A stock allocation tool is encouraging shop-floor staff to fulfil online orders and keep stores relevant
Staff in Whistles and Phase Eight stores are being incentivised to also help online customers complete orders, through an IT system that has gamified its internet sales.
“It changes the traditional supply chain from a head-office-based one to a distributed stock system,” says Guy Tambling, IT and e-commerce operations director at TFG Brands (London), who believes this is the most exciting development in his field
for 25 years.
It means, for example, if a woman orders a size 12 jumpsuit and 50 stores have it in stock, store staff can ‘claim’ the order – and the first to do so earns the commission. It’s a much faster and more accurate approach than the more traditional order management system process of allocating that online request, when such requests typically sit in a queue, sometimes not picked up until hours later. Staff sometimes then discover the item they thought they held is faulty or has been inaccurately recorded – such as it’s in blue instead of black. “This brings latency into the system,” says Tambling.
The idea to motivate shop-floor staff to quickly and accurately fulfil orders came about because the website was increasingly successful and the company noticed as season-end approached warehouse stocks were depleted but items still existed in store. “We looked at how we could surface the inventory of the stores so the online customer could purchase it,” he says, adding that stores are incentivised to get behind it. “On pain of death do they ‘unclaim’ an order they said they can complete.”
In other words, staff shouldn’t say they can fulfil an order before they know they have the right item, he says. “Should they ever need to cancel anything, they have to call a ‘superuser’ in head office (someone with greater access to the system) to explain.” So to be able to compete for commission, store staff must know precisely what they have in stock, its quality and must ensure items are recorded correctly in the first place.
The process has revolutionised the orders to delivery process and enables the business to justify keeping stores open where other brands can’t, he says. “Companies are going pop left right and centre – and if stores are trading below the line, why would you keep them open? The pace of change is frighteningly fast, and some retailers are not keeping up.
“This system gives us the capability to fulfil online orders from our high street stores while retaining our brand value, having a human touch point, a storefront and the ability to collect email addresses from customers.”
And the ease of use of the tool, from tech firm OneStock, makes it simple even for employees who only do a few hours a week.
“It’s a complete game changer” he says. “Of all the years I’ve been in IT, it’s what’s moved our bottom line the most and the quickest. The return on investment is crazy – it’s weeks, not months or years.”
It also supports the presence of physical stores, turning each one into an efficient fulfilment centre.
Tambling says everyone had to work together to make the system a success. “The whole company had to get behind it – buyers, merchandise, finance, IT, HR, everyone. It really will change how we do business.”
The order management system can be manipulated in multiple ways to keep the business running efficiently. It ensures, for example, that staff aren’t accepting orders in the middle of the night and high footfall stores, or those with rent-based stores on commission, aren’t distracted by online demand.
“Algorithms are the exciting thing for me now,” says Tambling. “It’s about tweaking the system to make the supply chain work even better.
One advanced idea is to install a Met Office weather feed to manage orders. “If I’ve got a puffer jacket in London where it’s 25 degrees and one in Glasgow where it’s freezing, I want the London store to fulfil that order.”