To address the challenge of balancing inventory and gaining visibility into it, requirements for effective and efficient buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup programs, retailers are increasingly turning to automated technology solutions. They’re automating order and delivery flows with their product suppliers through the use of EDI (i.e., the electronic interchange of business information using a standardized format).
For example, retailers are automating on-hand and on-order inventory from suppliers, the sending and receiving of purchase orders (POs), acknowledging the receipt of POs, making and/or viewing changes to POs, receiving advance shipping notice (ASN) of pending deliveries, among other tasks associated with managing their supplier relationships. This in-depth level of insight into the supply chain — e.g., which POs will be fulfilled completely and on time, when orders will be shipped, how orders are packed — offers retailers greater control of their inventory receiving, put away, and pick, pack and ship processes, leading to fewer stock-outs and overstocks, better customer experiences, increased sales, and greater customer loyalty.
So how can retailers go about the process of introducing automation into their supply chains, specifically to help optimize operations for BOPIS and curbside pickup? To answer that question and more, Total Retail, in conjunction with cloud-based supply chain management software provider SPS Commerce, recently produced a comprehensive report on the topic. The report, Automated Order Replenishment Drives High-Level BOPIS Execution ... and Customer Satisfaction, offers data, insights and tips to help retailers improve BOPIS and curbside execution through the use of automation.
Automating the flow of information between retailers and their suppliers presents several advantages, including the following:
- Faster inventory turns, which improve business cash flow and decrease the need for safety stock
- Increased DC/warehouse storage efficiency
- More proactive planning and expedited ordering to meet demand
- Reduced receiving bottlenecks, resulting in optimized staffing levels
- Real-time inventory updates for e-commerce sites
- Accurate and in-depth product content, which improves the online shopping experience, leading to increased conversion rates
Regarding the final bullet point, automation of inventory information throughout the supply chain, from PO through to fulfillment at the store (in-store or curbside), enables retailers to utilize the full capabilities of their inventory and order management systems. As a result, retailers can provide online shoppers with accurate product and inventory information in real time.
For retailers that quickly launched BOPIS and curbside pickup at the outset of the pandemic, the biggest challenge they’ve encountered is inaccurate real-time inventory information. The automation of inventory, order and shipping data via EDI solves for that challenge.
Furthermore, by automating the collection of product information from suppliers, retailers save their employees’ time by no longer having to manually update spreadsheets, or send emails or make phone calls to collect information. Employees, whether in a DC or store, are able to better utilize their time for more time-sensitive and/or mission-critical tasks.
Accurate and complete product content, which automation delivers, is critical to improving the online shopping experience. Consumers want to make informed purchase decisions, and they’re relying on product descriptions and attributes to guide them. In addition to improving the likelihood that an online shopper will make a purchase, whether for home delivery, BOPIS or curbside, accurate and detailed product information reduces the likelihood that a customer returns their purchase, as they’re not surprised when they receive the item (i.e., they know what they’re getting from the product description on-site).
Given the dynamic nature of today’s retail market, as well as evolving consumer behaviors, speed to market is critical to future success. Inventory must be in the right places at the right times to serve customers however they choose to transact. Automation speeds up the supply chain, giving retailers the ability to fulfill the increase in online orders, including BOPIS and curbside, we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic.
However, retailers shouldn’t prioritize speed at the expense of accuracy. Automation can help here, too. By eliminating manual input of inventory data, retailers reduce the chances of inaccurate or incomplete information being entered into inventory management systems. Complete, detailed, consistent and real-time product listings on retailers’ websites lead to increased conversions, better customer experiences (e.g., no sending customers to a store to pick up an online order that’s not in stock) and, ultimately, greater loyalty.
The ability for retailers to accurately track inventory across all stages of the BOPIS or curbside journey — supplier, DC, in-store, and in route between all of them — leads to more seamless customer experiences. With this level of insight, information can be communicated accurately to customers, such as when their online order is ready to be picked up in-store or curbside. There are a lot of moving parts to fulfilling online orders at physical stores; knowing when and where inventory will arrive at each stage in the process helps retailers to better execute the process.
For more insights and tips into how retailers can leverage automation technology to improve BOPIS and curbside pickup execution and performance, download the full report here.