Omnichannel Supply Chains - What are They and What do They Look Like?

Omnichannel supply chains are the future, yet there remains some confusion surrounding them—just what are they and what characteristics do they display?

The more customer expectations get detailed, varied, and complex, the more companies have to adapt. Omnichannel supply chains are such an adaptation. In the domain of retail, a transition is taking place from exclusively brick-and-mortar stores to both brick-and-mortar and online stores. As such, single channel supply chains are quickly becoming a thing of the past. With that said, what is an omnichannel supply chain exactly and how does it differ from one that is multichannel? Moreover, in practice, what does it look like?

This article by Morai Logistics covers just what an omnichannel supply chain is as well as the most prominent features it displays.

What is a Omnichannel Supply Chain?

Simply put, an omnichannel supply chain is a single supply chain where consumers have more than one option to fulfill their orders. For example, in the case of a pizza shop, they might want to provide two avenues for their customers to purchase their pizzas, online and in person. In turn, their supply chain would have two different considerations for fulfilling orders.

In many ways omnichannel is similar to a multi channel supply chain. However, there’s a key way in which it’s different and thus stands out. An article from River Logic explains:

Although the terms multichannel and omni channel are often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences. Multichannel refers to multiple supply chains used to satisfy each type of shopping experience. Each channel is separate. The online catalog is different from items stocked in physical stores, and pricing may differ. Each store has its own stock, often jealously guarded, and the organization’s online store is a separate entity from retail stores. Omni channel supply chains are completely different in that there’s only one supply chain.

So, with the broad strokes of what an omnichannel supply chain is covered, what are some of the most common components that make it up?

Integrated

No dimension of an omnichannel supply chain is more important than operational integration. All its processes need to managed on a single software platform. With the added complexity that comes with having numerous channels, those channels then need to be kept track of. A unified platform that tracks all the data and fulfillment avenues is critical as a result. By extension, digitization is also a must.

No Silos

As a consequence of the necessary integration, ominchannel channel supply chains also tend not have silos. These could be operational silos, data silos, or business silos. The main thing is, just like a modern day supply chain should have visibility throughout its chain, so should an omnichannel. Perhaps more so, due the various channels it has to contend with. With a greater possibility of complication should come a greater need for simple and straightforward oversight.

Flexible & Efficient

Due to the nature of an omnichannel supply chain, it needs to have inventory on the ready, particularly in the case of online orders, at locations nearest to the customer. That means running a supply that is precise with its analytics and forecasting so it can be flexible in meeting the demands placed upon it.

As highlighted in the preciously mentioned River Logic article:

In both instances [retail stores and online], carrying excess stock is costly and inefficient. What’s needed is supply chain agility together with analytics that help determine future demand with some degree of accuracy and an ability to balance conflicting demands while managing distribution costs.