BY MEGAN RAY NICHOLS
Multichannel supply chains provide many options for customers of all types, whether at a retail location, over the phone or online. While these supply chains work best when channels work together, many managers keep their channels separate.
Managers can build multichannel supply chains so different channels can work together. This provides them with better information and smooths out the experience for customers, who naturally engage with more than one channel over time.
Multichannel supply chains can also benefit from advanced technology, like the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data analytics, to improve data collection and efficiency.
Here are several ways you can optimize your multichannel supply chains.
Have Your Channels Work Together
Many supply chain managers consider their channels in isolation when they could benefit from having them work together.
While 81 percent of retailers use supply chain models that make their inventory visible across channels, only 16 percent make that inventory fully transferable to other channels. You can restructure your supply channels to integrate with each other and trade inventory as necessary to fulfill customer needs.
Making inventory transferable across channels also makes it easier for your supply chain to allow things like buying online and picking up in the store.
No retailer wants returns, but data shows customers are more likely to buy products if they think they’ll be able to return them easily. About 92% of customers consider returns as being important to them and their purchasing decisions.
A supply chain manager should ensure inefficiencies don’t stand in the way of sales. Managers should optimize their supply chain so customers can buy and return anywhere. No matter how a consumer purchased a product, they should be able to return it through any of your channels.
Besides these two important considerations managers should keep in mind that when bringing together the channels in their supply chain, there is also the question of how to distribute physical inventory.
For example, customers may research using one channel and then complete their purchase using another. It’s not always practical to stock every offering at a physical location. Still, it is a good idea to make sure online storefronts present a good opportunity for customers to research your products. About 67 percent of mobile users have admitted to digital window shopping, using online storefronts as research opportunities even when they don’t necessarily have the intent to purchase.
Use Advanced Supply Chain Technology
New technology can help managers bring together the different sources of information they have so they can make better decisions and further optimize their supply chains. For example, they can use a network of IoT sensors to provide minute-to-minute updates on the position and condition of shipped goods.
This information can then be used to improve in-transit visibility. Delivery and shipping can be more easily automated by supply chain managers who are receiving updates on the current position and expected arrival time of shipped goods. This is especially important when there is a high level of transferability of inventory between channels and/or storage locations, resulting in a higher need for reliability. Improved transit will also help reduce delays in traffic and detoured items, reducing money spent on transit and deadhead mileage.
IoT can provide other benefits to supply chain managers — especially for those shipping goods that need careful environmental regulation or are difficult to insure due to liability. Better information can make these goods easier to ship and to insure.
Big data technology and predictive analytics software can help supply chain managers aggregate measures of customer demand from multiple sources. They can discover patterns that wouldn’t have been detectable with older analytic methods or with single-channel data sources.
Supply chain managers and retailers should also be prepared to take advantage of a variety of communication methods — from social media to email to a phone call. Customers expect businesses to respond to their questions and concerns no matter the time of day.
Using Tech and Better Practices to Optimize Supply Chains
Multichannel supply chains provide several options for customers. Sometimes, however, managers can silo these different channels, preventing them from sharing inventory and making it hard to get a sense of how the entire chain functions.
Better practices can help integrate different supply chain channels. At the same time, advanced tech can help managers bring together the various information these channels receive, allowing them to optimize the overall chain and improve operations.