Retailer to supplier, order to delivery. Anything wrong with this?

16 09 2010

Sorry, the title is a little misleading, there is nothing wrong with that workflow as such, but in the real world the actual workflow is not that simple. Add to the situation the number of suppliers a retailer orders from, add to it the management of their own EPOS system and stock, throw in a pinch of time management and you can see a number of problems cropping up…

Our workFile EPOS software has been around for a while now, and a number of stores are using it very efficiently, with it streamlining many business processes and ensuring day to day activities are completed and not missed. Not trying to sell my own product here, but its a great EPOS solution…However, one of my biggest frustrations with the solution (especially in particular industries) is that suppliers don’t make it easy for stores to purchase from them. The workflow from a retail managers point of view is not great, and to top it off, it isnt great at the suppliers end either…

The problem

A store needs to place an order with a supplier, typically because stock has been sold or they are looking at new items to keep in stock. Great, our workFile EPOS software auto generates orders based on some complex rules, I digress, needless to say the store knows what it wants to order. However, what does the manager have to do then? Ideally, press a button and be done, but that’s not the case. Typically they then have to call through to their representative, indulge in a nice chat, talk them through every single order (which in some cases can be hundreds of different stock lines), hope that nothing has gone wrong, hang up and then wait for delivery…So, something the stock system has done in a single minute, has now taken up almost an hour (obviously depends on the size of your order) or more.

Many suppliers do now see this as an issue, and offer email order generation. This means the manager can create an email and send that (again our workFile EPOS software will do this for them quickly and easily). However, are suppliers missing the point? It now means someone else at their end still has to do a lot of hard work, though true, life for the retailer is that little easier. But there are still issues here. The retailer would love to know the actual status of the order, expected shipping date, when it has been shipped etc. A simple email offers no benefit to the retailer other than some time saving. In many cases, it may even mean special offers are missed…

Using websites is the next step, with many now providing ordering screens through their website. Again though this can be time consuming for the retailer, especially if they use the website in the same eCommerce fashion the general public uses websites. However, those special offers will be visible (you would hope). Suppliers need to think how their retailers actually work, be it via eMail, phone, web or even better through EPOS….In addition, our problem at the supplier end is still there….

The solution

Well I don’t want to give too much away as my company already has a solution in place and is currently trying to push this into specific markets. However, needless to say, the solution involves fewer steps and a far greater level of system wide integration between retailer and supplier. It also involves cleaning up the process not just at the retailer end, but the suppliers end. As a specialist in Business Process Management, you can see my frustration at how “broken” the workflow is between retailer and supplier in many industries…

There is one thing though that we all have to remember. A client of ours hit the nail on the head when he said “Suppliers act like petrol stations, they don’t want you to be able to get your fuel and pay without coming in and seeing all the other things they sell. What they want is to make you come to them, they can talk you into other items to add to your order…After all you don’t sell mars bars at the petrol pump”.  With this in mind, we have to ensure that suppliers still get what they want from a more streamlined workflow process. When a manager has to talk to an agent from a supplier, the supplier can at least highlight new products, special savings, increased discount opportunities etc. So, any new workFlow needs to be able to replicate this in some way. So an improved solution must work, retailer to supplier, but also supplier to retailer…

When this starts to happen I will be a happy man, our workFile EPOS software has been setup and ready for this type of workflow for a number of years now, yet alas, no suppliers are ready to embrace this way of working…Yet…

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