Fulfillment is the heart of the customer experience

Retail’s new route to customer happiness

Order management just got more critical.

Fulfillment = loyalty

You’re in retail, an entrepreneur and a visionary who’s not afraid to embrace new trends. But the change in customer fulfillment expectations that’s come about since e-commerce retailers entered the marketplace? That’s not a trend  —  it’s a seismic shift that can’t be ignored and that can affect the very core of your operations.

The disruption in retail we’ve seen over the past twenty years has positioned fulfillment at the heart of the customer experience.

The disruption in retail we’ve seen over the past twenty years has positioned fulfillment at the heart of the customer experience.

And now both enterprise and midmarket retailers need to embrace the insistent demand from the marketplace to deliver not just better fulfillment experiences to their customers, but happiness with each interaction. Perfecting order fulfillment and delivering compelling brand promises can create the happiness and trust that turns transactions into repeat customers and advocates.

Why do we call fulfillment the heart of the customer experience? Because it gets to what really matters. More and more, fulfillment is what drives the loyalty that keeps people coming back to your business, rather than to your competitor’s. And then there’s the business impact of a good or a bad fulfillment process. To grow, you need to keep the promises you make and deliver orders profitably.

Customer opens recently delivered retail order.

The new state of retail

Retail, disrupted

Retail has always been a competitive landscape that changes rapidly. But we’re now riding the wave of a major transformation. With the advent of e-commerce, online sellers grew rapidly. They offered innovative fulfillment options to entice new customers  —  and it worked. Gone was settling for a five-day delivery: it went down to two-day to next-day to nearly-now. There were even discussions of drones. Some businesses morphed to adapt, and others disappeared.

The fulfillment innovations that came with all this disruption have permanently raised the bar. Many organizations are trying to be nimbler and offer the customer preferred delivery options. But at what cost, for many of them  —  their profit margin? How many traditional retail organizations have been able to change their infrastructure to adapt in a sustainable way to the new fulfillment demands?

The customer experience, disrupted

Customers are far savvier today. Since the retail transformation, they are engaging and purchasing across multiple channels and blending their digital and in-store experiences  —  starting on mobile on their way to work, later, seeing a promotion on social media and buying online, then popping into a store on their way home to pick up their purchase.

They expect flexible delivery options from every retailer, and vote with their satisfaction scores and the ultimate approval  —  their continued loyalty, affecting the growth of your business.

Your interactions with customers need to have recognition and knowledge of past activity, as they come to the next touchpoint. I bought an item three months ago, I don’t remember the brand, or the channel, but please find it so I can buy two more. Oh, and I’d like to pick them up at my store tomorrow. To remain relevant, your retail infrastructure needs to be designed to manage these elevated expectations.

Your fulfillment, disrupted

Brick and mortar store fulfillment capabilities used to be straightforward cash-and-carry. Post-disruption, we have Save the Sale, Buy Online Pick Up in Store (BOPIS), Buy Online Return in Store (BORIS), Clienteling, Ship to Store and Ship from Store. Customers have information at their fingertips on their smartphones, so the roles of Call Center employees and store associates have changed. They’re expected to be brand ambassadors – to be able to find a customer’s order history, check inventory across the global network, modify in-flight orders, and find up-to-the-second information on the status of an order. Associates now also serve as fulfillment staff, performing pick, pack and ship functions.

Staying competitive means having the right mix of delivery options that best fits your clients. It might be same-day delivery to homes, easy click and collect or even lockers in subway stations in London. The point is that you need to give the clients who love your brand, or who you want to love your brand, the range of options that suits them, and that might change by demographics or region. Staying afloat as a business requires offering all these options profitably.

Supporting all of these options requires a powerful and agile order management foundation, one that has a global view of customers, orders, and inventory. Most organizations haven’t formalized new order management processes.

Two employees review an order on a store register computer screen.

What keeps fulfillment professionals up at night

What keeps fulfillment professionals up at night

Is your order management up-to-date?

