The secret to retailer success lies in evolving the store into a place to solve customer problems, relying on the speed and convenience of fulfillment to compete in today’s unified commerce environment. On the store execution level, store managers are trying to master the combination of order fulfillment, inventory visibility and staffing needs to keep up with customer demands, according to JDA Software Group’s second annual Voice of the Store Manager Survey.
Overcoming frustrations and challenges
As the lines between online and in-store continue to blur, order fulfillment (29 percent) and limited staffing (29 percent) are evenly split as the biggest challenge for retailers at the store level, followed by inventory visibility (24 percent) and scheduling/workforce management (18 percent).
When it comes to challenges with store inventory, survey respondents find that inaccurate data (31 percent) and limited stock and slow replenishment (31 percent) are the biggest challenges for operations. However, the majority of store managers (64 percent) are using technology in some capacity to check store inventory availability, whether it be real-time inventory visibility via mobile or wearable devices (33 percent) or a central computer system (31 percent).
“Based on the results of our Voice of the Store Manager survey, it’s clear that retailers are making progress to better handle operations in today’s retail environment, but inventory and staffing needs are often a bottleneck,” said Jim Prewitt, vice president of retail industry strategy at JDA, in a news release. “It’s not a question of whether stores will evolve, but rather a question of ‘to what?’ Successful retailers are looking at how quickly their supply chain and store operations need to react and adapt.”
Fulfillment options on the rise
While there has been a lot of speculation around a retail apocalypse, new fulfillment options are offering ways for stores to provide ease and convenience to busy customers while driving traffic back into stores. Forty-four percent of respondents said their stores offer buy online ship from store services; additionally, 41 percent offer buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS), 40 percent offer buy in-store ship to home, and 38 percent offer buy online return in-store (BORIS).
According to store managers, BOPIS services (41 percent) and buy online ship from store services (40 percent) have seen the largest increase in customer usage. Though all fulfillment options rely heavily on inventory visibility and staffing for pick, pack and ship in order to meet customer fulfillment timelines:
- Respondents have staff allocated to support BOPIS (65 percent), BORIS (64 percent), buy in-store ship to home (61 percent), buy online ship to store (59 percent), and buy in-store ship to home/store from another store (49 percent).
- Forty-one percent of store managers believe lack of visibility across inventory is the biggest difficulty when it comes to BOPIS services.
- Thirty-six percent of store managers say their stores currently offer a discount to customers who utilize BOPIS services, and another 14 percent are currently testing/researching options.
“As customer expectations continue to rise, it will be crucial for brick-and-mortar stores to streamline how they fulfill customer orders and work to draw in shoppers with incentives for in-store fulfillment options like BOPIS, as verified by our recent JDA Consumer Survey,” added Prewitt. “In the future, we foresee some stores evolving into distribution centers, fulfilling 100 percent of customer demand, while others will morph into showrooms with centralized fulfillment.”
The other area for improvement for stores is the influx of inventory due to BORIS offerings, with two in three store managers reporting some difficulty with the service. Thirty percent of respondents are unsure of what to do with the additional inventory received through BORIS services, and lack direction as to whether to keep it at the store or return to a distribution center or even another store. Additionally, nearly 30 percent of store managers reported a staff-related concern with regard to BORIS.
Finding the right team members
With the rising popularity of the “gig economy,” more than 40 percent of store managers are already reporting that a small number of their store staff (less than 25 percent) are part of the gig economy. One in four store managers are exploring the possibility of leveraging additional labor—such as short-term contractors or freelance workers—outside of the traditional workforce.
According to respondents, 60 percent of store managers plan to hire the same amount of temporary labor for the 2017 holiday season as they did last year; while 24 percent plan to hire more this year. However, the focus of the seasonal staff may be changing to meet customer demand; over 40 percent of seasonal holiday hires will be for fulfillment at stores/warehouses and not customer facing. This was even higher among respondents in rural areas, who were far more likely (61 percent) to hire fulfillment staff rather than customer-facing staff. The other fulfillment area that store managers are planning to increase hiring for is BOPIS, with one in three respondents hiring temporary staff specifically for the service this year.
“As store operations change with increasingly complex order fulfillment capabilities, the demands for staffing will change as well,” said Prewitt. “Based on our survey results, we predict there will be an uptick in tailored staffing hires for both BOPIS and ship-from-store services.”
JDA collected responses from 252 U.S.-based retail store managers in August 2017 via a third-party provider to determine the findings of its 2017 Voice of the Store Manager Survey.