The extended range fitness test
Offering an extended range can breathe new life into retailers but how can you make sure you compete effectively? Team work is the key, as Virtualstocks Tim Hay-Edie explains
Multi channel retail requires cross functional teams to work together like elite athletes in a never-ending relay race. To compete in extended range retail your Commercial, Operations, and IT team must extend themselves to win.
Your buyers may have selected new products and suppliers to range, but without something seemingly minor like a vendor code, the onboarding process false starts. The supplier may be blocked by Finance, Legal, or Compliance & Risk. The question is: do extended range suppliers need to go through the same qualification process that stocked-in suppliers do? For example, can your lawyers provide a fast track contract?
There are also fresh approaches available to the Compliance & Risk challenge. These services can now be outsourced to 3rd party monitoring agencies that provide daily reports on every supplier’s cyber risk profile - a proactive approach to GDPR compliance.
If getting new suppliers into the system is taking too long, perhaps the quickest way to range more products is to go to your existing suppliers and pull from their untapped product range. The issue now becomes incentivising your Commercial team to take an interest. If your buyers are paid on gross margin then dropship products will be neglected. The cost-to-serve formula takes into account the cost of warehousing your stocked-in products. Do your buyers take into consideration insurance, depreciation, obsolescence? Or correspondingly, are the lower margins of extended range compensated as they do not include the inventory cost?
The Commercial team need not take risks, they can simply use extended range to test new products in new product categories. They can go to the long tail, and step outside the tight concept of premium, standard and budget ranges within a given product category.
Beyond cost-to-serve there are other tools to help buyers decide what products to range. There are price comparison APIs to model anticipated margin. There are APIs to a product’s Amazon sales history (i.e. is the product fresh or rather long in the tooth?) Considerations that further contribute to the core vs. extended range decision.
Once a new range of products has been selected, and the cost price agreed, your Content teams now need to get the product data in shape for the webstore. Speed to market is a sprint you want to win. New Line Forms and other spreadsheet templates are the bane of every supplier’s existence. Imagine that each retailer will have their own set of attributes, requirements and approvals.
The pain is often applied to both sides: the supplier needs to populate the New Line Forms, submit them and wait for feedback. Your Product team need to check them, fix, or send them back… and once they pass muster, often mindlessly re-key the product data into your content systems. Is there a better way to manage this? And are all those data attributes required? While it is important to have a rich data set to better inform customers, is it necessary to mandate data requirements relating to numbers on a pallet, and dimensions for shelf space - can your Product team be flexible here?
If you are offering extended range and additional choice on your webstore, then provide tools so customers can make informed decisions. Leverage your data model to allow product comparison widgets and alternative product suggestions - something eCommerce pureplays find more difficult as they do not curate their ranges and have limited data models.
And why not use your buyers as subject matter experts on your webstore? Do they have insight your customers would value?
When orders begin to flow the focus now changes to the Order Management Systems (OMS) and the Operations team. Clearly the platform should be able to take on more products, and the related order volume, and scale with it (despite your antiquated technology stack!)
The OMS should also allow the Operations team to focus on exceptions - without sweating profits on new resource requirements. The Operations team should be able to monitor in real-time every stock level, order status and delivery status. Issues should be brought to their attention before they impact the customer experience. The Customer Service team should have full order visibility and the ability to instant message suppliers. Supplier performance should be measured in real-time so remedial action can be requested - or they are cut from the list.
And if you go to the effort of offering extended range, customers should have the convenience of Click & Collect, and return to store. One advantage you have over eCommerce pureplays is your store network - extended range has to benefit from this too.
Extended range can bring new life to a retailer. To make it a success you need each team to work together as a team. All roles across the functions need to question existing practices and ensure you have the right tools in place to maximise the benefits. It’s a mix of process and platform: the fittest wins.
Extended Range Fitness Self Assessment