Ship-from-store fulfillment is one of the principal ways brick-and-mortar stores are becoming more responsive to the demands of ecommerce. For big box retailers (who face increasing competition from giants like Amazon) ship-from-store fulfillment provides additional flexibility in online sales. However, shipping from retail stores also creates several complex challenges.
Benefits of Ship-from-Store Fulfillment
Ship-from-store fulfillment helps fill several of the supply chain gaps companies with brick-and-mortar locations have trouble with. It gives stores the ability to move inventory that’s taking up valuable shelf space and reduces the amount of returned products that need to be transported back to the warehouse before being restocked.
The most important benefit of ship-from-store fulfillment is reduced shipping time. Direct fulfillment from local stores can cut down on the amount of time product spends in transit, enabling next-day or same-day delivery by creating small regional distribution hubs everywhere a company maintains a location.
For a company like Walmart, that means having a miniature hub within 10 miles of 90% of Americans.
Problems Created by Ship-from-Store Fulfillment
However, ship-from-store fulfillment isn’t a magic bullet. In fact, it can create issues for logistics professionals on several levels.
As retailers ship more product directly from the store, more people become involved in the supply chain. Retail workers who have little or no experience in the field are suddenly expected to become fulfillment professionals.
Retail sales is a whole different skill set than fulfillment, and expecting workers to manage both tasks flawlessly creates trouble. Even with a tech solution for streamlining picking and shipping, this skill gap can still become problematic.
In addition, a complex balance of technology and human-powered systems help keep warehouses and 3PL operations running smoothly. Many of these systems don’t transfer easily to a retail store environment.
To incorporate ship-from-store into the fulfillment network, new software systems need to be added to link all moving parts together in a way that ensures a seamless shopping experience. For large retailers, the scope of these projects can be astounding.
For example, inventory management software must simultaneously track inventory in stores and warehouses, while also calculating which can reach the customer first. This software needs to be updated in real time — take too long between purchase and fulfillment, and another customer may buy a product before it gets picked.
Carving Out a Place in the Supply Chain
Despite its challenges, ship-from-store fulfillment fits perfectly into the ecommerce supply chain in certain situations. Of course, it won’t ever replace traditional warehousing and logistics systems completely. But when added to a robust supply chain complete with regional warehouse nodes, portside storage, 3PL, and smart last-mile distribution and delivery, ship-from-store fulfillment is an immensely valuable strategy.
As retail shopping continues its gradual shift to ecommerce channels, demand for fast, efficient, local fulfillment options increases. For many brick-and-mortar retailers who are struggling to keep up, leveraging pre-existing physical space to fulfill orders online may help fill the gap. In addition, the same software that enables ship-from-store fulfillment can be used to automate in-store pickup, enhancing omnichannel retail experiences.
As fulfillment technology evolves to meet ecommerce demands, so will the fulfillment channels available to retailers. As free same-day shipping becomes the new benchmark, companies all along the supply chain will need to implement new tactics and technologies to keep up.