How Owning Retail Inventory Management Can Improve Customer Experience
Oct 3, 2019
Retailers can benefit through smart stock control whilst making inventory transparent for consumers. Upsell, create urgency, and personalize the message to deliver customers what they want, when they want it, via their preferred platform.
Accurate and efficient inventory management is the cornerstone of a well-structured retail estate. Without it, the walls begin to crumble.
And, as omnichannel continues to be a focus for brands, inventory management is as complex as it is vital. The influence of Amazon Prime, the rise of Click-and-Collect, and the evolution of consumer shopping habits mean shoppers now expect stock visibility, fast fulfillment, and transparency throughout the entire fulfillment chain, and easy returns.
This is make or break in terms of staying ahead of (or even in-line with) competitors. Visibility is crucial – if you’re not owning the customer experience by managing your inventory and offering full visibility of stock and fulfillment, you can be sure one of your competitors is.
A proper omnichannel customer experience should allow customers a frictionless, consistent transaction on any channel or device. To facilitate this, your system needs to pull information into a single pool of data, that is consistent across all channels – eCommerce websites, apps, and in-store technology (such as endless aisle). Customers use various digital and physical channels during buying journey, and it’s vital that these mirror one-another.
Traditionally, one of the reasons consumers visit brick-and-mortar stores is for a higher quality of customer service. However, inventory management can be an issue for physical retailers, increasingly as many stores diversify their product lines and offer in-store experiences, with shelf space at a premium.
But a lack of in-store inventory shouldn’t mean a lost sale. Aligning in-store technology or eCommerce mobile sites and apps with inventory management systems should provide customers ample opportunity to purchase their goods. Brands need to own this in-store opportunity by offering the fulfillment options – pick up in store, free speedy delivery – to make buying frictionless and attractive, as opposed to the customer leaving the store and finding a competitor.
The mobile battle
Let’s not forget online and mobile shoppers, who’ll be comparing like-for-like products on various sites. Differentiators here will be price, availability and fulfillment options. This is where retailers need to display their inventory, create urgency if possible, and highlight fulfillment, loyalty or discount options to stand out from the crowd.
It’s vital these customers are given the information they need at key moments in the buying journey. If the warehouse is low on stock, create buying urgency with a low stock warning. If the warehouse is out, signpost to a click and collect option if stocked in the nearest store, or even better ship directly to the customer from that store. A single view of inventory makes this possible. Offer a sign-up for updates on when stock is refilled or provide a date when the product will be stocked again.
With rapid order fulfillment times now a priority for customers in both B2B and B2C sectors, streamlined inventory management is crucial to pick, pack, ship, and communicate to the customer. And using analytics tools to identify bottlenecks from order confirmation to doorstep will help iron-out friction and reduce delivery times.
Whether it’s peak season in retail or a manufacturer supplying a new product launch, inventory management is integral in supporting peak trading periods. Stock needs to be sufficient, visible, and ready to pack and ship. Smart brands manage the flow of peak seasons, through educated planning and real-time information to balance the spikes in demand, without being left with excess inventory or, worse, out of stock.
Optimizing the returns experience for customers as well as internal operations has become vital for taking a lead on competition. Visibility of returned stock as well as outgoing items is important when maintaining stock levels and re-ordering inventory. Also, monitoring data around return reasons can highlight product or fulfillment issues, which can be used to optimize the customer experience.
Automating the inventory management process keeps smart brands a step ahead here. It should be a priority to optimize the relationship between sales and inventory, and using analytics to draw insights, display which products are most popular and profitable, and manage slow-selling stock and returns.
These days, AI-driven analytics tools and inventory management software, plus cloud-based platforms mean accurate, real-time inventory information can be personalized and displayed to customers anytime, anywhere.
At the end of the day, if you have inventory visibility – use it. Make it transparent. Upsell, create urgency, and personalize the message to deliver customers what they want, when they want it, via their preferred platform.