There is a trust gap between shoppers and retailers when it comes to fulfilling online orders, and retailers are addressing the issue with technology, labor, and process improvements, according to a study from supply chain technology provider Zebra Technologies Corp., released this week.
Zebra’s 14th Annual Global Shopper Study found that 55% of retailers think shoppers trust them to fulfill online orders as promised, but only 38% of shoppers said they share that trust. Retail associates are less convinced as well, with 51% saying they trust their employer’s ability to deliver or fulfill customers’ online or mobile orders as promised. To remedy the situation, retail decision-makers say they are embracing solutions that “elevate the contributions of front-line staff and improve how inventory is planned and executed in stores and the broader supply chain,” according to the study.
Much of that involves reacting to changing shopper behaviors, including “do-it-yourself” (DIY) strategies in which shoppers research product information and availability before and during shopping trips—tasks that previously would have been handled by retail associates. Half of shoppers surveyed said they research product pricing online before they leave home, and nearly a third said they check store inventory before they leave home, according to the survey.
What’s more, about a third of consumers said they use their mobile devices to look up competitive prices or browse websites for products during shopping trips. And more than 70% said they have recently left stores without all the items they wanted, with nearly half citing out-of-stocks as the reason for not making an in-store purchase. Nearly 60% of shoppers said it’s faster to look up information on their smartphones than ask associates for help, and the majority of retail associates (64%) agree.
Retailers are responding by adjusting processes and adopting technology, according to Bill Inzeo, global retail technology strategist for Zebra Technologies. Steps include reallocating in-store associates for online order fulfillment, a task that has become increasingly important as brick-and-mortar stores function as mini-fulfillment centers and associates take on the task of “shopping for the customer.” Improving inventory item visibility throughout a store’s network is a crucial part of that process, Inzeo said, adding that companies are applying technologies such as inventory monitoring robots and RFID solutions that give item-level availability in real time.
“[A retailer’s] network of locations has become a network of supply chain nodes,” Inzeo said in an interview about the survey Wednesday, adding that many outlets function as fulfillment centers, pick-and-ship locations, and that some are “DCs in their own right.”
The changes necessitate a greater focus on data, he also said.
“Stores need inventory visibility to drive that better [customer] experience,” according to Inzeo. “As they are forecasting demand coming in, [they need to be] putting the right inventory at the right location at the right time.”
To address those issues, retail decision-makers are turning to workforce and task management software as well as mobile computers and barcode scanners, according to the survey.
“[Retailers] absolutely understand what needs to be done, what their customers are expecting, and [they are] seeing technology as the right investment to make to meet both of those expectations,” Inzeo said.
Victoria Kickham started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for DC Velocity.