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How Retailers Can Drive Fulfillment Through Flexible Fulfillment

Digital retail sales skyrocketed in 2020, up 44% from the prior year alone. And the curve continues upward. According to a report from eMarketer, online sales will surpass $933 billion in 2021.

While the latest ecommerce growth is extraordinary on its own, there’s another important shift in consumer behavior that gross sales numbers don’t reveal; the percentage of digital sales fulfilled at a physical store also continues to rise. According to E&Y’s US Future Consumer Index nearly 40% more shoppers are likely to purchase goods online and pick them up in store in the next year.

40%

more shoppers are likely to purchase goods online and pick them up in store in the next year.

The Proliferation of Fulfillment Options During Covid-19

While customers are demonstrating their preference for purchasing online, brick-and-mortar locations remain critical to the digital growth of major retailers when it comes to fulfillment. Target is one case in point. In the second quarter of 2021, the giant retailer reported that more than 95% of its sales were fulfilled by its stores. The same press release also stated that Target’s digital sales continue to be led by same-day fulfillment services. Their same-day options including drive up, in store, and same day delivery, grew an astounding 270% over the same period last year.

These numbers and others prove that to drive strong conversion, retailers must give customers flexible order fulfillment options when and where they prefer. In addition, retail fulfillment must be convenient, fast, and seamless. While Amazon initially set the bar where speed of fulfillment was concerned, major retailers like Target and Walmart are driving up customer expectations for ecommerce fulfillment that can occur anywhere the customer wants.

Retailers have long been innovating the process of assembling and shipping customer orders as part of digital transformation, but COVID-19 accelerated the need for a range of fast and convenient fulfillment options like in-store and curbside pickup, pickup lockers, same day pickup and others. And this expectation continues today. Now that consumers are aware of all the different fulfillment options, they will leverage whatever is most convenient and quick for them. If you don’t provide the fulfillment options your customers prefer, they will shop with your competitors who do.

Examples of Convenient Fulfillment Options

How to Keep Up With Fulfillment Leaders

The good news is that you don’t have to build all the fulfillment capabilities that mirror what Amazon, Walmart, or Target are providing. Instead, you need to focus on creating the order fulfillment options that are relevant and preferred by your own customers. At its best, eCommerce fulfillment is focused on the customer’s desired experience as part of a supply chain strategy that meets your overall business goals.

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The authors of a 2021 Harvard Business Review report on retail’s post-pandemic future state that fulfillment has now become the “cornerstone of the customer experience.” According to the HBR experts, today’s retail success comes down to successful fulfillment, or eCommerce’s “last mile.”

To successfully meet your customers’ changing order fulfillment needs requires a technology platform that can adapt to their unique preferences. It must also be part of a supply chain that can support a seamless, omnichannel customer experience no matter where or when fulfillment happens. Many companies are falling behind because they don’t have the skills, tools, or resources needed to meet changing consumer behavior shopping trends.

Fortunately, new and emerging technology continues to transform retail fulfillment, creating seamless, real-time fulfillment capabilities. While your customers may not need or expect immediate order fulfillment, determining their unique fulfillment option preferences may require some work. Journey mapping, for example, may be needed to better understand all the circumstances for which your customers will demand fulfillment options. It’s also important to remember those preferences are likely to change based on new product lines, seasonality, segments, location, and other factors.

When it comes to fulfillment, customers are seeking the same kind of personalized experience they expect during the entire buying journey. To meet those expectations, you’ll need technology that can provide a seamless omnichannel experience from start to finish. That means strong integration with your suppliers’ systems as well as visibility throughout the entire supply chain. Customers must also be able to view the order process, and communicate with you in a real-time, convenient manner.

Rest assured however, you don’t have to build fulfillment options identical to Target or Walmart. Instead, we can help you establish a fulfillment strategy that is most relevant for your unique business.

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