Flexible Fulfillment

Ecommerce has steadily transformed consumer behavior throughout America. Increasing numbers of customers are shopping online and taking delivery at their homes or workplaces. The 2009 statistics on retail sales indicate that for all industries, ecommerce account for nearly half of all revenue. Depending on the type of merchandise and the company business model, the numbers may be much higher than that, as well.

Faster Everything

The growing importance of ecommerce and of information technology more generally provides not only a changing consumer profile but a set of opportunities for companies to respond favorably to new customer expectations. Flexible fulfillment is a key concept behind such a change for the better.

If your company is large and has a similarly large customer base, you can be faced with a tremendous volume of orders in short periods of time. Everything happens fast in a technology-rich world. Marketing can spread like wildfire; orders can be placed in droves without need for direct interaction between customer and company; payment can be processed swiftly; and in the event that there are problems on either side of the transaction, communication can be accomplished more easily and efficiently than ever.

If all of these benefits of speedy technology are fully realized, then the main problem for the given company becomes fulfillment services. With the possibility of orders pouring in faster than they can actually be processed and distributed, there is a risk of some customers being left in the lurch when inventory runs out at the distribution center. If this happens and isn’t rectified swiftly, it can have a damaging effect on customer perception of the retailer and brand loyalty.

More Options

Amidst these sorts of challenges, a number of companies – Lowes being one example – are implementing flexible fulfillment practices. In Lowes’ case this means that customers can place online orders for any item that can be shipped from one of three locations: their warehouse, a nearby store location, or the suppliers distribution center.

The wider range of options means that consumers are unlikely to encounter an item being listed as out of stock. And once they make the online purchase, the item will tend to ship more quickly. Depending on the size and geographic reach of the company involved, this can mean significant reductions in the timeframe for fulfillment services. For Lowes it means that the vast majority of customers can be reached with their purchases in one day.

For other companies, a similar level of efficiency can be achieved by utilizing all of their own resources and also employing external companies that offer fulfillment services for client retailers. Such a strategy, especially as an aspect of flexible fulfillment can help a company to take full advantage of the benefits of modern technology and to focus more of their resources and time on internal operations and product improvements.

Post written by guest blogger Michelle, who writes on fulfillment services and other business and marketing solutions.

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