How Retail Can Survive the Holiday Season By Leaning on Technology
The back-to-school shopping season certainly looked dim this year, with many students not returning to the classroom. As we now look toward the holiday season, we can expect a change in holiday shopping habits, too. However, unlike back-to-school shopping, which essentially relies on being able to physically go back to school, holiday shopping will occur no matter what the pandemic situation holds — people will still want to celebrate and buy gifts. The difference this year in holiday shopping is that it won’t be happening in a mall, but online.
Online sales were up over 30 percent in last three months, and a new report by IBM found the pandemic has accelerated digital shopping by five years. Both are good indicators of what we can expect the holiday shopping season to look like this year. However, while the influx of e-commerce shopping will give a boost to many retailers, there will be a lot of competition.
Scaling and optimizing order fulfillment will be a major differentiator for retailers in the coming months, as it will enable them to cut costs while delivering better customer experiences and, ultimately, more customer loyalty.
What Do Holiday Shoppers Want? Options
The 2020 holiday shopper doesn't want to walk around a crowded store; they want an alternative — in fact, several of them. Therefore, it’s critical this year for every retailer to be thinking bigger when it comes to the fulfillment options they provide customers. The most effective retailers are the ones that will be able to meet the customer where and when the customer wants. Contactless, same-day delivery; ship-from-store; curbside pickup; and BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) are the modern-day fulfillment models that retailers need if they don’t want to risk losing customers to the competition.
However, there's more than meets the eye when it comes to scaling fulfillment options. It’s not a simple fix, and going “manual” won't get the job done. When the pandemic first broke out, many retailers scrambled to find ways to offer new fulfillment options for their customers, and they implemented or tried to scale those options in a manual way. Coupled with surges in demand, many retailers found themselves serving up poor customer experiences with reduced on-time deliveries, an easy way to diminish customer loyalty.
Technology will be the pivotal enabler when it comes to this holiday shopping season. With the right technology solutions for unified commerce fulfilment and last-mile operations, retailers can both scale up their delivery fulfillment models while optimizing their operations, always with an eye on providing an excellent customer experience.
Boosting Profits With Cutting-Edge Tech
Leveraging technology to optimize certain elements of the fulfillment cycle ultimately leads to a more reliable customer experience, more profits and more fulfillment speed. It can help retailers to digitize and automate operations across the last mile, offering accurate quotes, digital self-scheduling, real-time delivery tracking and more. The benefits of the technology will enable retailers facing a busy holiday season to customize their own delivery and fulfillment models while getting more real-time and end-to-end visibility into the status of every customer order. This will ensure cost efficiency throughout the last mile, traditionally an area that accounts for about 50 percent of the total cost of shipping, and up to 40 percent of the total supply chain costs.
Taking it a step further, through advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), retailers will be able to predict delivery timing more accurately while also forecasting demand. There's nothing that will keep customers happier amid the stress of the holidays than accurate delivery or fulfillment timing. With social distancing, they no longer have autonomy when it comes to buying what they want when they want. Therefore, retailers must make up for that by giving customers accurate timing. Additionally, demand forecasting, modeled through AI and historical data, will allow retailers to ensure that the right inventory and delivery methods are available to fulfill orders. This avoids the need to turn any customers away for lack of supply or means of timely delivery.
Holiday shopping is going to look different this year, but retailers that aren't afraid to lean on new technologies will quickly find themselves better able to cope with business models shifts.
Ronit Eliav is the director of strategic marketing at Bringg, a data-led fulfillment and delivery orchestration solution.
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