prioritise and escalate orders. As notification windows become even more granular, your customer communication channels may need to be more responsive. Australia Post is currently trialling delivery window SMS notifications on the day of delivery to give customers even greater certainty over parcel delivery time, because our data shows when customers feel more in control with timely tracking notifications, the volume of call centre queries declines significantly.
In the future, it’s likely the lines between online and offline channels could become even more blurred – making that seamless handoff even more important. Digital-first eCommerce brands are using pop-ups in physical spaces to create awareness.4 Chinese retailers have already mastered ‘same hour’ delivery within top tier cities5 – which effectively means a customer could be shopping in a physical store, buy online from their mobile device, and have the parcel delivered to their apartment concierge before they get home.
Is your supply chain ready for this omnichannel future? While the promise of automation, algorithms and data is exciting, it’s still important to maintain that human touch. That is the core of your customer experience.
To ‘surprise and delight’, making a genuine connection could mean more than faster delivery. Things like personalised product suggestions and sending a handwritten note with the parcel. Or tailoring notifications based on their preferences and profile and taking ownership when there’s a problem. These all can make every aspect easier and more enjoyable for customers.
The more people shop online, the more they are likely to expect from the experience. Continually look for ways to meet and exceed their expectations by adjusting these levers across your supply chain. By starting with your ideal customer experience, you can work backwards to connect every logistical aspect to make it happen.