If you’re not constantly improving, you’re falling behind. That couldn't be more true of today’s order fulfillment, where quick fixes only work for so long. The flow of orders in and shipments out doesn’t stop and neither do customer expectations. If you’re a fulfillment professional, what keeps you up at night?

  • How well does your system scale up to keep your fulfillment promises, especially during peak seasons?
  • How quickly can you see opportunities and take advantage of them?
  • What resources do you have focused on improving your customer experience versus overseeing the day-to-day management of your order management system?
  • Order management systems touch almost every system in your organization. If you do upgrade it, how will you reduce risk and time to value for your company?
A majority of retailers haven't implemented most omnichannel capabilities
Cross-channel returns/exchanges: 38%; Personalized customer communications: 37%; Unified customer account/order history across channels: 33%; Making in-store inventory visible online: 28%; In-store digital receipts: 27%; Click and collect or similar: 26%; Inventory fully available to all channels from one location: 26%; Delivering a seamless and consistent experience across sales channels: 25%; Marketing strategies geared towards converting any channel: 22%. Source:  Current Omnichannel Capabilities of Retailers Worldwide, Sept. 2017 (% of respondents)

IBM Sterling Order Management, reengineered for the new retail

IBM knows commerce. Our support excels from the beginning to the end of the commerce experience, extends to both enterprise and midmarket retailers, and has for decades.

We get that keeping customers happy is the experience you need to deliver, and we do all the heavy lifting behind the scenes to help make that happen – sustainably and profitably.

Maybe you thought that it wasn’t possible for one fulfillment solution to deliver what you need. Your order management has to manage inventory from all your locations, fulfill orders in the most profitable way, all while providing seamless omnichannel experiences between your web, stores and call centers. Only a provider with deep commerce expertise and an entire ecosystem of experienced partners can give you all the options you need to satisfy your customers.

When it comes to the heart of your operations — your order management system — we’re one of the leaders.. And it’s not just us saying that, it’s the analyst community. They use words like “robust,” “flexible,” and “extensive capabilities” to describe IBM Sterling Order Management.

One user stated that ‘the IBM secret sauce is in how accurate the available to promise (ATP) is and knowing precisely where things are.’2

What you need now to help manage the new state of retail and provide the cutting-edge fulfillment customers want:

  • A true omnichannel order management solution that can meet and beat customer delivery expectations, profitably
  • Nothing short of fulfillment excellence, meeting KPIs for accuracy, timeliness and flexibility
  • A vendor partner with a peak season-tested solution
  • Visibility across all inventory locations, including stores
  • A vendor partner who can install without risk, and respond to changes fast
Supply professionals plan orders around a meeting table.

You need a partner you can trust

You want to deliver consistent, exceptional experiences to every customer, no matter what level of traffic you’re experiencing.

This is what will help you build the customer loyalty that keeps them coming back instead of flirting with your competition. And how do you know you’ve reached real loyalty from a customer? They’re your advocate, a source of lifetime value.

Flash sales. One-day sales. Friends and family. Holiday seasons. Trending moments on social media. You need reliable performance even when volumes scale up to peak revenue phases. You can build peaks and valleys into a home-grown system to try to predict peak periods, but only a sophisticated platform can take advantage of the surprise of a sales spike, or help you avoid those dreaded markdowns by optimizing inventory.

IBM Sterling Order Management has powered more than a thousand holiday and peak seasons for clients. That level of experience is unique in the retail marketplace, ready to perform for you.

Updating an order management system is a large, complex task. It’s even been compared to heart surgery. Is your team ready and equipped for the challenge? Will you lose your job if this project goes bad? Making changes is going to be hard and may initially seem like a risk. But IBM’s years of expertise can help you minimize risk and streamline the process.

Further, with IBM, you have a village to help you start up. The IBM ecosystem of business partners has thousands of skilled resources to help you reduce risk and implementation time. IBM Business Partners often contribute add-ons suited to your market niche that can further enhance your solution. Many also offer add-ons that help you connect our order management solution with your other systems. Don’t get caught alone on an island, locked into one vendor for all your support.

