Companies that sell through multiple sales channels; retail, internet, and catalog, will be taxed to perform at the expectations of their customer’s experience with major brands. The ability of the customer to research a product and order on the web are already here. But now consider that they can decide based on expediency of need and closeness to a store, where to have it delivered/picked up. With major retailers you can elect to pick it up in the store the same day which is rapidly becoming the norm. This is true from shopping for electronics, apparel or even auto parts.
There are many terms for this retailing method from multi-channel to Omni-channel to all-channel. The key for this to be successful is to have all aspects of the enterprise integrated systemically. From inventory availability across the enterprise to all marketing, merchandising and other supply chain functions need to be integrated and updated in real time. From the Omni-channel shopper’s perspective it is purchase anytime, anywhere, and delivered/picked up at any place.
The inventory strategy of combining inventory that use to be siloed by selling channel and the flexibility to complete a sale regardless of where the inventory resides; inventory should turn quicker. Turning inventory quicker leads to fewer markdowns and means less weeks of supply on hand and correlates to less inventory carrying costs. Returns can become more efficient as well as providing better customer service. You no longer have to ship the merchandise back to a central warehouse because it was a web only item. The website can recognize that the item exists in a store and have it fulfilled from the store. The customer is satisfied because they get their refund without any delays had they shipped the item back to your fulfillment center.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems have come a long way in the past five years and now many offer these types of functions. An (ERP) system that has a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) module that ties a purchase from any sales channel to the customer so that if they need to return an item they can do so through any sales channel - even one they may not have purchased from. This also includes all aspects of the customer’s purchases and returns whether they are open or historical orders.
We encourage you to review your customer's holiday experiences and listen to their feedback. These unified system features will go a long way for making your customer’s experience an enjoyable one, which they will want to continue shopping with you.