The pace of change sure has picked up in the last two years.

COVID-19 has accelerated profound business trends, including the massive consumer shift to digital channels. E-commerce sales are up 31.3% year over year.

Direct-to-consumer e-commerce distribution operations were on the rise for years, but during our “unprecedented times,” this world not only experienced growth, but a near overhaul. Sales records were shattered as companies scrambled to bolster their systems and find the appropriate staff to support it all.

As we’ve said before, the most important lessons learned are the ones that prepare us for the future.

>>> What can we learn from 2021?

>>> What does the future hold for DTC and e-comm?

>>> How should your operation pivot in light of it all?

TREND #1: Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) is part of doing business

During the height of Covid, many stores had to create a program that allowed customers to shop from home, but come into the store to get their items. Retailers implemented BOPIS in a variety of ways: a designated customer service or BOPIS pickup area (inside the store), curbside pickup, or even using BOPIS retail lockers.

In many instances, BOPIS offers a variety of great benefits to shoppers and retailers, alike. But only when it’s done well. The goal is to have frictionless convenience and speed of an online shopping experience with same-day fulfillment.

To truly take advantage of this trend, and continue to meet consumer expectations, retailers need to properly implement this as a permanent long-term fixture, not just a quick fix to get through the ups and downs of variants and spikes and cases of Covid.

One huge need for this system to work efficiently is to be able to optimize your labor.

>> Does your team have what it needs to fulfill customers orders and expectations?

>> Do you have a real-time view of inventory that works across your warehouse or distribution centers and sales floors?

>> Are your people trained to pick and pack in the most efficient way possible?

>> Where can technology help your operation?

TREND #2: Customers are not the only marketing priority

While many companies are spending the majority of their marketing dollars chasing down customers or clients, the smartest companies are also putting marketing efforts towards their current and future employees.

If you want to attract customers, focus on showcasing your brand as distinctive and known for solving a very specific problem. When it comes to attracting new employees, similar principles apply.

Money may get someone in the door, but it won’t keep them there if the culture or values don’t line up. How do you stay properly staffed when the competition to get employees is so high and separated by mere dollars an hour (or less)?

You’ve worked hard to create a culture that helps employees thrive. Don’t risk losing that by working with just any labor staffing company. Work with a true, vested partner that ensures the culture you promote through recruitment marketing is the same culture employees experience on the job.

TREND #3: Returns matter just as much as purchases

As you consider supporting your labor to optimize purchasing, don’t forget the returns process. Two out of three shoppers say they would not shop with a retailer again after a negative returns experience.

>> How easy is it for customers to return items purchased online?

>> How well does your workforce and operation handle returns?

Whether it is helping with last-mile fulfillment or easy curbside returns, real estate is being repurposed to support e-commerce. Warehouses and DCs have become harder to find, as DTC e-comm grows, meaning that operations need to think carefully about how to use space well.

This may mean an increased need for 3PLs and 4PLs to serve the increased volume in e-commerce in creative ways. For instance, old malls are being turned into DCs and warehouses. Is this something your operation has considered?

Additionally, operations are finding that ramping down from peak season may not be the same this year. With the global supply chain strain, ships being stuck at sea or waiting to get into ports for months, there will be a one-of-a-kind returns season in 2022. Products that should have been on shelves in October will be unloaded in February. Is your operation prepared to handle this unique labor and logistics headache?

TREND #4: Flexibility and innovation win – again

Now that we’ve seen the world turned upside down, e-commerce taking a bigger slice of the retail pie, and DTC demanding both more automation and more personalization… is there any going back?

No way.

It’s hard to believe that we’re nearly 2 years into a global pandemic, and we’re not ready to say we’re “out of it” yet. Eventually we will be, but that doesn’t mean the world won’t be turned upside down again.

When it does, how will your operation handle it?

The companies that have done the best have relied on flexibility and innovation – focusing more on the goal and vision than on the specific process or system to get them there.

We have seen a tremendous amount of pivoting, changing, and learning on-the-go, but people are also trying to get back to “normal.” Will your operation continue with that adaptation mindset? Will your operation continue to seek out ways to push the envelope, think differently, and rely on new technologies and systems?

At nGROUP, we certainly haven’t been immune to the struggles the last two years have brought about. But we have many levers we can pull for clients. We work with direct-to-consumer e-commerce retailers all over the United States, companies like Macy’s, Williams-Sonoma, and CarParts.com. Working together with our team, these retailers have had remarkable years. If your e-commerce retail operation wants to make sure your workforce is always ready to meet new challenges, reach out to us today. Your labor should always be an asset and strength to your company, never an impediment. nGROUP can give you confidence that everyone on your team is prepared for the years to come.

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