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It’s probably lost on most online shoppers, but certainly not retailers – the tremendous complexity in getting the right products to customers, and accepting returns, entirely on a shoppers’ terms. There’s a mind-boggling web of interconnections and systems that govern orders and inventory – and those systems, thankfully, are getting smarter than ever. The best ones are integrated directly into ecommerce systems.

The ease and convenience of buying a sweater at a national store in Chicago and returning it in Boston, or placing an order online and picking up in-store, can wreak havoc on older inventory management systems, particularly those that are not integrated with a retailers’ ecommerce platform. Why? Because it can involve manual workarounds, form submissions, brittle technology integrations, and more, all of which create the potential for botched returns, missing orders, delays, and, of course, upset customers.

The way in which today’s sophisticated consumers shop requires equally sophisticated order management options that are tightly coupled with ecommerce. Here are some practical examples:

Activating Click and Collect
In today’s competitive retail landscape, even next day shipping is often not fast enough for some shoppers. Consumers want the precision and speed of shopping on an ecommerce site, with easy sorting, browsing, and organizing. But they also want their items now, especially if it’s a gift, and they want the assurance they’ll get it on-time. That’s where click and collect (where an order is placed online but picked up in store) comes into play. In 2016, 49% of Americans used click-and-collect options and that percentage is growing.

Offering click and collect options is complex: there has to be seamless integration with ecommerce and store-based pickup systems, and that just doesn’t exist today. When order management  is decoupled from ecommerce, retailers are forced into heavy customization and manual systems that not only raise the risk of human error, but is a waste of resources. Moreover, these customizations and manual workarounds do not inherently happen in real time.

Turn Stores into Distribution Centers
Today’s consumer has been Primed (get it?) to expect fast and free shipping options. When these shoppers aren’t able to use click-and-collect, they look for free shipping online. In fact, 66% of consumers say that shipping costs are their biggest online shopping pet peeve. That’s probably why many shoppers are planful and cost-savvy, ordering in enough time to avoid overnight shipping fees.

This is great news for consumers, but a nightmare for retailers. If you’re not building the cost of shipping into your prices, you have to find creative ways to shave time and money to make free shipping programs worthwhile. One tried-and-tested approach is to ship products to consumers  from stores close to them. Order management systems can help merchants activate all inventory in stores and warehouses to be sold online, and prioritize shipping across short distances to save on costs.

If retailers take this approach, it’s crucial that store associates have the right tools and training, since they become a critical link in the supply chain. Order management can get incredibly complex, and exposing associates to the inner workings of allocation can quickly become overwhelming. Associates need purpose-built, simple fulfillment tools that can let them fulfill orders without disrupting their day-to-day tasks.

Turn Returners into Buyers
With billions and billions worth of merchandise returned each year, returns continue to be the bane of retailers’ existence. Plenty of shoppers even order several of the same item in different sizes or colors, with the intention of returning at least one and the retailer bearing the cost both ways. Still, retailers and brands have to work hard to ensure seamless returns whether the item is being brought back to a store, or returned online using self-service tools.

Order management is the single source of truth for all this inventory movement, and can help retailers accept returns, or initiate exchanges or exchanges. With a tight integration into ecommerce, order management can connect shoppers to their order history and allow for easy exchanges and returns, instead of sending them to a hotline or form submission. This keeps shoppers engaged on the ecommerce site, and delivering experiences that will keep them coming back. If a shopper wants to return in store, the associates need to have the ability to accept a return as well.

This is all done with an integrated order management system, and powerful APIs that unlock returns management capabilities for use by the store tools and ecommerce sites.

Save the Sale in the Store
Of course, stores don’t have the space to carry vast quantities of each item in all colors and sizes. That’s why shoppers routinely leave stores empty-handed and disappointed, and never bother to go online later to buy the item. What if the store associate could save the sale right then and there, and offer the online inventory to an in-store shopper?

Associates equipped with mobile devices can offer an Endless Aisle of inventory, drawn from other stores or a warehouse, to save the sale. Shoppers can go into the store to experience an item and get the right size shipped right to their front door, office door, or wherever they want. And, the store associate is able to see past purchase history and wish lists to make additional product recommendations.

An order management system integrated with ecommerce, like Commerce Cloud Order Management, is part of a unified commerce approach that enables the “buy anywhere, service anywhere, fulfill anywhere” experiences that modern consumers expect and demand.

Download this best practice guide to get a deeper understanding of why cloud-based order management is so crucial to unified commerce.