By Chris Ferrell
Principal, Tompkins International

Alibaba Tidal Wave: Omnichannel Logistics - Supply Chain Capabilities

In early-January Mindtree, the global information technology and outsourcing company, published U.K.-based research on omnichannel retail that provided quite a bit of insight into the oft-used buzzword and introducing us to a new term: the "phygital" shopper. It's a catchy phrase used to describe tech-savvy shoppers who seamlessly move between traditional, brick-and-mortar shopping and online purchases; who mix online and in-store experiences, and use technology to match personal demand with available supply rather than supply anticipating demand. The entire report is easy and informative and I encourage you to take a look.

There were quite a few insightful take-aways about what shoppers want, and how astute marketing might take advantage of these desires to sell more product, but I found the supply chain implications most fascinating. Consider the specific features that influenced purchases:

  • Buy online and pick-up or return in-store (got it)
  • Free home delivery, even if it required waiting 3-4 days (interesting)
  • Technology that locates product in a physical store (hmmm …)

The report states that 90% of retailers provide the pick-up/return service, but only 5% offer the location assistance even though shoppers ranked this as a top-three feature in both the Grocery and Home Supply sector. In both cases, an increasing dependency on these services is likely to have implications for operations. Which supply chain can most efficiently and effectively (read: profitably) incorporate in-store pick-ups and returns as they become a larger part of the business? Whose supply chain can provide the real-time accuracy and location-level detail of inventory by store?

The desire for free home delivery (and the willingness to wait) is another interesting component. Consider UPS and FedEx's implementation of dimensional weight (DIM Weight) pricing for all parcel shipments, and FedEx's shocking increase in fuel surcharge (FSC) despite 10-year lows in fuel costs - U.S. retailers face a stiff challenge to profitably offer the free shipping we have all come to expect. If U.S. consumers display a similar patience to their counterparts in the U.K., the United States Postal Service (U.S.P.S.) becomes an attractive alternative and much of the next-day / same-day delivery discussions that have become so pervasive in 2014 will become moot.

We don't have the same data for U.S. shoppers and Retailers, but it's fair to say that, generally speaking, consumer trends in the U.K. prove to be instructive, if not outright predictive of counterparts in the U.S. and Canada. Based solely on personal experience, the pick-up/return and location assistance percentages sound about right. The same goes for free shipping - U.S. consumers won't be happy about having to wait 2-3 extra days for their purchases, but they're probably not going to be willing to pay for services they've grown accustomed to getting for free. Either way, it's going to be the Supply Chain professionals left to execute and deliver against Marketing's promises and the consumers' demands.

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Tompkins International Staff
Tompkins International Staff