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Ship-from-Store: Sure, it's great, but who can afford it?

I recently ran across an article from the RetailNet Group detailing the many expected and proven benefits of implementing pick, pack and ship from store. However, in closing, the author leaves readers with the impression that a ship from store service requires large investments in systems and training.

“In-store employees need to be trained on how to pick, pack, and ship online orders quickly and accurately,” the article says, adding that, “The model can also be more expensive than delivering from distribution centers. And though it’s an extension of site-to-store programs, it also sacrifices one of their key benefits: triggering a trip to the store that often results in incremental sales.”

So there are a few points from that article that I’d like to take issue with.

  • 1. Ship from store is more expensive than shipping from a distribution center.
    How can that be? You already own the inventory in stores and have shelf-space and employees. And you can use employee downtime more effectively by having them pick and pack orders when there aren’t many customers in the store. I’m not sure how it can be more expensive.
  • 2. Training is expensive.
    Though there is some required training for employees, if the system is simple, our experience is that a standard retail employee can learn the processes required in an hour or two. Sure, there will be a few mix-ups at first, but won’t you have the same issues when putting a new process into a distribution center?
  • 3. No incremental sales are enabled.
    By helping a consumer realize that a local retailer had the product they wanted online, the retailer can bring that customer into the store the next time they want to purchase similar items. (Believe it or not, the research shows we still like to shop in stores over online shopping.)

Granted, trying to tackle a ship from store system like this on your own may not be easy, which is probably why a same-day delivery model is the “holy grail” for companies like Walmart and Amazon. But help is out there.

At Shopatron, we’ve spent the last 11 years refining our toolset and we’re getting pretty good at it. We know how retail employees think (and what they forget), and how to make a process “for dummies” book simple. We’ve implemented distributed order management for more than 1,000 branded manufacturers and 20,000 retail partners, so it goes without saying that we might be on to something.

But being successful means having the right tools. In order to successfully fulfill online orders from stores you’re going to need a few things:

  • An easy-to-use order management system that store employees can access in the store from a PC, handheld, or tablet device.
  • A configurable order management system that can be adapted to processes in your specific stores.
  • Integration with shipping services like UPS so it’s easy to print labels in the store.
  • An alert and notification system to prevent order delays.
  • A regular inventory feed to make sure online customers get an accurate account of what products are available.

Of course, this type of service is more difficult for those who lack some of these tools. (For example, inventory feeds can be unreliable. But that is something you need to solve anyway, right?) Each of these issues can be solved. And I can tell you, based on more than a decade of experience, that the problems are usually more like molehills than mountains.

To borrow an analogy from Brian Clausen, our Senior Vice President of Sales and Account Management: You can chop down a tree with a butter knife, but it’s a lot easier with a chainsaw. My guess is the companies that tried and failed to efficiently deliver ship from store have gone through a lot of butter knives. Which is a shame, because we would have been happy to rent them our chainsaw.

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