Packages in a line on conveyer belt.

You need an order management system platform that’s easier to consume

Today, you need to innovate and create differentiated omnichannel experiences. But who has time for that? Consider an order management system that lets you focus your time and energy on creating customer experiences instead of one that drains your resources managing it.

When choosing an order management platform, you need one with modern architecture that was built for flexibility. IBM Sterling Order Management marries the trusted scale, and performance and security-rich environment you expect from a leading company like IBM with the speed and flexibility of a modern cloud microservices architecture.

A recent IBM Sterling Order Management implementation for a large retailer: from paperwork to go-live in 7 weeks

A recent IBM Sterling Order Management implementation for a large retailer: from paperwork to go-live in 7 weeks

Your order management system needs to be connected to your existing ERP, logistics and other systems. We’ve built the system to do that. And we’ve done it hundreds of times.

Finally, consider the big picture. Your organization will more likely be on board with a big change like order management if you begin your journey to the cloud one step at a time, at your own pace. IBM offers complementary cloud and on-premises order management solutions. Don’t be forced to the cloud before it makes sense for your business, just because it makes sense for the vendor.

Woman receives a package from delivery service.

You need an order management platform that’s easier to use

Does this sound familiar? When opportunities appear, I need to take advantage of them quickly before they disappear, but it takes so much time going back and forth with IT.

You need the control and ability to take action independently, without always having to write an IT ticket.

With IBM Sterling Order Management, business users have the ability to build their own dashboards and action panels, so they have complete control over order operations, without depending on IT. It’s easy for business users to monitor KPI’s that are important to them and take immediate action.

Consider the possibilities:

  • What SLA’s and metrics do you have in place today to measure your success in delivering the perfect order to your customers? How valuable would it be if your order fulfillment process could detect disruptions to customer orders and alert you before they impact customer promise dates?
  • If you want to change the availability of a fulfillment option, store or distribution center, modify an order or reallocate inventory or sourcing, how long does that take?
  • Are you able to take advantage of your stores to supplement your e-commerce fulfillment network to satisfy consumer demand during high volume peak days?
  • When fulfilling from your stores, are you able to do so in a cost-effective and profitable manner? If not, why not?
  • Are you comfortable having only one vendor that can modify your order management system?

The business case

Advanced order management can affect your bottom line

Right now, your competitors are investing in better omnichannel fulfillment. You need a system that can keep up with them. With IBM Sterling Order Management, you can be positioned to move faster and stay ahead of the competition.

You need to:

  • React quickly to market conditions to drive additional revenue and market share.
  • React quickly to fulfillment changes to ensure you keep your promises in the most profitable manner.
  • Protect margins by better managing inventory to avoid markdowns
  • Increase sales by protecting inventory for promotional events

The impact

So, what’s the business impact of moving to IBM Sterling Order Management? With our years of experience, we can help you minimize risk and streamline the process. We have an extensive ecosystem of experienced partners, and with them, we’ve done thousands of implementations. The result for you can be more repeat sales and higher satisfaction scores due to an improved customer experience.

Interested in learning how an industry-leading retailer saw an increase of $100 million in sales the first year by being able to say “yes we have that item in stock” to their customers?

Or how another retailer has increased foot traffic by fulfilling 50% of their online orders in store?

See the potential impact IBM Sterling Order Management can have on YOUR fulfillment operation. Answer 4 quick questions in our Benefits Calculator and get an estimate of the gross margin you’re leaving on the table if you can’t offer your customers the omnichannel options they expect.

IBM Sterling Order Management.
Put fulfillment at the heart of customer experience.

  1. Current Omnichannel Capabilities of Retailers Worldwide, (Sept. 2017).
  2. IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Distributed Order Orchestration for Enterprise Retailers 2018 Vendor Assessment Index, (July 2018).