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Triple Threat: Real Time Inventory, Friction, and Loyalty

Posted by Lexy Johnson on 08/13/2019
Lexy Johnson

Frictionless customer experience is a pillar of the "new" retail. But are retailers letting inaccurate inventory data become a realized threat to engagement, convenience, and efficiency in the journey?

With all the talk about omnichannel and frictionless commerReal-time inventory is the missing link in frictionless commercece, it should be surprising that fundamental issues with business processes and a lack of accurate inventory data continue to derail experiences before they ever get out of the gate.  One could say there is too much talk and not enough listening to what customers are willingly telling retailers is their preferred way to engage with the brand.

Even with all the focus on the new retail, this disconnect with engagement and experience is prevalent across retail verticals — surprising since the discussion on omnichannel orchestration approaches a decade old.  Recently, I was on the hunt for a household renovation item that I needed quickly.  Store pickup was my preferred path as I could research the item, make a choice, and quickly get it and a few other things. 

In today's seamless, frictionless, omnichannel world, I was surprised that when I located the item I wanted, the path to purchase was fraught with potholes related to a lack of real time inventory and inefficient, unresponsive delivery options.  Here's a rundown:

  • Inventory levels were unreliable.  Stores that noted having 1 or 2 on hand wouldn't allow me to place a pickup order because while their inventory level shows stock, these items cannot be located in the store (the dreaded misplaced items in inventory data) or the process from order to pick can't guarantee availability at those levels.  
  • Going to a store to directly purchase when inventory levels indicated 1 or 2 on-hand yielded a wasted trip as those levels are obviously code for "we definitely don't have any, or if we do, we won't know where they are."
  • When I couldn't get the item in-store as preferred, I found that I could ship it to the store, but instead of getting it today or tomorrow I'd have to wait two weeks.
  • If I wanted it faster, I could choose to ship to home to get it within a couple of days but would have to pay $99 for that privilege.

So let's circle back, I started with the desire to go to the store and make the purchase, and I made that clear as a known customer on the retailer's site.  There's a certain amount of urgency in that path to purchase, yet the response I received from the brands indicated that the retailers simply didn't listen to what I telegraphed was my desired route to purchase.  For the record, this wasn't an issue with just one retailer; every big-box retailer had a different flavor of the same problem.

Clearly, the item I was purchasing wasn't one retailers like to keep a lot of store inventory on.  But once I made my desire to buy clear, and the order could be fulfilled (through other means within the distribution chain), why did retailers let channel roadblocks turn me away and sour my loyalty? According to IHL, Inventory issues including out-of-stocks or overstocks cost retailers more than $1 trillion annually with a quarter of that cost in North America alone.  Will retailers achieve frictionless commerce if they don't turn up the sound and start listening and reacting to buying signals that customers are regularly sending?  In my case, the item was going to get purchased at that time.  The only question was who was going to get the business.

In the end, I bought the item from an online retailer with free shipping that guaranteed my item would arrive in two days.  They got my business because they listened to what I needed, and delivered on this without hassle or added cost. While there continues to be much talk about the future of retail, organizations that are blazing the trail are the ones seeking out change and embracing it to ensure customers are at the center of the commerce experience. As omnichannel approaches the double-digit birthday, the window to transform is closing, and those that don't start listening and reacting might find they are left to the dogs. 


Interested in taking control of your customer experiences through retail-as-a-service? OneView Digital Store is the headless, API-first transaction engine that includes powerful cloud-native inventory management to enable instantaneous tracking and allocation of stock to meet your customer's expectations and needs. 

We’d love to hear from you about what is most important to you to create engaged commerce journeys in the digitally native world.  

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