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GUEST COMMENT A single view of inventory can help retailers get back on track

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The temporary closure of the UK highstreet has shown retailers that investing in omnichannel experiences, if they haven’t already, is an absolute necessity moving forward. However, even retailers who have invested in online channels are struggling with heightened demand. It is virtually impossible for customers right now to secure a supermarket delivery, and next day delivery services are now taking three, four, even five days. 

If you sell in multiple markets, especially across multiple channels or national boundaries, it is essential to connect all your enterprise applications (ERPs, ecommerce, POS, WMS) for a single view of all your inventory. The benefit of this: retailers can virtually segment their physical inventory and control what is available by region, channel, delivery type and pre-order. It also enables them to promise inbound inventory that’s not yet available on location. 

Providing customers with a personalised view of product availability, communicating when products will arrive, and then delivering these promptly – will help retailers keep the lights on, delivering the best customer service and avoiding costly overselling and returns.  

Here are four top tips for retailers looking to weather today’s economic storm and prepare to come out the other side ready to serve customers who will, undoubtedly, be eager to return. 

Show customers the full picture

For customers shopping online, it is frustrating to click on a product to find it is out of stock. Even more frustrating is finding the product they have ordered is no longer available, or won’t arrive in time for a specific event or purpose. Stale inventory is a customer irritant,  and with retail sales decreasing by nearly 20 percent in April, irritating customers is not something retailers can afford right now. 

Whilst many retailers rely on customised ERPs or ecommerce platforms, these aren’t designed for real-time inventory management. Retailers should be able to provide inventory accuracy, meaning they can reduce cancelled orders, out-of stocks and consequential customer disappointment – also helping them manage margins more effectively as they have a clearer view of inventory. An effective order management system should enable retailers the flexibility to control what they sell, when and where – enabling them adaptability in accordance with changing market conditions and demands.

Prioritise, push and pack 

Prioritising and upselling products that are displayed on the product detail page, based on products that are in-stock or available from the same location as the rest of the customer’s order, is a great benefit of an order management system. It means that if the customer adds an extra product to their basket, they can receive the whole order at once, minimising costly split shipments or reliance on click and collect services. Whilst many eCommerce platforms have excellent recommendations and upselling features, this doesn’t always factor in fulfilment. As such, using an order management system tailors the order to make it more efficient – both environmentally (by limiting shipments) and economically. 

Discover and deliver available stock, fast!

Express, next-day, or even same-day delivery options have become increasingly popular. However, even companies such as Amazon – who helped to condition the on-demand retail world – have struggled to meet the increased online demand caused by the current pandemic . 

The closure of the majority of bricks and mortar stores means most people are largely reliant on online services. However, even though stores are closed to the public, many retailers are still able to ship inventory from their stores. This means that orders are delivered to customers locally – saving time and delivery costs. Another alternative is offering customers contact-free click and collect options. 

Keep customers happy

The delivery life cycle doesn’t always go smoothly. While in theory, the customer should receive their correct order in a timely manner, there are elements of delivery that prove impossible to control without an effective order management system. For example, late-alterations to the initial order, changed shipping address or additional purchases – can’t always be managed by a regular eCommerce system. Also, if something does go wrong, retailers may desire the flexibility to easily offer discounts or make changes. A single view of inventory enables retailers to prepare for the unexpected and to quickly and simply manage problems if and when they occur. This in turn helps them to showcase great customer service, strengthening customer loyalty. 

Offering a single-view of inventory can help retailers provide consumers with accurate communication on what products are available, when and how long they will take to arrive, providing faster on-demand delivery options that customers have come to expect. 

Rob Shaw is managing director EMEA at Fluent Commerce

Main image: Fotolia

Author image courtesy of Rob Shaw/Fluent Commerce

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