One of the hottest trends in retail right now is BOSS: Buy Online and Ship to the Store for pickup (very similar to, but not the same, as BOPIS, or Buy Online, Pickup In Store).
It’s the digital version, for us dinosaurs, of going to a department store and having them order the right size when something wasn’t in stock. Except now, thanks to the latest shipping tech, you can order online as well and you’re usually not waiting for a week. It’s something that Walmart, Target, and Amazon (among many, many others) are doing, and consumer demand for it is skyrocketing.
A chief reason is that you’re saving a lot by shipping to stores in bulk instead of directly to individual customers, which cuts a variety of costs including your packaging and infill.
If you’re interested in exploring the retail opportunity for your location, there’s a lot to think about and explore. In this first of a series of posts, we’re going to look at technical needs for incorporating the option right now and soon will touch on implementation and preparation as well as some major challenges.
So, let’s get started with the most significant factor in all of this: data and understanding.
Track Data Everywhere
The first step to adding a ‘buy online ship to store’ capability to your business is just getting your inventory systems strong enough to track your data everywhere. All your locations, including retail and warehousing, need to be able to share information, and your dashboards should be clear.
Start with online sales and POS data so that you’re accurately understanding your total order volume. Mastering BOSS needs this to be able to estimate sales online and store demand (both sales and online pickup) to keep inventory levels correct.
Track as much information as you can. Conversion rates for online and in-store traffic can demonstrate where you’re finding success and which products aren’t moving. It’ll allow you to plan for the stock you need to fill in-store purchases as well as handle the online order you get today. The better you know your customers and orders, the better you’re able to predict purchases and plan ahead for a speedy BOSS pickup.
Enhance Warehouse Software
Building upon your sales data is warehouse and inventory data. You’ll want a single platform that can look across retail locations, warehouses, and current shipments to know where everything is.
Real-time accuracy to your inventory, including what’s in transit, is vital to BOSS. That clarity will make it easier for you to know that every order can be covered or where you need to shift your inventory.
This is how you counter spikes in demand.
Let’s say your best-selling product just got an unlikely celebrity endorsement on Twitter. That’s amazing and demand is going to skyrocket. Knowing what you have in a store’s stockroom and in trucks on the way to that store can help you determine if it’ll be able to hold out for in-store and BOSS sales until your next regular shipment or if you need to run an extra truck to keep inventory levels safe.
Plus, pairing inventory data with the sales information around this new surge will help your team ensure they’re replenishing at the right time — you’re not running out of stock but you’re also not loading up a store with so much that staff can’t maneuver around the stock room.
The better the software tools you’re using, the better you can adapt and optimize so you’re not overspending on shipments, expediting packages to meet promises, or moving too much stock to a store that can’t move it or hold it.
Add the Option Online Everywhere
While we initially focused on some of the technical aspects, this is more of a strategy piece. You need to broadcast the BOSS availability and make sure it’s easy to use on your website. That means prominent placement in your marketing and advertising when it goes live, plus clear links to how it all works.
Create a page that simply explains how the process works and what your typical turnaround time is. Put buttons on the pages where it works and be clear about what’s covered.
It takes a lot of effort to get this off the ground and to make any extra shipments viable for your business, so do your best to spread the word. If you’ve to add one BOSS shipment per week for each retail location, every order filled means greater savings per order.
A quick note here is that you’ll want to do plenty of testing with the buttons and capabilities before it goes live and immediately after. Test in controlled and real-world settings to ensure you’re okay to go.
General or Precision BOSS?
The final consideration for you to incorporate a true BOSS option is to take all of that information and determine how you want to execute.
The best place to start with understanding implementation will likely be your demand for the service. Having many BOSS orders will require significant logistics and fulfillment, while only having a handful might mean you can make do with the store’s inventory. BOSS, in general, can come into two flavors:
- Precision one-for-one fulfillment: you’re shipping specific items to a store location to meet a specific order placed by a customer. These are more common when inventory is high-cost and has a slow turnover, or the retail location doesn’t normally sell this item.
- General batch fulfillment: you try to have the inventory on-hand in the store stockroom to fill online orders. You are shipping goods from your warehouse to a store in large batches so that they already have what they need to fill your pickup orders.
If you’re tracking and using data, then it is easy to run batch fulfillment, using in-stock inventory to meet online orders. When you have the space to do this, it can lead to customers getting their online orders much more quickly and prevents you from needing to expedite any shipments. It’s a good win-win.
For small shops or when you have an item that is uniquely heavy or hard to store, one-for-one can be a great move. This limits you from needing to make space in your stockroom — another big benefit if the items don’t sell that often. Just be sure to provide a clear expectation of pickup times to your customers and you’ll be in decent shape.
If you’re struggling to see what might be right for you, try talking to fulfillment companies that are a good fit for your size, because they can offer tips or a direct service to help you manage.
Target your BOSS flavor to your products, on-site storage space, and orders. The technology for understanding and predicting customers and their orders is only going to get better, so lay the groundwork now and get ready to scale in the future.
About the writer: Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an e-commerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of e-commerce. He has years of experience in e-commerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.
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