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About the Author

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

June 4, 2014



Managing Customer Orders At The Speed Of The Internet

In the Future Will Retailers Know what you Need before you do?



Holste Says:

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Between the web, the rise of smartphones, and now the explosive growth of tablets such as Apple's iPad, it is more critical than ever before that you have a unified, executable and measurable business and a technology strategy that allows your customers to interact with your company in the way that is most convenient and productive for them.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out : DC Automation - Adoption Problematic For Some Businesses

Sorting It Out : Work Rate Verses System Productivity

Sorting It Out : The Business Case for Project Planning in Materials Handling Automation

Sorting It Out : Consultant Verses Industry Expert -- Understanding The Difference

Sorting It Out : Increase Sorting System Capacity By 20%

More


In today's quick response environment individual consumers and business customers alike want to check the availability of inventory and the shipping status of their orders on-line. Progressive retailers are able to synchronize the activities of multiple warehouses, or multiple partners in the supply chain, to provide a seamless real-time view of inventory and order status beyond the four walls of the DC.



Most recently retailers are utilizing the inventory in their stores to fill customer orders when necessary to satisfy next day or same day delivery schedules. Industry reports indicate that most consumers will pay more for quality and better customer service. As a result, it’s no coincidence that major companies such as Google, Amazon, and eBay have focused on developing expedited home delivery services. When implemented the impact this strategy will have on local delivery services is huge.



Another factor is that social media has changed the consumer’s expectation for collaboration. Consumers reward retailers who get to know them intimately and deliver on every interaction. Delivering a smarter shopping experience means you can:


Create a single view of each customer - including preferences, propensities, transaction history and social media interactions - and use advanced analytics to derive actionable insights.
Target individual customers with timely, relevant and personalized offers delivered via their preferred channels.
Enable customers to research, buy, track, receive and return purchases wherever, whenever and however they please.

Going forward, web retailers are exploring interactive technologies that will anticipate the restocking needs of their customers (toilet paper for example) and deliver supplies to them automatically before they run out. As it relates to certain types of medications, this is already happening.

Providing this level of service requires integrating order fulfillment operations with trading partner systems so logistics activities can be monitored in real-time. Visibility tools allow users across the supply chain to receive alerts and notifications when events occur or don't occur so that a service provider can take proactive steps rather than just react.

Given that a successful customer service strategy involves a blend of concept and technology, the key question is – what makes a winner?

Is it sending electronic data interchange (EDI) and advance shipping notices (ASN) over the Internet?
Maybe it’s a customer friendly order entry voice recognition system?
Is it a bar coding system that can increase inventory accuracy and reduce picking and shipping errors?
How about an automated manifesting system to speed packing and shipping?
If receiving and/or shipping accuracy is an issue – consider incorporating an automatic check weighing system to speed up the process.
Is it time to step up to a higher level WMS and/or maybe adding a WCS?
Or, for those companies who are playing catch-up, perhaps it’s just the ability to electronically take and place orders, and receive payments?

The truth is that each of the above involves tested and proven strategies that really work to speed up transactions throughout the supply chain and are deployed in the top performing logistics operations. But they need to be put in the context of your environment and your corporate need for speed.

Between the web, the rise of smartphones, and now the explosive growth of tablets such as Apple's iPad, it is more critical than ever before that you have a unified, executable and measurable business and a technology strategy that allows your customers to interact with your company in the way that is most convenient and productive for them.


Final Thoughts

Putting customer intimacy at the heart of retailing operations, results in greater marketing effectiveness, increased sales, loyalty and greater customer satisfaction. Retailers who are not currently working on deploying interactive technologies that will expand and improve customer services and increase transaction speeds, are falling behind.

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