There's never been a more brutal time for retail. Under the shadow of Amazon, retailers have to remain competitive, delivering a connected cross-channel customer experience that fulfils customer expectations.
From initial engagement to delivery, mechanised processes are crucial to keeping a competitive edge – but are retailers at risk of losing their personal touch with customers?
Speaking from the Retail Hive's Focus on Fulfilment meeting, Ian Howes, Supply Development & Imports Director at Sainsburys Argos, said, "The human touch is just as important as technology – we still want to talk to and connect with our customers along their journey. Technology shouldn't take away from this; it should enhance it."
The meeting saw retail leaders from over 80 brands come together to share insight on their own attempts to integrate evolving technology into their fulfilment strategy: from using robotics in warehouses, to implementing AI to better understand their customers and processes.
The result was a day of frank, open roundtable discussion that identified the obstacles and presented some of the solutions.
These are just a few of the key ideas that were highlighted on the day:
There's no 'omnichannel' – it's just fulfilment
While the retail community continue to think of the various paths to purchase as 'omnichannel', customers have moved on. It is no longer a novelty to be able to browse online and purchase in-store: customers expect a seamless transition. To offer this, retailers must reframe the way they think about fulfilment.
Invest in agility
The outlay cost of implementing any new fulfilment technology – be it AI, robotics or mechanisation – is never a small investment, so it's crucial that retailers invest wisely. Developing solutions with room to grow and adapt is essential to achieving ROI – whether it's an automated facility that's 30% bigger than it currently needs to be, or agile AI that can change as the business does.
One size doesn't fit all
Almost every round table discussion brought up the same challenge – there is no 'one size fits all' solution when it comes to fulfilment. From click and collect to returns and everything in between, taking the time to find out what customers want or need before implementing a bespoke strategy is key.
Retail transformation is about more than the technology you choose: it's about shifting your business' culture to integrate those solutions effectively. It's vital to make sure that every member of your retail team – from shop floor and warehouse to c-suite – understands the reasons and objectives of any fulfilment changes.
Innovate or die
Innovation is difficult, and many retailers feel that they have yet to 'crack' some of the new fulfilment initiatives they are developing. Yet all present agreed that innovation is essential and without it, retailers won't survive the challenging years to come.
Retailers will make mistakes when implementing new fulfilment technologies: the key is to learn from them quickly and be flexible to change.
The event was well received by Retail Hive Members. One commented, "Hive is a much-needed avenue for peers within the retail sector to pool their collective knowledge. Challenges happen throughout the industry, but it is great to see an event dedicated to helping retailers overcome these challenges. The Hive team are able to bring together a wide range of professionals with interesting and varied experiences, who all seem to share a common denominator."
Noj Mather, Co-Founder and Commercial Director at The Retail Hive, said, "Collaboration will be key for all of us as digital and automated technology advances: not only at events like these, but in our own businesses. The key to integrating new technology with customer experience and employee satisfaction is collaboration: keeping dialogue open between different departments, sharing your vision for what new tech will bring to the business and listening to feedback along the journey is essential."
About the Event
Focus on Fulfilment was hosted by Noj Mather, Sally Green and the Retail Hive team at 30 Euston Square and was attended by over 100 members of the Retail Hive's exclusive community.
The Retail Hive Community
The Retail Hive is an exclusive community of senior retail professionals.