Around the world, countries are taking gradual steps toward a return to normalcy amidst efforts to flatten the curve of COVID-19. One of those key steps is the easing of restrictions on retailers. This follows months of store closures, which made e-commerce the primary sales channel for many businesses practically overnight.
Looking ahead, we can expect these precautionary measures to have a lasting impact on consumer purchasing behavior long after case numbers reach favorable lows. Namely, consumers will likely remain cautious even as stores reopen, choosing to continue shopping online. More will also gravitate towards retailers that offer curbside pickup as a safe fulfillment option.
To adapt accordingly, companies will need to tighten their omnichannel capabilities and develop an integrated ecosystem between their online and offline experiences. Lessons learned during the pandemic along with supporting technologies will prove vital to successful execution.
Below are three strategies to consider:
1. Create a free-flowing inventory ecosystem.
Big-box stores have done well during the pandemic thanks to previous investments in inventory visibility, enabling online shoppers to see available stock and pick up orders from nearby stores. It was naturally easier for these companies to shift to curbside pickup.
Other retailers — such as those in the mid-market — haven’t fared as well due to fewer resources and a lack of connectivity and segregation of inventory between their online order management and in-store inventory management systems. Blockchain, however, offers a viable way to bridge the gap, connecting transactional data from across the supply chain on a distributed ledger. This level of connectivity enables accurate insight into in-store inventory (for companies and consumers alike) and the seamless execution of online orders, from desktop or mobile to curbside.
Blockchain doesn’t have to be an expensive investment, either. There are blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) solutions that use low-cost, subscription-based models that can fit any budget. BaaS also makes deployments quick and scalable, as users only need an internet browser to share and access permissioned data.
2. Leverage sales data to optimize fulfillment operations.
Initial store closures drove spikes in online traffic that few retailers were prepared for. Coupled with the fact that many were and still are operating with reduced workforces to enable safe distancing between team members, it’s led to fulfillment delays and other inefficiencies in customer service.
To avoid additional operational challenges, retailers need better foresight so they can anticipate demand fluctuations and adjust their operations as needed. This is another area where blockchain can help by making downstream sales data available to support decisions at all levels of the business.
The data flows in real time, allowing decision makers to proactively understand the following:
- How much will demand rise?
- What’s driving demand?
- Where is that demand coming from?
They can thereby prepare distribution centers, fulfillment partners, stores, etc., well in advance.
3. Generate regular fulfillment forecasts with AI.
In connection with the previous strategy, organizations don’t have to calculate demand forecasts on their own anymore. There are artificial intelligence (AI) models that can produce accurate projections, taking into account multidimensional factors. All they require is a solid data foundation from which to develop algorithms. Notably, holistic supply chain data logged on blockchain can provide that ideal foundation.
Instead of digging into data then, retailers can use AI-generated insights to stay ahead of the curve, appropriately staffing their warehouses, planning shipping routes, and working to ensure timely fulfillment across all channels.
Ultimately, these strategies boil down to transparency, connectivity and agility. When companies make upstream decisions based on real-time downstream data, it’s a benefit to not only omnichannel fulfillment and meeting consumers expectations today, but also building adaptability and resilience for the future.
Pratik Soni is the founder and CEO of Omnichain™, a supply chain technology startup that uses blockchain to help brands and retailers drive business growth at scale.
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Pratik Soni is CEO of Omnichain™, an end-to-end blockchain solution for supply chain management.
Pratik Soni is an investor and a global executive with a career spanning the United States, Europe and Southeast Asia. A natural entrepreneur with a track record of founding and scaling business operations, Pratik brings a wealth of experience in supply chain design, implementation, technology and business strategy as CEO of Omnichain™. In the past 15 years he has held leadership positions for startups and Fortune 500 companies including i.am+, Apple, Beats Electronics, 20th Century Fox and Sears Holdings. Pratik also holds board and advisory positions for various startups like Arlians, Venzee and others.