How to use shipping as a competitive advantage

Retailers face stiff competition from both bricks and mortar companies and online marketplaces, so to get ahead it's vital that they create a sustainable competitive advantage.

Successful retailers are finding ways to turn shipping into a competitive advantage both for in-store shoppers and those who buy online.

Here we'll take a look at some of the ways that a multi-carrier management solution can help retailers gain a competitive advantage by delivering goods faster and at a lower cost while meeting customer demand for delivery choices.

Omnichannel

It is said that retailers don’t have a consumer demand problem. Instead, they have a real estate problem. Retailers have significant capital tied up in fixed assets (stores and fixtures) compared to online marketplaces. By investing in an omnichannel shipping strategy and the right technology to help manage an expanded portfolio of carriers to ship anywhere from anywhere, retailers can turn their real estate problem into an advantage.

The one place where retailers have the edge over online marketplaces is their brick-and-mortar store presence. Only the very largest eCommerce marketplaces have invested in physical fulfillment centres. A ship-from-store fulfillment strategy provides retailers with an opportunity to ship from inventory sources in closer proximity to consumers, thereby reducing delivery times and shipping costs.

Ship from store is an opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers to reconfigure storefronts into mini-distribution centres, pickup locations, and return centres. By merging digital and physical worlds, retailers can drive more customer foot traffic and increase the opportunity for upselling other products. Ship-from-store requires a multi-carrier management solution capable of scaling across hundreds or even thousands of store locations with carrier routing and label printing capabilities. Gone are the days of point shipping solutions. Instead, enterprise-class shipping platforms with high availability are a must.

A new day for same day

Leading the charge for ship-from-store is the increasing consumer demand for faster and more diverse delivery options. There was a time when two-day delivery would do. Then next-day. As grocery stores and other retailers cut delivery times to just hours, consumers expect the same from every retailer, regardless of where they are located or what products they are selling. As a result, shoppers are becoming increasingly impatient. Retailers that can deliver orders faster will gain a competitive advantage over those that can’t.

Retailers using a more traditional supply chain with centralised warehouses and distribution centres will continue to find themselves playing catch-up to those incorporating an omnichannel shipping approach. To support ship-from-store and same-day delivery services, multi-carrier management solutions not only need to scale across thousands of store locations, but they also need to support rating, labeling, and tracking across a much broader network of local couriers, white-glove freight carriers, and crowdsourced delivery services.

Drop ship from supplier

The impact eCommerce is having on shipping is not limited to retailer locations. Omnichannel fulfillment involves all supply chain participants, including shipping direct-to-consumer (D2C) from an endless aisle of manufacturer and supplier inventory. Drop-shipping not only reduces lost sales due to stockouts but, like ship-from-store, deliveries can be made from third-party locations that are closer to consumers, reducing delivery times and costs.

Extending the omnichannel shipping systems requires logistics systems with a multi-enterprise, federated architecture. Additionally, distributed order management systems (DOMS) and WMS systems allow businesses to see stock and fulfill orders from across a network of enterprises.

Multi-enterprise platforms are a perfect fit for 3PLs looking to adapt fulfillment processes to the specific needs of their customers. Instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, multi-enterprise solutions enable 3PLs to use a centralised administrative console to configure customer and role-specific workflows, branding, and UIs for each client within their community without disrupting any other client.

For this to work, multi-carrier management solutions need to support multi-enterprise architectures and processes. This means providing a ship from anywhere to anywhere, using multiple accounts for parcel, LTL, and local carriers. It also means supporting high-volume DC shipping, supplier shipping portals, and ship-from-store processes all from a single platform.

Sustainable shipping

There is a buzz in the logistics industry around sustainable shipping - and with good reason. Increasingly, consumers are demanding a better sustainability experience from retailers and marketplaces. Retailers are responding with eco-friendly and recycled packaging materials, greener shipping options with smaller carbon footprints, and more thoughtful packing practices that minimize excess fill and waste removal.

Shippers can deliver sustainable shipping that consumers desire while holding costs down, keeping some from abandoning their purchases. Here are three ways a multi-carrier management solution can help:

1. Slow down shipping
Many customers still want certain products such as groceries, some essentials, and urgent items sooner rather than later, but shoppers are willing to opt for greener delivery options, even if that means slower shipping lead times or in-store pickups to reduce the impact on the environment.

A multi-carrier management solution can apply routing and rating rules to find the most cost-effective and greener last mile delivery alternatives.

2. Green packing

Using recycled packaging materials will help retailers improve their sustainability image. Still, if products are packed into shipping containers in a way that results in shipping too much air or fill, the brand will suffer.

By packing items—either separately or grouping orders—into the rightsized containers, shippers will avoid waste and avoid unexpected carrier dimensional weight (DIM) fees.

3. Shorter delivery routes and alternate pickup points
As described above, omnichannel strategies favor shipments from inventory locations in closest proximity to consumers. In addition to reducing stockouts, delivery times, and shipping costs, omnichannel reduces a delivery’s carbon footprint by reducing the number of miles a vehicle must travel (and emit CO2) to the last mile.

Hold-at-location, lockers, return to store, and pick-up points are all omnichannel strategies that aggregate shipments in an eco-friendly way and should all be a part of a sustainable shipping strategy. A best-in-class multi-carrier management solution should be able to support all of these carrier services. In addition, an enterprise shipping platform should enable employees to process personal shipments, which, if added to outbound shipping volume, eliminates special trips to a carrier location.

Returns

Returns happen - and so reverse omnichannel logistics is increasingly a significant factor in the online shopping process and how shoppers perceive the post-purchase experience. Retailers that can offer easy, fast, and free returns will gain a competitive edge.

Getting an item to customers fast and cost-effectively takes an omnichannel shipping mindset and the right multi-carrier management technology. Equally important is the ability to use the same platform to help facilitate returns using “smart labels,” customer self-service widgets embedded in websites, and return portals that can direct customers to returns drop-off points.


With the right multi-carrier management platform, retailers can achieve a competitive edge by offering customers more cost-effective shipping and returns options while improving their sustainability experience.

Our team are on hand if you'd like to have a chat about anything we've discussed here or of you'd like to find out more about integrated shipping solutions that would benefit your business.

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