Picture this: It’s the early 1900s, and each morning, the neighborhood milkman delivers fresh milk right to your doorstep. You know him by name, and he knows your order by heart. He embodies personalized service, offering not just a product but also a seamless customer experience.
Fast forward to the 21st century. The humble milkman may have faded into nostalgia, but the essence of his service — understanding customer needs and delivering personalized experiences — is being rekindled in today’s retail landscape. This journey, from the service-first model of yore to the selection-driven retail model of the digital age, has seen significant evolution. Now, we are at the cusp of another pivotal shift — a pivot back to service, but this time, without compromising on selection.
In the digital age, customers crave the personalized service of the milkman, but with the product variety and convenience offered by modern retail. It’s the intersection of these expectations that gave birth to omnichannel fulfillment, and is now rapidly evolving into unified commerce. In this article, we will delve into the rise and significance of omnichannel and unified commerce, chart the path to execution, discuss the inherent challenges and potential solutions, and explore the value unlocked with advanced orchestration platforms.
The Digital Shift: Rise of Omnichannel and Unified Commerce
In the early days of e-commerce, Amazon led the way, transforming the retail environment by offering consumers an unprecedented assortment of products at their fingertips. Soon, retail giants like Walmart and Target followed suit, embracing digital strategies to keep pace with the changing consumer expectations. These industry trailblazers showed the world that a seamless shopping experience was no longer a luxury, but a necessity. The game had changed — it was no longer just about who could offer the broadest assortment, but also who could deliver the best service.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this shift, as consumers turned to online shopping for both safety and convenience. This rapid pivot to e-commerce was not a mere blip, but a sea change that solidified the role of omnichannel strategy. Businesses were compelled to meet customers’ needs for seamless experiences, across both physical and digital channels. Those that succeeded discovered competitive advantages in customer loyalty, operational efficiency and market share. The new retail arena had become a hotbed for innovation, with omnichannel at the forefront, paving the way for the rise of unified commerce.
Challenges to Omnichannel and Unified Commerce Execution
Unified commerce relies on a precise omnichannel execution path that streamlines the entire retail process from planning to post-purchase support. This path integrates critical steps including planning, where merchandising, inventory, warehouse management and inbound visibility are strategized; the pre-purchase phase, which focuses on brand management, content creation, user experience and campaign management; the purchase process, encompassing order capture, pick/pack/ship operations and carrier selection; and finally, post-purchase support, which ensures continued customer satisfaction with tracking, returns management and customer service. Although these steps form a cohesive journey, the reality of executing an omnichannel strategy presents significant challenges.
Implementing a seamless omnichannel experience is incredibly complex, especially when dealing with legacy systems and data silos. These older systems often lead to compartmentalization, reducing visibility and making it difficult to provide a truly unified customer experience. Fragmented data can also impede inventory management, as real-time updates are critical for maintaining a smooth omnichannel operation. It’s this lack of integration and accessibility of information that creates a significant roadblock on the path to cohesive, unified commerce execution.
Interdependencies within the supply chain further complicate this process. To optimize the order construct, a myriad of inputs, calculations and outputs must be considered, from demand forecasts to available transportation capacity. Real-time inventory and transportation data become indispensable in this context, enabling effective decision-making and swift response to any shifts in demand or supply. Yet, these interdependencies necessitate a level of visibility that is often lacking in traditional retail systems. Overcoming these challenges requires a holistic fulfillment strategy that prioritizes transparency, accessibility and integration within the retail supply chain.
Building Blocks of Success: Framework for Omnichannel and Unified Commerce
To navigate the complexities of unified commerce, it’s essential to break down the process into manageable components. There are four key aspects to consider when strategizing for successful omnichannel execution, each a critical piece in the broader puzzle.
- Visibility: The first step is to connect and obtain clear visibility of inventory and transportation. Knowing what you have and where it is, in real-time, is the bedrock of a successful unified commerce strategy.
- Execution of Transportation: Once visibility is secured, the next stage is execution. This involves orchestrating the delivery journey, from rate shopping to auto dispatch, and handling exceptions management. Traditional transportation management systems (TMS) and order management systems (OMS) often fall short here, so a dedicated delivery management platform is critical.
- Fulfillment: This stage is where strategic decisions about inventory location and transportation coupling are made. Understanding where inventory is located, which store will fulfill an order, and how transportation integrates with order management processes are vital considerations in the fulfillment process.
- Returns: The final piece of the puzzle is handling returns, an area that overlaps with all three previous components. Mastering this aspect means improving customer satisfaction and mitigating losses.
As we move through these steps, a core theme emerges: the need for simplification, particularly in last mile orchestration. As scale increases, touchpoints and potential points of failure multiply. The goal should be to scale delivery without adding incremental costs due to poor orchestration. Working smarter, not harder, is paramount — which means leveraging existing resources and ensuring processes are streamlined and efficient. Success in last mile often signifies success in unified commerce as a whole.
