In this report from Internet Retailer and USPS, we present research and insights for handling early-bird shoppers, mobile experiences, brick-and-mortar stores and more.
Ready to turn your store into something more? This guide takes you through the five steps to get started with Ship From Store.
More and more store owners are turning to a ship-from-store fulfillment strategy, leveraging in-store inventory and shipping directly from their retail locations. There are many potential benefits to this method: fewer markdowns, improved asset utilization and, with stores shipping to nearby customers, lower costs and quicker delivery times. But it takes detailed planning and effort to make the transition seamlessly. Here, we take you through the five all-important steps to turning your stores into effective distribution centers.
Make Your Inventory Status Transparent
Creating system-wide inventory visibility is the first step to implementing in-store fulfillment. This will allow you to have the right product available in the right locations at the right time. Assess your current inventory management system and make sure it can track and reallocate products when needed. If you have multiple systems in place across stores and distribution centers, integrate your inventory management to ensure that your inventory is visible across channels. This is essential for managing consumer demand and keeping orders moving efficiently.
Define Which Stores Will Turn Into Distribution Centers
Next, you’ll have to choose which stores will double as fulfillment centers. This is critical to success. It’s important to note: not all of your physical locations need to answer your fulfillment needs. Focus on converting larger stores that have both the backroom space and a sizable amount of inventory. This will ensure that there’s enough supply in stock and enough space to manage it. Also consider the locations of the stores. Use data from past sales to see which regions order the most and could benefit from having a fulfillment center nearby. Fulfilling orders from a store in proximity to a large number of customers means shorter delivery times and lower-cost deliveries.
Choose stores that also have inventory-management technology that will allow you to catalog products correctly and have orders fulfilled in a timely way. Be sure at least one of your stores fulfills these characteristics before starting to ship from store.
Organize Your In-Store Distribution Center
Typical distribution centers have streamlined processes in place for picking, packing and shipping. Mirror the process on a smaller level in your stores, so that products are handled and packaged just as professionally as in your traditional distribution centers, and you create efficient shipping practices. Not to mention, your customers will be provided with the same standout experience regardless of where the product is shipped, so they can expect consistent branding and packaging with their order.
Some employees may not see fulfilling online orders as their main priority, sending out poorly wrapped and packaged orders. Train them in the picking, packing and shipping process, and make sure your in-store distribution center is organized efficiently so that employees can consistently meet your packaging and wrapping standards.
Set Up a Product Return System
Easy returns are critically important to customers. Set up a return system that works for you and your customers. Determine whether orders should be returned in person to stores or shipped back to stores or distribution centers. Then set clear guidelines about mail-only or in-store returns and communicate them clearly to your customers.
Retrain Your Staff
When you add distribution to the list of items your employees are responsible for, you will have to retrain your staff on new procedures and challenges. Some employees may be resistant to being tasked with supporting online sales in addition to their main in-store responsibilities. To motivate commission-based employees, consider offering incentives to help ensure buy-in or adjusting your commission structure to fit the ship-from-store strategy.
In some cases, it might be beneficial to hire additional staff to handle in-store fulfillment and train them specifically for that purpose. Naturally, their performance would be measured differently than that of commission-based employees, allowing for a higher degree of control, quality and accountability.
If you prepare your space, adapt your in-store procedures and work with your employees for a smooth transition, you can begin shipping from store and see the potential benefits to your bottom line and in your customer satisfaction. You’ll not only utilize your inventory more efficiently, but also be able to get items out the door faster and at lower cost.
Growing businesses have growing pains. As you ramp up your shipping operations, it’s important to keep a firm grasp on your inventory; poor inventory control can negatively affect your customer experience—and your sales. If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed by manual inventory management, using a spreadsheet or pen and paper, or you’ve outgrown an old system or software, it’s time to consider a new solution. Using inventory management software (IMS), you can streamline multiple processes with a single software program. We’ve created this checklist to help you find the perfect software for your company.
Set a Budget
Like any business decision, choosing an IMS will have a financial impact on your company. Consider the following when making your choice:
- Research the top IMS for your industry to gauge a price range.
- Determine how much money an IMS could save your company.
- Set a limit on how much you’re willing to spend.
- Create a list of 5-10 IMS in your price range.
Pick Software Tailored to Your Needs
There are countless IMS on the market, many of which are industry-specific. An e-commerce IMS, for example, will have different features from a retail IMS. Consider the following when making your choice:
- List the problems you’re trying to solve. Possible examples include overstocking/understocking, incorrect inventory levels, disorganized reporting and using incompatible platforms.
- Schedule a call with the IMS vendors on your list and request a one-on-one demo of their software.
- Ask the vendors about features that will help you address your biggest issues. Possible issues include: monitoring current stock levels, running restocking and sales reports, allowing multiple users to access the IMS, establishing a barcode system, creating invoices and sales orders, integrating multiple platforms, etc.
Find Software That Will Grow with Your Business
When vetting your IMS options, it’s crucial to find a system that can scale. Why spend the money on an expensive software, if it won’t be able to service your needs as your business expands? Consider the following when talking to your vendors:
- Ask if the software allows you to add new store locations, product lines and new sales channels, like e-commerce.
- Ask them about the limitations of their IMS and what features they’re working to add in the future.
- Narrow your list to three IMS vendors that would suit your business for years to come.
Decide on a Level of Customizability
Some IMS have a static number of features, while others are configurable and can be fit to your company’s needs. Consider the following when making your choice:
- List the modules and features each IMS comes with. Note how configurable each IMS is and whether you can add any modules at a later time.
- Rank your three top vendors by configurability, i.e., which IMS offers the most flexibility when creating your inventory reports, invoices and more.
Many businesses use different kinds of software programs for their packaging, accounting, returns and logistics needs. Make your job easier by choosing a system that can sync with these programs and work in unison. Consider the following when making your choice:
- Ask your vendors to list which software programs and devices they can integrate with their IMS.
- List all the programs and devices you use, then cross-check which IMS can integrate with some or all of them.
- If you’re having difficulty deciding on one IMS over another, take customer service into account. Not all companies are created equally.
Finding the right IMS takes time but the pay-off, financially and operationally, can be significant. Do your due diligence when searching for the perfect system. Keep an eye on your shipping needs, today and in the future, and use our checklist to guide you through the process.