Omnichannel fulfillment strategies: defining the concept and building an agenda for future inquiry

AuthorDaniel Taylor, Sebastian Brockhaus, A. Michael Knemeyer, Paul Murphy
Publication Date12 Aug 2019
Omnichannel fulfillment strategies:
defining the concept and building
an agenda for future inquiry
Daniel Taylor
Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management,
Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA
Sebastian Brockhaus
Department of Management, Marketing, and Supply Chain,
John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio, USA
A. Michael Knemeyer
Department of Marketing and Logistics,
The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA, and
Paul Murphy
Department of Management, Marketing, and Supply Chain,
John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio, USA
Purpose Since the emergence of e-commerce uprooted traditional brick-and-mortar retail in the early 2000s,
many retailers have reacted by first independently servicing both the online and in-store channels
(multichannel retailing) and subsequently integrating both channels to provide a seamless front-end customer
interface (omnichannel retailing). Accordingly, firms had to adjust their logistics and supply chain
management (SCM) processes from fulfilling orders for each channel separately to integrating channels on the
back-end (omnichannel fulfillment). This development is mirrored by an emerging stream of academic
publications. The purpose of this paper is to provide a snapshot of the current state of omnichannel
fulfillment research via a systematic literature review (SLR) in order to identify omnichannel fulfillment
strategies and to establish an agenda for future inquiry.
Design/methodology/approach This SLR is based on 104 papers published in peer-reviewed journals
throughDecember 2018. It employsa six-stepprocess, from researchquestion to the presentationof the insights.
Findings All selected manuscrip ts are categorized based on demographics such as pu blication date,
outlet, methodology , etc. Analysis of the manuscripts suggests that t he integration of fulfillment channel
inventory and resourc es is becoming an important objecti ve of fulfillment manage ment. Appropriate
omnichannel strategi es based on retailer attributes are not wel l understood. Industry specific rese arch has
been conducted necess itating generalized e xtension for retailer s. These findings provi de a clear
opportunity for the aca demic community to take mo re of the lead in terms of knowl edge creation by
proposing paths for industry pursuit of channel integration to successfully implement omnichannel
fulfillment. Opportun ities for future inquiry are highlighted.
Originality/value This manuscript proposes a definition of omnichannel fulfillment strategies and
identifies fulfillment links that are used interchangeably across channels as the key delimiter between
omnichannel fulfillment strategies and related concepts. Six omnichannel fulfillment strategies from the
extant literature are identified and conceptualized. Future research opportunities around omnichannel
fulfillment, potential interdependencies between the established strategies and their impact on related SCM
issues such as distribution and reverse logistics are detailed.
Keywords North America, Literature review, Omnichannel, Retail logistics, Supply chain processes
Paper type Literature review
1. Introduction
Over the past two decades retailing has undergone dramatic and accelerating change,
largely due to the advent of the direct-to-consumer online channel and an ongoing surge in
information technology capabilities (Gallino and Moreno, 2014; Piotrowicz and Cuthbertson,
The International Journal of
Logistics Management
Vol. 30 No. 3, 2019
pp. 863-891
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/IJLM-09-2018-0223
Received 10 September 2018
Revised 1 February 2019
Accepted 23 May 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
2014; Verhoef et al., 2015). Sales for the online channel continue to grow rapidly, while foot
traffic has become stagnant or is declining among many brick-and-mortar stores (Sorescu
et al., 2011). Indeed, during calendar year 2017, approximately 7,000 US brick-and-mortar
stores closed, and iconic merchandisers such as JC Penney, Kmart, Macys, Radio Shack and
Sears each closed more than 100 stores (Thomas, 2017).
Retailers initially adapted to these disruptive channel developments by developing
multichannel marketing, fulfillment and delivery strategies (Agatz et al., 2008; Rigby, 2011;
Christensenand Raynor, 2013). To this end, companies typicallyestablished online fulfillment
operations thatwere autonomous from their brick-and-mortar operations.This often included
separate and distinct order fulfillment capabilities for each channel, which resulted in
dedicated storage facilities for each channel as well as inventory and other fulfillment assets
that were committed to a specific channel (Frazier, 1999; Swaminathan and Tayur, 2003).
Within the past 15 years, some retailers began to refine their multichannel capabilities to
focus on so-called omnichannelcapabilities. Briefly, an omnichannel experience allows a
customer to order from multiple platforms (omnichannel retailing) andthe order can be filled
from any location using inventory and other fulfillment assets flexibly across channels
(omnichannel fulfillment). Conceptually, omnichannel capabilities provide a seamless
shopping experience where th e distinctions between brick- and-mortar and online
operations become immaterial (Ishfaq et al., 2016; Galipoglu et al., 2018). The grocery
industry was among the earliest to experiment with an omnichannel capability by
implementing a buy-online-ship-from-store (BOSS) option for customers (De Koster, 2002;
Boyer and Hult, 2006). One consequence of companies developing their omnichannel
fulfillment strategies is a realization that tying fulfillment assets to particular channels
increases inefficiency in terms of managing logistics costs and service.
In response to these changes in the retail environment, interest in omnichannel
fulfillment has been increasing and academic articles focusing on the fulfillment and
inventory aspects of omnichannel have become more plentiful in recent years. As such, we
propose that the omnichannel fulfillment literature has developed sufficiently to justify a
comprehensive analysis by means of a systematic literature review (SLR) of omnichannel
fulfillment strategies. In addition, given the dynamic state of the concept, having a clear
understanding of where academic inquiry has been provides a valuable platform to examine
where inquiry should go moving forward. More specifically, the manuscript addresses the
following research questions:
RQ1. What is the definition of omnichannel fulfillment strategies?
RQ2. What has been studied regarding omnichannel fulfillment and inventory usage?
RQ3. What are the future opportunities regarding omnichannel fulfillment strategies
We believe that addressing these questions can make multiple contributions to the
literature; for one, the manuscript provides a detailed and comprehensive definition of the
term omnichannel fulfillment strategythat can be used to guide a focus on fulfillment-
related research within the broader omnichannel literature. The manuscript also adds to the
emerging body of SLRs in the logistics and supply chain management (SCM) discipline (e.g.
Galipoglu et al., 2018; Friday et al., 2018). Moreover, consistent with Burgess et al.s (2006)
seminal research on SLRs in SCM, the present manuscript can facilitate conceptual and
theoretical development by identifying promising avenues for future inquiry.
During the review process, three literature review manuscripts were identified as
pertaining to omnichannel fulfillment (Table I). Beck and Rygl (2015) and Galipoglu et al.
(2018) concentrate primarily on the general concept of omnichannel. Melacini et al. (2018)
identifies network design, capacity management, delivery planning and execution as main

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