Black Friday

The real Black Friday challenge: Getting instore fulfilment right

Who will be the winners and losers of Black Friday this year? Will records be broken? Retail tech consultancy Salmon is predicting the extended Black Friday period from Thursday 24th through to Cyber Monday on the 28th will culminate in over £5 BILLION online sales.

The high-profile news stories each year are inevitably of the retailers whose websites buckle and crash under the weight, and the retail community commentary is mostly about how to make your websites strong and scalable enough.

But it’s a mistake to only focus on the consumer-facing digital front-end.

When we think Black Friday and Cyber-Monday we tend to think ‘online’, but of the staggering £2bn spent on Black Friday in the UK last year (according to our friends at Island Pacific) a half was online and a half instore. Also, one thing that’s all too often neglected in talk of Black Friday and Cyber-Monday is the fact the online orders prompt a huge footfall into the store, whether to collect or to return. Let’s not underestimate the scale here. Halfords for example sees a whopping 90% of their online orders picked up in store via click & collect.

One of the reasons that all things click & collect are giving retailers a headache is the added cost of offering an efficient service. This is (no surprise) due to the complexity it adds (compared to e-commerce/home delivery), with staff having to take responsibility for added steps in the process including picking from stock, labelling and putting away, verifying customer identity when the customer arrives instore and locating the order.

At a time when customer experience is the be-all-and-end-all for instore, getting this right isn’t optional — it’s mission-critical. To get instore fulfilment right for Black Friday orders — and for click & collect orders anytime of year — retailers need two things: inventory visibility and connected IT systems.

Systems must be able to tell staff with complete accuracy where each and every item is — this will include stores, warehouses, distribution centres, or in transit. The crucial point here is that this visibility absolutely has to be at the individual item level, not the pallet or the batch delivery level.

Something that has proven particularly toxic for efficient and consistent store fulfilment operations is silos of information. In this omni-channel age, this is no longer acceptable. A customer query about their Black Friday order might come in from any channel, not necessarily online. Staff instore need to be able to answer, in real-time with accuracy. Joined-up thinking leads to joined-up systems — IT systems need to be connected and the wireless network needs to be both secure and reliable.

How does all this become a practical reality, in the real world?

The tools of the trade needed are rugged mobile devices which withstand day-to-day use on the shop floor, mobile scanners, handheld barcode printers and reliable instore wi-fi.

And make no mistake, the rewards are significant — last Christmas, John Lewis increased its click & collect capacity by 30% with a joint Zebra Technologies and M-Netics solution.

Getting this right in-house needs a lot of work, and constant fine-tuning. There is a strong alternative, which is to use an external fulfilment provider with their own infrastructure to cover the click & collect service. Martin Newman of Practicology points to the success of Doddle in offering something new and vital to retailers.

“When you look at the marketplace, Doddle are a leading click & collect full service fulfilment provider.”

Practicology are a multichannel and ecommerce consultancy who are continually exploring options for their clients.”

We’ll know very soon who the digital winners and losers in the great Black Friday battle of 2016 are, but the after-shocks will continue to reverberate instore over the weeks to come as people pick up, exchange or return their purchases.

The Black Friday message has for years been: your website needs to be ready. But equally important: your stores and staff need to be ready for every Friday — but are you?