Managing Inventory In An Omnichannel World: Tips To Help You Sell From More Than One Channel
Until the early nineties, retail sales mostly happened through one of two channels- physical outlets, or telephone orders. When NetMarket accepted its first online order fully paid for in 1994, no one may have foreseen the degree of technological advancements that the next two decades would see. By 2010, smartphones weren’t a peculiar object but instead the new norm. These changes, coupled with changing buyer preferences and greater expectations, have given rise to omnichannel retail.
Even with omnichannel retail gaining as much prominence as it has, several retailers big and small struggle to implement it fast enough for it to make a difference to their customers.
Omnichannel retail is all about being present across all retail touchpoints that the customers are likely to use, and allowing them to seamlessly switch between channels and buy from wherever they choose. Here are some tips and solutions to help you solve everyday omnichannel issues and also manage your inventory better.
- Use Store Inventory To Fulfill Online Orders: In theory, by converting every store into a fulfillment center for online orders, retailers should be able to deliver products faster to their customers by fulfilling them from the nearest store. At the same time, you don’t want to overstock a store and confuse your employees. As a solution, consider treating inventory as a single entity spread out across multiple locations. The entire catalog of products is consolidated across all stores and warehouse locations.This way, even if an online order cannot be fulfilled from the nearest store, it can be done from the closest store that has the product. Treating all of the inventory as one consolidated unit is key for success.
- Place Online Orders From Within The Store: Stores cannot always have every product in the catalog handy, which is disappointing for customers looking for a specific product. It is also possible with apparel that a particular size or color may be out of stock at the store. Instead of losing a sale, omnichannel retail allows you to help the customer place an online order for the product from within the store itself.Arm your sales employees with tablets to help them place orders within large locations. Encourage them to present online ordering as an alternative to customers looking for a specific product that is unavailable.
- Evaluate And Adjust Demand And Supply Frequently: Since you’re using every store and warehouse as a fulfillment center, use sales data from the last quarter to see which SKUs perform well in which area. This way, you can redistribute your inventory and stock products most likely to be in demand at every location.
- In order to do this, you can analyze past sales data from different channels you sell through. This data can guide you on what products sell better on which channels.
Not just that, you can also identify which products have a higher turnover and thus need to be ordered more frequently than others. These are the products that you need to monitor demand for reorder frequently. One foolproof way to do this is to use automated purchase orders that are raised every time the stock for a product is low. That’s more orders and fewer out-of-stock issues, plus one less thing for you to worry about.
- Process Returns In Store: Shipping returns back to a warehouse or fulfillment centre can get expensive, plus a return essentially means that you haven’t really made any money on that transaction. Encourage customers to bring products for returns processing to the nearest store.This way, you save on shipping costs for the returned product, plus you get a chance to understand why the product is being returned. Store employees can identify the cause of concern and cross-sell another product, or help with a replacement on a case-to-case basis.
- Use A Robust Inventory Management System: In omnichannel retail, the greatest challenge for a retailer is accurate tracking of inventory movement and order processing across channels. To ensure this happens smoothly, use a good inventory management system that can track inventory across all of your products and sales channels.Doing so allows you to see how your products move from the time they are shipped by your vendor, right until they are sold and delivered to someone, or purchased from one of your stores. Moreover, some systems also allow you to automate when you reorder more stock for a product, making it easier for you to sell better and never run out of stock.
As retailing gets more complex and new channels of sale get added to the roster each day, it is important for retailers to adapt to new technology that can help them manage inventory more accurately. It also helps to automate as much of the inventory management process as possible to avoid human error and they day-to-day hassle of having to make inventory decisions.
Contributed by Mohammed Ali, Founder and CEO of Primaseller—a Multichannel Inventory Management Software that helps sellers manage inventory better and fulfil orders on time, with nifty integrations that make business better. When not running a startup, Ali is often caught lapping up the latest book in fantasy fiction.