The Kickstart: Initial Steps towards Omnichannel and Unified Commerce
The journey to successful omnichannel and unified commerce begins with clear, actionable steps that lay a solid foundation.
Seeing Clearly: Inventory Visibility and Optimization
It’s impossible to sell what you don’t know you have. Reliable, real-time visibility into inventory across all channels is essential. This visibility enables optimization, as businesses are able to more accurately forecast demand, manage replenishment and reduce excess stock. Knowing what is available and where it is forms the cornerstone of efficient, customer-focused retail.
Delivery Mastery: Last Mile Delivery Orchestration
With inventory management under control, the focus shifts to orchestrating and optimizing last mile logistics. Delivering products to the customer quickly, reliably and cost-effectively is a crucial part of the shopping experience. Last mile delivery is not just about transportation; it’s about being smart and strategic with logistics, taking into account factors like routing and courier selection. Mastering this step can significantly enhance the customer experience and streamline operations.
The Heart of Unified Commerce: Customer Experience
Customers today expect seamless, speedy and convenient delivery. More than just the product, customers are increasingly valuing the service they receive at every step of the purchase process. Therefore, prioritizing customer experience — from browsing and buying to delivery and after-sales support — is vital to implementing successful omnichannel and unified commerce strategies. Achieving this requires a keen focus on meeting and exceeding customer expectations at every touchpoint.
The Value Unlock: Mastering Omnichannel and Unified Commerce
Unleashing the true potential of unified commerce requires a holistic approach that goes beyond a mere combination of omnichannel strategies. The value unlock lies in integrating key processes, optimizing operations and leveraging data-driven insights to elevate the customer experience. OneRail’s orchestration platform is designed to do just that.
Signaling Demand: One API Integration into Existing Platforms
The OneRail platform offers a single API integration into your existing systems. This creates a unified demand signal that delivers vital insights about customer preferences and behaviors. Simultaneously, it enables APIs for visibility throughout the fulfillment process. All stakeholders, from retailers to customers, stay informed every step of the way, thanks to real-time location updates and clear communication. By understanding and anticipating your customer needs, and keeping all parties informed, our platform ensures the right products are available when and where they’re needed, perfecting the customer experience.
The Perfect Fit: Optimization of Shipping Mode and Matching to Asset Size
One size does not fit all in the world of retail logistics. That’s why the OneRail platform focuses on optimizing shipping modes and matching each order to the most suitable asset size. This strategic approach reduces costs and increases delivery speed, helping ensure your products arrive at their destination in the best condition possible.
Exceptions Management: Tackling Challenges in Real Time
OneRail’s last mile orchestration platform integrates real-time tracking updates from across the delivery network to quickly identify shipments at risk of missing delivery targets, enabling proactive exception management to address issues immediately. Our dedicated Exceptions Assist™ team works 24/7 to stay ahead of problems and maintain a seamless and satisfying customer experience, crucial to omnichannel fulfillment and last mile orchestration.
Automation Triumph: Operationalizing the Process
Transitioning from traditional manual processes to automated, data-driven decision-making is the heart of operationalizing unified commerce. OneRail’s platform actively replaces labor-intensive tasks, such as managing Excel sheets, manually inputting UI entries and fielding phone calls with an automated system that handles these chores swiftly and efficiently. In Q1 of 2023 alone, we transacted 3.7 billion API calls, equating to approximately 500 calls per delivery. This level of automation leads to a significant reduction in manual labor, allowing our customers to redeploy their human resources to more strategic roles.
The Power of Data: Leveraging Data for Enhanced Efficiency
Leveraging data effectively means much more than merely collecting it. Our platform utilizes the immense data generated through these API calls to refine processes continually and stay competitive. Every 30 seconds, GPS pings provide valuable data for enhancing visibility and improving customer satisfaction. This data-driven approach has resulted in our customers saving about 70% on operating expenses related to managing last mile delivery. With OneRail, raw data is transformed into actionable strategies that drive success and deliver the highest level of service to your customers.
Be the Milkman: Embrace the Future of Retail with OneRail
In a retail market where consumers demand personalized service, the successful retailer needs to pivot from simply providing an assortment of products to delivering a unique, tailored experience. This is the essence of the modern milkman in retail — fulfilling the customer’s needs directly and personally, not just in the products offered, but in the entire purchasing journey.
OneRail’s omnichannel and last-mile orchestration solution is your key to becoming a modern-day milkman. We empower you to meet and exceed customer expectations, streamline your operations and truly put the customer at the heart of your business.
There’s no time like the present to return to the personalized service of the milkman era, tapping into the power and capabilities of today’s technology. Schedule a demo with OneRail today and unlock unprecedented value for your retail operations.