Why retailers need a unified approach to inventory

Despite media coverage painting a bleak picture of the retail industry, consumers are spending just as much as always, and online retail in particular has seen a 16.8% year-on-year growth. It’s true that the industry has its challenges, but opportunities do exist to succeed if retailers take the right approach.

For those with multiple stores, taking a unified approach to inventory visibility will enable retailers to optimise the way inventory is used and accessed across the entire estate. To do this effectively retailers need to transform how they approach in-store and online fulfilment and find cost-effective ways to serve customers through a seamless omnichannel strategy.

Retailers are facing a constant battle to balance customer expectations and profitability. This is where in-store fulfilment comes into play. With the cost of maintaining and running physical stores rising, it’s more important than ever to maximise investment in existing floor space, engaging the customer with immersive in-store experiences that will help to set them apart from the competition. Retailers need to take full advantage of stores, enabling them to offer items based on the customer’s location as quickly as possible.

Utilising a unified inventory management solution that provides the customer with a clear picture of exactly where stock is located is crucial in meeting customer expectations and making the experience as convenient as possible.

Having a live view of all stock available online, in-store and at distribution centres will allow retailers to personalise their offering; identifying the nearest piece of stock or online inventory to fulfil customers’ needs. This helps to minimise the time the customer has to spend on obtaining products, providing greater convenience and ultimately, a superior experience. However, retailers shouldn’t view this solely as customers shopping online; the key driver of the connected e-commerce experience is about offering increased convenience. If a retailer’s online offering can be as seamless as the experience they offer in-store, this will encourage consumers to spend more.

In-store tooling must be adopted by a retailer’s employees to provide a real-time view of inventory, and everything associated with that product. Previous research has revealed that over two-thirds of consumers expect store associates to use a mobile device to perform simple and immediate tasks, such as looking up product information and checking inventory. As a result, in-store tooling is vital in empowering a retailer’s employees to make the shopping experience as convenient as possible, helping to enhance brand perception for the customer.

Above all, in-store tooling has to be user-friendly and quick for employees to use, streamlining the time it takes to identify stores and distribution centres that may have the desired item. If the customer cannot obtain the product when they want it, this could lead to poor brand perception. Should the desired product not be available, retailers should look to offer alternative products, similar to items the customer has already selected or browsed online. This connected approach is crucial in fostering customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

The alternative option of using online-only retailers – where customers can browse recommended and alternative products and complete the buying process in just a few clicks – is all too easy. It is therefore essential for retailers to provide a similar proposition in-store through a unified approach to inventory.

This emphasises the need for retailers to treat their stores and online platforms as one, offering relevant online and in-store inventory to customers based on their location. Providing a real-time view of product availability at their preferred store as well as different locations satisfies the customer’s requirement to have the product as soon as possible, providing greater convenience and fulfilment options, and meeting the needs of demanding customers and those seeking instant gratification.

Rob Shaw is the Managing Director of EMEA at Fluent Commerce.

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