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Inside Retail & Knapp

3 distribution challenges and how to solve them

When the pandemic hit and turned the retail world upside down, many e-commerce retailers were almost immediately overloaded with orders, supply chains were interrupted, delivery delays were aplenty and customers were unhappy. All of a sudden, the focus was on distribution and fulfilment. Never has it been more important for businesses to ensure they have solid strategies in place to make it through the pandemic and beyond. 

Here are some of the biggest headaches that online retailers are struggling with right now – and what you can do about them.

A failure to view stock availability

So many consumers have had the experience of heading online to buy something, going through the checkout and sadly finding out later that the item isn’t actually available. Cue total chaos for the retailer and customer frustration.

This is particularly a common problem for multichannel retailers, explains Michael Kemeny , managing director at automation and intelligence business, Knapp. These businesses could sell direct-to-consumer via online and bricks-and-mortar stores and sell some product through various wholesale partners. Without being able to keep track of stock, it can be a recipe for disaster.

“These retailers don’t have visibility of their own inventory over different entities. They have no clue what’s actually stored in the warehouse, what’s in their shops. One of the biggest challenges for retailers is definitely stock and the lack of stock management over these different channels,” Kemeny says.

It’s worth looking into a capable software solution that’s linked to your other systems, from the enterprise level down to the store and warehouse, Kemeny recommends. That way, retailers get an overall view of what stock is coming in and out of the business, ensuring a streamlined process and importantly, keeping customers happy.

Limited workforce availability

It’s not easy finding good warehouse staff and keeping them, but the key is to motivate and empower them – while also considering automation to help support the business, says Kemeny.

“So often, warehouse staff are overlooked, but they’re the backbone of retail businesses and should be valued,” he explains. 

“These warehouses are often in the middle of nowhere and to get people to work there and stay working there is an amazing challenge. Warehouse staff turnover is high. You can put a bit of effort into these guys on the floor, then they get another job with another company for 50c more an hour and they’re gone.”

On the other hand, due to social distancing restrictions, another problem is creating new workflows while keeping staff safe and healthy.

“Automation in combination with management tools help to ensure you have the right people at the right time in the right place,” says Kemeny. 

“There are plenty of software tools that do staff and operational planning with artificial intelligence in the backend. Based on historic data, they can help you plan your staff roster, but you can still adjust it to manage any bottlenecks and over capacities.”

Changing customer behaviour

In this current climate, there is a range of different consumers. ‘Revenge’ shoppers who are treating themselves to new things because they’ve been stuck in lockdown. Cash-strapped shoppers who are making online purchases with smaller quantities. Shoppers who now have more money due to their overseas holiday being cancelled.

One thing remains though – online retail has skyrocketed and customer delivery expectations are sky high.

“Because of Covid and the restrictions on certain items, you’ll see a complete change of order behaviour and profile, so it means that a lot of retailers are trying to manage more orders but with less quantities,” says Kemeny. “Then of course, based on that, there is an ever shortening lead time and more same- or next-day deliveries.” 

Kemeny recommends investing in smart technology, which can help retailers take care of new order profiles and customer behaviours. Flexible automation can manage all of your warehouse processes while dealing with replenishments and overstock.

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