Guest blog from Chris Greenwood – CIO of Mamas & Papas:
“I was recently lucky enough to be sat around the table from some of the UK’s biggest retailers. It was a varied bunch, spanning high street and luxury department stores to retail chains, all of which made for differing opinions and a lively debate about how British retailers see their brands developing over the next year or so.
The marketplace myth
An opinion that came through strongly from the retailers, is that many of them place online marketplaces like Amazon in high regard because of the breadth of delivery choice customers have. Amazon is one of those companies that’s admired for customisable, fast and free delivery, and lots of retailers are looking to emulate that in their own delivery function. However, if you’re representing a luxury brand, with luxury products, the same strategy may not align with your brand values. In my experience, delivery strategy needs to be led by three things: your customers, your brand and your product.
The perception is that Amazon is driving up expectations, when in fact it’s setting the bar low, by making it difficult for retailers and placing pressure on them to match something that is either not necessary, or not commercially feasible. Without using data from customer purchases to inform what kind of delivery options brands should have at the point of checkout, delivery becomes ineffective, it can also become difficult to manage if retailers try to do everything themselves.
When overhauling your delivery function in eCommerce, retailers need to ensure technology supports and integrates with their existing services. The process of onboarding carriers shouldn’t be a long one. Well, retailers can’t afford it to be, as an eCommerce business never stops.
Automation can lighten the load
Retailers have also formed quite a headache figuring out what to automate during the delivery and logistics process. For example, if you have a broad portfolio of products like we do at Mamas & Papas – we ship everything from cots, to baby booties – it creates complexity. Firstly, how do you match the right delivery type and carrier to individual items? And secondly, from a technology perspective, how can you automate that process at checkout?
The trick is to plug in an automation tool that’s preconfigured with carrier options and services. It needs to rely on a powerful rule-based engine in order to consider a number of things instantaneously, considering things like; what kind of product is it? What is the basket mix? What location are the items going to, is it remote? We ship far and wide, and for a location like the Channel Islands for example, we can only offer 3-day delivery. So, our rule-based system from GFS automatically shows the appropriate delivery options based on the rules applied. Similarly, if this is integrated with a supporting multi-carrier labelling system, this can automate the printing of carrier-compliant labels to reduce error and increase despatch time in the warehouse. The main barrier when online retailers are considering integrating solutions like these is the perception that integration will take too long and cost too much.
While Brexit was a word on every retailer’s lips, people don’t know what’s going on. And because of it a lot of industries are at a standstill. No one around the table could confidently say they understood or knew what they were going to do to combat the uncertainty brought around by Brexit. However, international growth is key for every one of them. The potential is outside of the EU, yet we still need to have a plan around all manner of trade deal eventualities.
The future of delivery
We ended on a look to the future of retail. Particularly what delivery innovations are in store. Despite plenty of excitement about the possibilities of something like drone delivery, one has to take in to consideration health and safety laws and robustness of the solution. For now, the dream seems a way off. Today it’s all about being pragmatic, and having the flexibility to change with the market. Giving customers a relevant breadth of options, and enabling them to find the one that’s right for them. The bottom line is, online customers want convenience. Trends and tastes change all the time, and retailers need to match that. However, where delivery is concerned, where retailers are overhauling their functions and partnerships, it needs to be for the right commercial reasons as well. At the centre of any fulfilment project should be your customers, your brand, and your products.”