Online, offline, no line

The future of retail business

The KLU’s recent workshop  “Omnichannel Meets Digital Logistics” gave final-year bachelor’s degree students from across Germany valuable hands-on experience in omnichannel commerce and the role of digital logistics, as well as ideas about where their own futures might lie.

The way we buy things is changing. As digitalization spreads and online connectivity becomes ubiquitous, consumers are less and less likely to utilize a single sales channel when purchasing a product or service. Instead, we compare products and prices, get product ratings from other buyers, configure products online, yet still have a need to visit bricks and mortar shops to get advice on which bike or mobile phone, best suits us. Naturally, these changes in purchasing patterns are creating challenges for companies, particularly with regards to their logistics solutions, says Professor André Ludwig, organiser of the KLU’s “Omnichannel Meets Digital Logistics” workshop.

“Managing and integrating multiple sales channels is ‘the’ topic that currently challenges the retail sector,” said André Ludwig, Associate Professor for Computer Sciences in Logistics at the KLU, of the workshop’s primary theme. “It is a highly interdisciplinary topic as it also has implications for IT and logistics systems. This is what made the workshop unique. We invited experts from retail, logistics, and IT businesses to look at the subject from different perspectives and discuss their views with the student participants.”

The free, three-day workshop was conducted in German and featured presentations from logistics, sales, and IT industry frontrunners, as well as visits from management and IT consulting firm experts. Twenty-five students among the 50 applicants in their final year of the BSc program were invited to attend the workshop.

“The workshop was basically divided into three parts,” explained Ludwig. “We spent the first half-day on presentations from cross-channel retailer Tchibo, DHL and a young app development start-up called APPSFactory. We put the students into fields of ideas, impulses, developments, and challenges that these presentations gave them. They set the stage for the next day’s real case studies.”

“We had three companies involved that presented real problems that they are currently tackling in fields like urban logistics, online commerce in the food sector and cross-selling. The students worked on these problems for about a day and really stepped into shoes of the consultants who they were working with.”

“I wanted to find out what an omnichannel is,” said Daniel Benke, a 30-year-old student of business administration in Lüneburg who participated in the workshop. “We applied the methods and models we learned in the workshop to company case studies and worked together and exchanged knowledge with people from those companies. I really enjoyed the workshop.”

Participant Christoper Herold, a 21-year-old studying industrial engineering in Dresden, agrees. “The presenters were very good and I acquired lots of practical experience. For example, working on the case study of a company that supplies food to other companies, we had to establish a supply chain management structure, establish a website and app, and compare customer data. It was really interesting.”

“One of the questions the workshop asked was how companies can proceed with regards to this digital change,” explained Ludwig. “What is the transformation process? What role do mobile devices play?”

The ideas and solutions the students came up with reflected the actual approaches to dealing with the problems utilised by the companies they were studying and working with in the workshop, says Prof Ludwig. “In many cases, the way the companies view the world was very similar to the students’ approaches to their solutions. But the companies were also able to pick up new ideas from the students, a generation that naturally integrates the online and offline world into their daily lives.”

The students presented their solutions on the morning of the final day of the workshop, and spent the early afternoon reflecting on their futures before heading off on a boat cruise around Hamburg harbor.

“Because the students are in their final year of their bachelor’s degrees, they are either on the spring-board into their career or future studies such as a master’s program,” said Ludwig. “We want to sup-port them in making their choices. Where do they want to continue their professional careers? What are their interests? How should they move on and in what direction. Of course we would be happy to welcome some of the participants back to one of the KLU’s MSc programs.

“I would recommend the workshop to other people because it’s a really good change from the things you normally do and it has broadened my horizons,” said 20-year-old business administration student Katrin Kosch. “My studies at the University of Cologne are very theoretical and there aren’t a lot of workshops and interaction with companies. During the KLU workshop, I also got to know some IT companies such as Senacor Technologies and Salt Solutions. I’m not really into IT, but they have some really interesting projects and it could be really interesting to work there.”


By Jeff Kavanagh