Brick-and-Mortar Must Repurpose Existing Employees for a New Retail Model
The coronavirus pandemic has transformed the retail experience overnight. Suddenly, the standard for fulfillment is contactless delivery and curbside pickup. There’s also an overwhelming consumer demand for essential items, such as groceries, toilet paper, gloves, masks and hand sanitizer — a demand so great that not even an e-commerce behemoth like Amazon.com, which was forced to restructure order fulfillment priorities, could keep up. As shipping and fulfillment delays grew, so did demand. Retailers are adjusting to the new environment, but gaps of need remain to be filled among consumers who have long acclimated to same-day/next-day delivery. Such gaps create opportunities for brick-and-mortar retailers, provided they can effectively repurpose their workforce.
At first blush, this may appear to be counterintuitive, since so much of the current retail model is delivery-based, but let’s consider the order fulfillment chain. Under ordinary circumstances, e-commerce businesses are better suited for delivery, but they're also inextricably bound to third-party shipping providers. In a high-volume, high-demand environment, such as the unprecedented one the pandemic has created, knock-on delays will plague this type of fulfillment relay, especially in the last mile of delivery. It’s in this last leg, which is especially important in the current fulfillment landscape, that brick-and-mortar retailers can find competitive advantages.
There are a few key reasons why brick-and-mortar retail is well positioned to capitalize on the heightened demand for next-day delivery. Brick-and-mortar stores have local stock readily available, and they have a local stable of consumers which they’ve likely spent years cultivating relationships with. In other words, they’ve got the inventory, and they’re closer to the consumer. The challenge is that most of them aren't structured for delivery or curbside pickup. However, there are a couple of changes they can make to quickly adapt to this new normal.
First of all, retailers must repurpose their workforce. Not only will this save jobs, but it will also make the retail store nimbler. Many of the employees stocking items or working at the point of purchase must be converted to delivery drivers or be put on curbside pickup detail. Retailers must own the delivery/pickup portion of the business, instead of outsourcing it, to make this work. For that to happen, retailers must engage a cloud-based delivery management platform that will enable them to create a contactless, customer-friendly, last-mile delivery solution they can quickly implement and easily maintain.
Last-mile delivery now serves as a microcosm of the broader lesson we as a society have been forced to learn by this health crisis: In times of great need, local is paramount. We learned that lesson as a country when we were compelled to import essential items from other countries, as we did when we received N95 surgical masks from China. This lesson also applies on the local level. If retailers heed this lesson and make the necessary adjustments, they will not only put themselves in a position to thrive in the current reality, they will structure themselves to flourish in a retail environment that will emerge, likely, with lasting changes.
Joe Thull is head of Radaro's North American operations. Radaro specializes in last-mile delivery.