Following our last post about establishing the right processes and associate training to improve the art of delivering a convenient and engaging click-and-collect experience, this post examines the technology (science) that’s essential for meeting the highest of shopper expectations and creating a win-win for retailers and customers.
Recall that one of the worst frustrations in an unsatisfactory click-and-collect experience is selecting a product and learning it’s out of stock and unavailable for pickup. After all, consumers believe the retailer should have their product where and when they need it. Offering next-day availability would certainly be an acceptable consolation, but any longer delay risks the sale and customer loyalty.
The Heart of the Matter: Inventory + Distributed Order Management
Here’s where science is indispensible in taking fulfillment where it needs to be: an integrated technology solution that tracks inventory across the retailer’s entire ecosystem in real time and fulfills orders across channels through inventory management, order management and point of sale (POS). Further, the solution anticipates product sales to ensure availability and meet the fulfillment demands of trillion-dollar, digitally-native millennial shoppers.
Achieving this whole new level of product availability with demand forecasting relies on understanding not only what products are bought, but also how they were purchased.
This newly added dimension is essential for progressing from simply reacting to store demand to truly mastering product demand.
But in order to achieve demand forecasting, retailers must have an accurate, real-time view of inventory across their ecosystem provided by an inventory management system—an open, distributed network model—that includes all stores, distribution centers, warehouses, and vendor inventories for providing this single, global view of brand inventory. In essence, stores need to become more like distribution centers with all items accounted for in specific locations and POS transactions updating inventory levels as they occur. Thus, shoppers and store personnel have visibility into reliable inventory information (a challenge in stores where items may break, be stolen or left in dressing rooms).
Real-time inventory information is critical for providing a delivery date (to store or home) based on proximity of the nearest fulfillment source identified by the system. In essence, the open inventory management model broadens access to a larger inventory base and the ability to “exchange” inventory, which optimizes revenue capacity and minimizes markdowns. For instance, instead of heavily discounting warm-weather clothing at the end of summer, apparel stores in the North can send unsold items to their Southern counterparts where they can be sold at a minimal, if any, discount.
A configurable, rules-based automated inventory management system reconciles variables such as product cost and sales price, commission, etc. It automates low-inventory alerts and store-level orders to boost store personnel productivity (no manual inventory tracking) and efficient use of inventory (items on layaway can be resold until close to being paid off when a replenishment alert is automatically issued).
What’s more, visibility into inventory levels makes it easy to monitor the impact of promotions and sales, and analyze returns data that may drive the allocation of product to discount outlets or the return of defective product to manufacturers. Merchandise planners can test product performance in the stores by monitoring replenishment orders. They gain valuable insight into SKU data for readjusting product mix, ultimately making better buying decisions and strengthening their vendor bargaining position.
Integrating inventory management with distributed order management (DOM) creates a customer-driven system that continuously reconfigures and allocates inventory based on real-time customer behavior (detailed POS transactions, including quantities purchased and returned by channel, location and method, as well as post-sale review information, including social media posts) rather than historical allocation. Therefore, DOM performs the science of fulfillment for in-store pickup to combine with artful human assistance that makes the click-and-collect experience convenient and engaging.
Interested in taking control of your customer experience through retail-as-a-service? We’d love to hear from you about what is most important to you in the digitally native world.