Selling from multiple brick n’ mortar branches on one ecommerce store

When selling from multiple branches on one retail ecommerce website, a good rule of thumb is “don’t make your logistical challenges your customers’ problem”.

A customer’s user experience when navigating your website is fundamental to the success of your online business. If it’s easy to find a product, determine whether it’s in stock and checkout, that will go a long way to turning one-time buyers into repeat customers. Of course you still need to fulfill your orders on time and in one piece. This is all about the importance of keeping the shopping experience simple, regardless of the complexities inherent in your business.

A common mistake that online retailers make is thinking like shopkeepers instead of like customers. If you design your store solely around making your administration easier at the expense of the user experience, you will likely lose customers. From logging on to checking out, the shopping experience should be streamlined with as few steps as possible.

If you have multiple stock locations, don’t make that something for your customers to have to think about. All they want to know is what the price is and how many are available for purchase, so present a consolidated stock availability to the public and deal with inter branch transfers behind the scenes, instead of forcing customers to jump through additional hoops to see what’s for sale in a particular branch.

Of course, if your locations are far away from each other, moving stock around may delay the fulfillment of goods to customers and affect your fulfillment costs. To combat the negative impact this may have on the user experience, consider a focus on lead times in order to manage customer expectations up front.

Instead of segmenting your stock and requiring the customer to choose a branch, consider breaking your logistics up into all the possible scenarios and then simplify it greatly.

For example:

  • The simplest possible scenario is an order fulfilled entirely out of one branch. Calculating the courier costs and lead times for this type of order and displaying it to the customer should be straightforward…
  • Then, think about an order that needs to be fulfilled from multiple branches. The order should be consolidated then shipped, rather than lose the sale for lack of stock at a particular location. This would affect the delivery cost and lead time, and should of course reflect in the fulfillment details presented to the customer at checkout.

If your online enterprise grows large enough, it may be worth setting up a dedicated central warehouse from which all online orders are distributed. This would not only make it easier to provide customers with accurate delivery costs, it would also greatly streamline your stock management. If this sounds like an appealing business model but you don’t have the resources to set up your own distribution centre, Third Party Logistics (3PL) service providers such as Parcelninja might be worth investigating.

Competition in the ecommerce industry is fierce and consumer attention spans are only getting shorter. Your customers don’t care where your stock is or what you have to do to get it to them, so don’t burden them with your logistical challenges.

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