Updated: Wed, 02/20/2013 - 01:02

Multi-channel commerce provides growth opportunities

Brad Harmon, Hunter Maclean
Brad Harmon, Hunter Maclean
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When the 2013 Georgia Logistics Summit convenes at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on March 19, multi-channel commerce may be a particularly hot topic.

Multi-channel commerce refers to the merging of physical and virtual retail operations, enabling customers to conduct transactions in many different ways. After all, there are more options for consumers to make purchases than ever before, from brick and mortar stores and social media to online stores, apps, smart phones and email. As a result, e-commerce transactions take place 24/7, often from iPhones or mobile devices.

According to a recent study, 80 percent of retailers report online sales have increased in the past five years. At the same time, fulfillment channels have expanded dramatically as customers want to receive, pick up and return items wherever and whenever they desire.

As a result, large retailers like Home Depot and Best Buy increasingly strive to provide a seamless shopping experience across multiple channels.

This means online customers can determine whether a specific product is in stock at a local store before driving over to the store to make a purchase. Likewise, customers can purchase items online that are out of stock locally and have them shipped to a nearby store, often at no extra charge.

However, there are major logistical challenges associated with improved multi-channel capabilities. Supporting multi-channel commerce requires expanded logistics capabilities and integrating logistics information into websites and in-store operations.

As retail stores such as Barnes & Noble continue to close brick and mortar locations, the overall demand for fulfilling orders and moving inventory is on the rise. This trend provides a major opportunity for third-party logistics companies, also known as 3PL providers, which play a key role in warehousing and shipping items on demand.

Using a 3PL company for multi-channel retail logistics eliminates the need to invest in machinery and staff in a given warehouse space. 3PL providers also provide a convenient, streamlined, cost-effective solution for warehousing, shipping, order fulfilling and logistics.

Large retailers are increasingly turning to 3PL companies to fulfill growing e-commerce demands. Ultimately, expanding multi-channel commerce capabilities will serve as a major factor in whether many companies succeed or fail over the next decade.

The logistics industry is growing and changing at a record pace, particularly here in Georgia. For assistance in drafting contracts with vendors to support multi-channel commerce operations, securing warehouse space or negotiating contractual terms with 3PL companies, be sure to work with an attorney who understands the logistics field.

Brad Harmon heads the Transportation and Logistics practice group at HunterMaclean. He can be reached at bharmon@huntermaclean.com or 912-236-0261.

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