Are you a physical retailer looking to go online? There’s no better way to get started with online sales than by using the ship from store technique.

In a store, order fulfillment usually ends at checkout unless the product is brought back for a return or replacement. But for online sales, the process begins when an online order is placed. 

There is the process of picking the right products, packing them and assigning them to a consignment, shipping them safely to the customer (or having it ready to be picked up), and delivery. 

Going omnichannel is about letting the consumer control the buying narrative. They can choose any fulfillment method they prefer. When the product catalog is limited, the process of fulfillment is easy from any location or hub. However, bring in just a few hundred different SKUs into the mix and it is a logistical nightmare.

What Is Ship From Store Fulfillment?

In the ship from store fulfillment process, retailers use their existing store, or network of stores, to fulfill orders placed on other channels. These other channels are usually online. Ship from store fulfillment is a fast, convenient way for retailers to use their existing inventory and space, and turn it into an order fulfillment hub.

When implemented successfully, this process can help retailers go omnichannel.

Benefits Of Ship From Store Fulfillment

There are several benefits to using a store as a fulfillment center, such as

  • Being able to ship the product from the store closest to the customer. This allows for faster fulfillment which several customers expect today.
  • Using the network of stores for fulfillment as opposed to maintaining a warehouse location. Warehousing can be expensive. Plus you’d need to hire more people to manage warehouse operations.
  • Cutting shipping costs by allowing the customer to pick up from the store. You can extend this to product returns thus reducing the burden of paying for a sale that never really happened.
  • Moving into online selling seamlessly. Instead of figuring out online sales from scratch, you can use the existing stock and locations for fulfillment.

Tips To Successfully Implement Ship From Store Fulfillment

Here are a few things you need to consider when turning your stores into fulfillment centers.

  1. Manage Inventory In Real-Time

    In spite of its growing popularity, running out of stock is a real problem with omnichannel retail. Particularly in a store scenario, a customer may checkout with the last product that has already been ordered online, and an unaware store employee may not be able to find the product they need to ship.

    You can avoid some of these issues by managing inventory across offline and online stores, and across locations. Also, real-time inventory tracking allows you to be alert to stock level changes and order products well before you run out. With consolidated inventory, you can ship products from stores that have stock as opposed to just the closest ones.

    If you want to go omnichannel, the best decision you can make is investing in a good inventory management system. This way, you can track orders across all channels even as they are being placed.

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  2. Decide On The Store Layout

    Store space is expensive. Since there is only so much inventory that a store can hold, thinking about layout helps. The idea is to use the same inventory to sell both offline and online.

    The other thing to consider is how you can stock up your store such that navigating through it is easy for customers and picking staff alike. J.C.Penney gets this right by designing its denim aisles to make sense to both stakeholders. A customer walking in sees a comprehensive display, while picking staff know which SKU can be found where within the display.

    You need a dedicated area within the store where your staff can pack online orders. This way, you ensure that there is no cross-selling and confusion over which product still belongs in the store and which one has been sold.

  3. Choose Your Packaging Wisely

    With order, fulfillment comes packaging, but you only have so much space in a store. The best thing you can do is go lean with the packaging. We don’t mean this in terms of how much material you use.

    Try and order as much of your packaging material as possible on-demand. It helps to find a packaging material vendor close to your store location. You can also ask the shipping partner to provide packaging material- be sure to arrange for weekly drop-offs so you don’t store too much.

    As discussed earlier, it helps if you have a dedicated area in the store for order fulfillment. This way, the store looks tidy, the staff have clarity and your process runs smoothly.

  4. Train Your Store Staff

    The long-term goal with omnichannel retail is to be able to process any customer request across any channel, including hybrid models. If employees are not on board, it can lead to tons of unwanted confusion.

    You need to think through how many new people you need and for which function. Discuss added responsibility with existing staff. Train everyone on handling online orders and returns, and explain your policy on these matters.

  5. Think About Order Fulfillment

    In using stores as fulfillment centers,

    • people far from the location can buy online,
    • people close-by have a choice,
    • anyone can order online and pick up from a store close to them.

    One of the biggest costs of online selling is the cost of shipping. If you can find ways to cut this out while also improving customer experience, you have a win-win situation.

    For customers in the locality, make in-store pickups lucrative with trial options, personal advice and all of the service that people come to stores for. This way, you avoid shipping costs, connect with the customer personally and might even be able to sell an extra product or two.

    If you do need to ship it out locally, consider using local delivery services as opposed to nationalized shippers like FedEx. Particularly for items that weigh more or have larger dimensions, using a local last-mile delivery service might be a better option. 

  6. Revamp Your Service And Policies

    With a sales model whose primary aim is to help you sell better, exemplary service is non-negotiable. There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than a store employee who is unclear on policies and thus won’t entertain requests.

    While you’re at it, what policies do you want in place? Seamless, clear returns and replacement policy is important- you want to allow customers to return and replace their products across any store. Find ways to make even returns a pleasant experience.

    Also, consider how you’ll handle conflict. If a walk-in customer picks a product that you just sold online, how do you solve for it? Communicate clearly and politely to the customer and point them in the direction of similar products. Doing it gently is key because it also gives you a chance to tell them about online ordering without making them upset.

  7. Consider Using Dark Stores

    Also known as dotcom centers, dark stores are a middle path between fulfilling from the store vs. fulfilling from a warehouse.

    Debuted by Sainsbury’s in the early 2000s, retailers like Tesco today build dark stores in places where they have a huge number of online orders but not enough commercial real estate. This helps them fulfill orders faster while also costing lesser. Today, dark stores are a global concept.

    You can choose to have your dark store space right above the actual store so that any orders that two customers place for the same product can also be fulfilled from these places.

The Last Word

Done well, turning your store into a fulfillment center can expedite the shipping, let stores pay for their upkeep with online sales, and even reduce the problem of overstocking. An omnichannel strategy ensures that your customers also stand to benefit from such an exercise in the form of better customer service and more fulfillment options. Use the right tools and resources to help you along the new process, and get your team on the same page before you begin.