[caption id="" align="alignright" width="350"] The Home Depot in Knightdale, North Carolina. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)[/caption] With a $300 million investment this year in connected order fulfillment channels, Home Depot has posed a question that cuts to the core of transactions in the digital era: do we really need the 'e'? The nationally recognized brand is investing to synchronize its web, mobile and bricks and mortar shopping experience by developing enhanced distribution centers. These improvements aim to offer customers a seamless experience no matter how they decide to buy, which in turn lessens the focus on traditional e-commerce solutions. With a significant proportion of its online orderers opting for physical store pick-ups, Home Depot has come to the conclusion that e-commerce is really just plain old commerce via new channels, and perhaps too much focus on the online aspect blinkers it to opportunities to connect the dots of its order fulfillment. So far from e-commerce killing the shopping mall, it seems that physical stores will in fact play a role in killing e-commerce. The trend towards buying online is going nowhere, of course, but the term itself could soon become as outmoded as "personal computer" and "surfing the web." The important element for supply chain managers is to note the underlying alignment of technology that will drive this trend to connected order fulfillment. Consumers now carry an array of devices, from laptops and smartphones to tablets and "phablets" in between. While there remains a gap in the user experience on each of these, it is narrowing rapidly and cloud technology has us expecting a synchronized, seamless transfer between devices with every new development. In the same sense, shoppers will increasingly expect to complete purchases in one part of the order process and jump to another for delivery. A last-minute order over the phone may require expedited home delivery, while one placed in line at the bank may be ideal for pick up from your store around the corner. Customers will continue to destroy any distinction between being online or off as this happens. Retailers would be well advised to do the same for existing e-commerce initiatives, as we prepare for the next evolution of ordering.
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