In 2020, more than two billion people bought goods and services online, while online retail sales surpassed 4.2 trillion U.S. dollars (statista). What, how, and where consumers buy has clearly changed over the past years. The most significant enabler of this change is IT innovation. Customers engage with brands and retailers online and offline. They engage before, during, and after their purchase.
These changes in customers’ purchase behavior put traditional brick-and-mortar businesses in competition with new companies born out of the digital revolution. New competitors host deep knowledge in data, technology, and digital supply chains. With big platform retailers like Amazon, traditional retailers are experiencing immense competitive pressures. The named trends have long been underway, but they undoubtedly accelerated with the implications of the Covid crisis. Retailers and brands are increasingly forced to respond to the structural changes by adapting supply chains, retail channel configuration, and fulfillment capabilities.
With decreasing footfall in cities, we know that consumers are taking new paths towards buying products. The customer journey in the 21st century starts online more and more (statista). Scholarship has begun to conceptualize and investigate the phenomenon of ‘Customer Journey Design’. Identifying when and where the customer gets in touch with the multiple channels along the ‘Customer Journey’ is vital for the ability to build a brand. Most retailers and brands have established new retail channels and increasingly offer features like click and collect.
Fast and agile
For competitive online retail, the most critical factor to consider is fast delivery. According to research by McKinsey, ‘the race to shorten click-to-customer cycle time is arguably the single greatest influence on the shape of future omnichannel supply chains’. From experience, we all know that when one online retailer or brand can not deliver the desired article, it is easy to move on to another retailer.
In a race to offer the fastest delivery times, unforeseen changes in consumer demand are among the more pressing challenges. During the Covid19 pandemic, we witnessed how demand for furnishings, kitchen equipment, and office supplies rapidly increased. This change in demand is challenging as it is hard to foresee and therefore difficult to prepare for.
Such developments force traditional retailers to rethink their supply chains. Today, many buyers have to manually manage the data that suppliers share with them. Through digitizing and automating such processes, much labor can be saved, and the ability to quickly adapt to changing consumer environments is improved. The ideal solution allows retailers to access and transfer all product information, inventory levels, pricing agreements, and tracking details on one platform. Through a digitized supply chain, transaction costs and lead times are reduced, ultimately improving operational excellence and competitiveness. Moreover, companies can use innovative machine learning systems to analyze consumer behavior. Identifying changing patterns in sales location, retail channels trends, and seasonal trends can be a significant advantage in avoiding adapting to changes in demand.
Dropshipping is a strategic tool in the pursuit to meet dynamically changing consumer demand without increasing inventory investments. Through drop shipping, retailers can offer products shipped from various suppliers who dispatch directly to the customer. When demand changes, drop shipping allows for meeting consumer demand without increasing risks associated with inventory investments. A seamless transfer of product information through a sound digital integration will enable retailers to extend their products offered without increasing SKUs. Features like endless aisle enable retailers to offer entire product ranges without any investment in SKUs.
The consumer product industry is changing rapidly. The success of giant online retail platforms like Amazon is unprecedented and exercises enormous competitive pressure on traditional retail channels. The main driver of this change is, of course, digital innovation. But this time, it is not only circumstantial changes that force the industry to adopt technology; it is also the consumer demand that requires businesses to react. In times of rapidly evolving innovation and intense competitive pressure, the need to embody that change becomes inescapable. Omnichannel marketing, digital supply chains, machine learning, and drop shipping are all trends that hold the potential to drive success in today’s competitive retail environment.
These rapidly unfolding developments put retailers and brands at risk of falling behind. Responding to this does not require changing entire ERP systems. Instead, platforms hold the potential to host many retailers, brands, and dropshipping partners. All parties can exchange product information, stock messages, and pricing information through such platforms in real-time. This allows participants to trade with one another effortlessly, ultimately increasing the ability to react to demand changes and offer fast lead times.