Amazon has written and re-written the rules of e-commerce globally since the late 1990s, sending more than a few traditional retailers into an early grave and leaving plenty of others sweating.
There is no doubt that online shopping will continue to skyrocket every year, with Frost & Sullivan estimating that local and overseas online retail purchases by Australians alone will grow 39 percent to $25 billion by 2015; however, no other retailer does it quite as well as Amazon.
Ranked the eighth largest retailer in the world in 2012, Amazon sells just about almost anything and ships a good proportion of its products to Australia. If local merchants weren’t nervous enough, the online retail giant launched its Australian Kindle store (Amazon.com.au) at the end of last year to offer local e-book content.
Yet, despite Amazon’s global domination, times are changing. Retailers large and small now have access to strategies and solutions that can use their brick-and-mortar locations to fuel their Ecommerce storefronts, while increasing foot traffic at the same time. Better yet, the technology is available in the cloud, meaning lower capital expenditures and faster results.
Local online retailers now have the opportunity to exploit local brand awareness and leverage their physical stores to reduce shipping costs, improve delivery time and cut inventory carrying costs, with the potential to beat Amazon at its own game. Then they can use their brick-and-mortar stores to create advantages Amazon can’t match. Here’s how you can gain the upper hand.
Ship from Everywhere
Superior fulfillment wins loyalty and separates the winners from the losers. Ship to your customers faster and they’ll be delighted with the experience you provide. Ship to them more cheaply, and your profits will flourish. Accomplish both goals by shipping from the location nearest your customer, whether that is a warehouse, distribution centre or brick-and-mortar storefront, and you’ll cross fewer kilometres with each shipment realising both reduced shipping costs and improved delivery times.
If your stores and warehouses are spread across the country, this store-as-fulfillment-centre concept also gives you a significant edge over many less-diversified online retailers who are forced to ship from just one or two locations, typically at higher costs and with delays to the customer. Not only that, reducing reliance on warehouses for customer shipment leads to lower inventories.
Skip the Markdowns
As an added benefit, this ship-from-everywhere capability can also translate directly into fewer markdowns. The constraints of limited shelf space too often force retailers to deeply discount merchandise, simply to clear the way for new products. Fulfilling online orders from overstocked stores frees up shelf space and enables your business to achieve higher margins on more units.
Getting there requires a consolidated view of inventory and a tightly integrated order management system (OMS). Fortunately, solutions are available today for rapid deployment in the cloud, which can give your business command over stock levels at all locations, reduce IT overhead and offer superior ease-of-use.
Offer In-store Pickup and Returns for Online Shoppers
With an OMS that supports all your shopping channels, you can turn your stores into a tremendous asset over Amazon by offering far more flexibility and choice. Want to purchase online and pick up in-store? Ship to home but exchange in-store? Your customers will always hear the same answer: “yes”.
Give online shoppers the ability to browse stock levels at nearby stores. Whether they simply want to try before they buy, or pickup in-person to avoid shipping costs and waits, this freedom reduces return rates because customers can make an in-person evaluation before committing.
Access to real-time inventory can also turn a retail stockout into a purchase. Generations of shoppers could care less about rainchecks—they want to buy when they are ready to buy-and if you are not ready for them to buy, the competition is just a click away. With instant command of the entire company’s inventory and the ability to ship from anywhere, retail staff can guide in-store customers to an immediate purchase from their webstore, taking delivery from the warehouse or a stocked store instead.
The flexibility of in-store returns helps provide customers instant gratification, and gives your staff opportunities to win back disappointed customers and offer alternative products and cross-sells in the store. That’s a level of high-touch engagement an online return label can’t match.
When e-commerce inventory and transactions are tightly integrated with the store experience, shoppers win, because they can purchase online and enjoy quicker fulfillment from a nearby location, or pick up and exchange items at a local store. Retailers win by improving the effectiveness and potential of both online and physical sales channels, and by the increased cross-sell opportunities of driving online customers into their stores.