93 Percent of Retailers Strive to Bridge E-Commerce and In-Store Supply Chains

As consumers continue to demand consistent brand experiences, most companies are stepping up to the challenge. According to research conducted by the Boston Retail Partners (BRP), a retail management consulting firm, companies are increasingly working toward transitioning their businesses onto a unified commerce model—an evolution of both multichannel and omnichannel retailing that provides a seamless shopping experience whether in the store, on the Web, or anywhere customers choose to shop on their mobile devices, the BRP report states.

"Today's customer wants an overall brand experience with convenient merchandise availability and visibility, complete product information, free delivery, and hassle-free returnsand she expects it where and when she wants it," Ken Morris, principal at Boston Retail Partners, wrote in the report. "This is the rise of real-time retail. Few, if any, retailers have made it to this pinnacle, but the vast majority is on their way," he adds.

A whopping 93 percent of retailers are adopting a unified commerce model, the research revealed, with 54 percent of these retailers still in the planning phase and 39 percent in the execution phase. Since last year, organizations have come a long way in improving various aspects of the supply chain, such as cross-channel inventory fulfillment. Last year, when asked about cross-channel fulfillment, only 32 percent offered the ability for inventory allocated in one channel to be utilized for another channel's fulfillment, but this year, that number has grown to 85 percent. Still, there's work to be done.

"Unfortunately, satisfaction in the current [cross-channel fulfillment] process has not improved, but actually declined from 42 percent satisfied last year to 27 percent this year," Morris says. "It seems a number of retailers changed their models to offer cross-channel fulfillment, but now need to go back and work on improvements to that process."

And there are other improvements needed as well. For example, organizational silos continue to stand in the way—only 22 percent of companies have merged their channels into a single organization. Supply chain management remains a problem too. According to the survey, more than 46 percent of respondents continue to use static spreadsheets, a highly obsolete approach, to manage their supply chain planning.

"At this point, none of the retailers surveyed have successfully achieved a unified commerce model for their supply chain," Morris says. "The transformation of the supply chain to meet the needs of a 'buy anywhere, anytime' customer is a long process and requires the dedication of resources to complete. While the retailers surveyed have not yet reached the overall goal yet, they are continually getting closer," he adds.

The overall outlook is positive, and most companies are displaying a forward-thinking focus on their unified commerce initiatives—63 percent said enabling a consistent customer experience online and in stores is a top goal for their brands. "There was an impressive shift in priorities over the last year and we look forward to the year ahead to see the goal of unified commerce become a reality," Morris concludes.

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