The COVID-19 pandemic presented huge challenges for retailers. With issues around re-opening, enforcing social distancing, fluctuating lockdown rules, and more, retail has definitely had a tough time over the last six months. 

Many stores had to close completely at the height of the crisis, and even after re-opening, footfalls decreased dramatically. Consumer spend on non-essentials dropped to 40-50% of the usual amount, and overall revenues are expected to drop to 30-50% for 2020. Supply chain and fulfilment issues caused headaches for retailers, but things looked brighter for online shopping. In fact, digital commerce was up 45% year on year during Q2 of 2020.

For this year’s virtual Salesforce Live: United Kingdom and Ireland we shared inspiring stories of how some of our top Trailblazers are future proofing their businesses, including iconic British retailer Fenwick.


Thinking Outside the Box: Agile Fulfilment in Retail

Fulfilment already had its issues for retailers before any of us had even heard of COVID-19. As Vinay Vaswani, Retail Industry Business Development Lead EMEA, Salesforce, said:

“Consumers were expecting same day or next day delivery, and expecting it to be free. On the flip side, retailers had a lot of challenges because fulfilment in itself is complex. All of this became much worse during the crisis.”

The fulfilment challenges retailers were facing only accelerated during the pandemic for a number of reasons:

  • Growth in online shopping

  • Store and warehouse closures

  • Stock-outs and shortages

  • Supply chain and transport issues

  • Longer delivery and wait times

  • Excess stocks in categories like apparel

  • Financial concerns


In order to thrive during these challenging times retailers needed to, and still need to, be agile in terms of fulfilment. Innovative fulfilment options are needed, things like partnerships to expand reach and capabilities, end-to-end inventory overview, and better intelligence and analytics.

Ornella Urso, Senior Research Analyst at IDC (International Data Corporation) explained the importance of agile fulfilment:

“Retailers need to act now in order to come closer to the customers, and really capitalise on the rise of ecommerce.”


IDC’s recommendations for the future of agile fulfilment in retail


  1. Visibility – Single view inventory via OMS to ensure visibility of stock to customers.

  2. Optimisation – OMS solution that provides AI/ML capabilities that align with retail and segment-specific features.

  3. Integration – OMS with open-APIs to integrate fulfilment partners’ ecosystems in real time. 


How Fenwick achieved agile fulfilment 

It’s been an incredibly difficult period for the whole sector, and Fenwick was no different, closing all of its stores just before the lockdown. Fenwick first focussed on making environments safe for customers and colleagues, before taking the opportunity to accelerate the growth of its online offer, originally launched in partnership with Salesforce.

“We started with one of our biggest stores, down in Kingston, and completely reworked the space and layout,” Kate Smyth, Fenwick’s Digital Director, told Salesforce Live. “Then a small, brilliant group of people from nearly every department in the business rolled up their sleeves and joined me in the back of the store to start fulfilling online orders.”

Fenwick began by using just three stores to handle fulfilment, but also took the challenging step of re-equipping its flagship Newcastle store for online too, a process that took only two weeks. Each store functioned like a mini distribution centre, using Salesforce Order Management System (OMS) to take multiple feeds from multiple locations. For the stores set up for pick, pack, and dispatch, stock would go onto the website to create the inventory, and for all other stores, Kate’s team used a stock lookup query, allowing customers to check if items were available locally. 

“The OMS is really key, orchestrating the allocation of orders so as orders come in, it hands off the order to the store that’s going to fulfil it,” said Kate Smyth, Fenwick’s Digital Director, “We use a Salesforce partner as a mini warehouse management system, and give the picking teams instore a handheld which shows them the items they need to pick and then pack for each customer.”

Salesforce OMS also generates all the necessary paperwork, and is integrated with a logistics solution which creates the shipping labels. The tricky bit of fulfilling from in store is the constantly moving stock picture, so the OMS adds a buffer to the inventory to allow for customers buying things in person.

Kate shared another benefit of the OMS, “The pick, pack, and despatch is also run by our store teams, so it keeps that relationship between retail and digital really close, with everyone being part of that online journey.”


An emphasis on local communities

The pandemic also gave Kate and her team an opportunity to take Fenwick’s strong roots in local communities and transfer these into the business’s online offer.

“We’re proud of being a retailer with strong connections to local communities, and in our stores we try to champion local brands and artisans,” Kate said. “When we were looking at developing the online proposition, we wanted to bring that level of personalisation – the Fenwick quality of service. We made sure that when we designed the site, each visitor could customise it into their own version of Fenwick: we promote each store’s services, events and brands, and content across the site is tagged by store, with customers able to set local preference through in-built widgets.” 


Adapting in a crisis

Despite the challenges thrown at them by the pandemic, the Fenwick Digital team, led by Kate, managed to grow and adapt impressively quickly. Having multiple fulfilment locations nationwide was very helpful when there is the potential for individual areas to go into lockdown. Online orders and their potential peaks were managed by adding a third-party warehouse to distribution, meaning Fenwick could work with online partners for an extended range, all orchestrated and allocated by the OMS.

Kate believes Salesforce has helped enhance customer experience for Fenwick. “It’s enabled us to make huge strides across the business in a really short space of time, for example allowing our personal shopping teams to manage their appointments over video,” she said. “A major part of our digital ecosystem is from Salesforce and Salesforce partners.” 

You can catch up on the full session, including the spotlight on Fenwick’s success, here.