When looking into the world of omnichannel logistics, great focus can be given particularly to the concept of omnichannel fulfilment, meaning the art of fulfilling orders in a variety of ways, via multiple channels, bringing all the inventory into one pile.

With the ever-growing standards and options that consumers are requesting such as “fast delivery”, “next day delivery”, “delivery in two hours from now" or "order online and pick up in the store closer to you", businesses need to re-think about what kind of warehousing processes and online channels they need when wishing to implement the omnichannel experience.

Historically, when customers would order something online, their desired brand would pick the order, pack the item, and ship it them from their ecommerce facilities (separate or multiple ones). Today, with omnichannel fulfilment, the advantage of fulfilling orders smoothly in a variety of ways is there, no matter the size of the companies choosing this strategy. Omnichannel fulfilment allows to specifically fulfil multiple orders, across multiple channels and spanning multiple countries.

What is an example of omnichannel fulfilment strategy?

Brands, in collaboration with their logistic provider of choice, can achieve omnichannel fulfilment in several ways: from warehouses (fulfilment centres), from stores or from 3rd party partners. The key is to break the barriers between channels, to improve customer experience, increase sales, and lower inventory cost. This can be done by:

  • Buy online, then pickup in store.
  • Buy online, then return to the store.
  • Buy in store, then ship from a distribution centre.
  • Buy online, then ship from a store.

How can businesses set up omnichannel fulfilment?

Fulfilment centres emphasize order processing capability and features related to order process such as packing, waving, bulk picking, etc. In classic B2B fulfilment warehouse, businesses normally would have a setup for receiving, storing, and packing the cargo that were designed for very large, bulk orders usually at a purchase order level.

On the other hand, an omnichannel warehouse is different, as it handles incoming orders from all other possible channels. Today, through omnichannel fulfilment, businesses can focus more on delivering small orders, even down to the item-level, aggregating multiple small orders coming in from multiple channels into a combined inventory pile. To set up an omnichannel fulfilment warehouse, businesses need to:

  • Analyse their channels and orders, size of returns, seasonality, etc. to determine what kind of omnichannel model should be implemented, what are the order interfaces with their end-customers, what are the key indicators for each order, and what is the volume for each different channel.
  • Analyse their current warehousing set up, according to the nature of their produced items (as apparel, electronic, or else will need a different set up), looking into the packing unit for both inbound and outbound, what kind of labelling and barcodes are needed, what is the status with their quality control, their inventory, and additional services requirement. This also means looking into the layout design, the storage system, and the status of the current warehousing automation, if present.
  • Rearrange their staff, recruiting and organising the training of new or present employees, based on the necessary skills that the omnichannel fulfilment centre will need going forward.

It's all about sorting resources such as people (management teams that understand how to manage an omnichannel fulfilment centre, distribution centre or distribution network) and assets (facilities and equipment used to manage orders and processes, at times automated).

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How does omnichannel fulfilment help businesses? What are the benefits?

  • Profitability: omnichannel fulfilment allows businesses to share inventory across channels, allocating products from different stores, and allowing the business to include any return back into stock as fast as possible, therefore improving their profitability and prevent costly overstocking.
  • Data insight: by providing data across channels from one source, omnichannel fulfilment allows customer to get better data insight for forecasting, planning, and making business decisions.
  • Market access: omnichannel fulfilment expands a business’ access to market via channels like online web shops, physical stores, reseller channels, etc. potentially increasing their cross-selling opportunities.
  • Extra value: when activated, omnichannel fulfilment can be combined with a wider range of storage options and configurable value-added services like. quality inspection, quality inspection, packaging, labelling, and sorting, expanding the efficacy of a business’ logistics.
  • Better end-to-end integration: powerful omnichannel fulfilment solutions that integrates with existing systems provide real-time visibility, improve operational efficiency and build stronger relationships with a business’ end-customers to drive a brand’s growth.
A man who bought products online and picked them up at the store

What are the current trends and innovations in the fulfilment space?

In 2023, the world of omnichannel fulfilment is seeing primarily two strong trends: warehousing automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Across countries of all sizes and economic growth stages, there seems to be a strong interest towards standardising operations and investing in technological innovation. The trajectory of warehouse automation, especially for order processing, picking, and packing has been strong. This is due to the low cost of it (in the long run), the added efficiency, the high accuracy, and the continuous innovations. Moreover, artificial intelligence (AI) is showing strong potential in data analysis to archive better inventory accuracy and forecasting. Reinforcement learning AI algorithms (that learn to make decisions based on feedback from the environment) can be used when multiple sources of inventory replenishment are present, and businesses need to decide between replenish from a cheaper offshore supply or source locally at a higher cost. Similarly, reinforcement learning AI can be used when managing inventory for omnichannel, to 1) prescribe how much should be stocked centrally to leverage inventory pooling benefits; 2) understand which are the products to stock locally to ensure fast delivery; 3) choose from which warehouse or which storefront different orders should be filled.

Omnichannel fulfilment strategy

Overall, omnichannel fulfilment provides ease, connectivity, and flexibility. From stores to web shops, businesses that choose to manage their ecommerce logistics utilizing omnichannel fulfilment can find success managing their incoming goods, storing them in designated storage locations, managing inventory, synchronizing their multiple sales channels, and optimizing their final-mile delivery - all while achieving the greatest benefit of all: a happy, fulfilled, and excited end-customer.

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