Stop saying ‘sorry, we’re out of stock’ –here’s how

By Samir Belkhayat, UK Director for Cegid.

“I adore this floral shirt, but you’ve run out of mediums!” Sadly, just because the world is moving to a new digitally-enhanced, joined-up retail model – namely omnichannel – it doesn’t mean stock-outs are a thing of the past. Retailers still struggle to have product in the right place, in the right quantities, at the right time, and they are losing sales and customers as a result. 

In fact, the average retail store’s inventory accuracy is a startlingly low 65% to 75%, according to a recent academic study from Auburn University, meaning shoppers are still routinely disappointed. 

Inventory visibility is mission critical 

Often a danger for traditional retailers striving to offer an omnichannel experience, is that they take their eye off the ball when it comes to the basics of inventory management. Order management and CRM systems integration is happening to make the experience between online and in-store is as seamless and painless as possible – but the reality is that these efforts are wasted without knowing exactly where stock is in real time.

Inventory visibility is the key to meeting the most basic customer needs, and retailers are grasping the fact that they must master this if they are serious about perfecting omnichannel service delivery. After all, there is almost no room for error in today’s competitive retail landscape. At a time when the cost and effort to acquire new customers far outweighs the cost and effort to retain current customers, retailers can’t afford to miss out on these easier sales. Too often customers are poised to convert but can’t because what they want isn’t where it should be.

I love it. I want it. Where is it? 

To delight shoppers with product availability, retailers must be able to instantly access real-time, accurate inventory across channels to ensure customers can connect with the items they want. Unified commerce solutions make it possible to offer a host of must-have fulfilment options. So, if you want to offer e-Reservation, web-to-store (BOPIS), store-to-home, store-to-store, and store-to-web (endless aisle) to your customers, you must have unified commerce capability, which allows you to view and optimise inventory. 

Then by providing the ability to conveniently source a wanted item from a different location, retailers save sales otherwise lost to out-of-stocks.

Meeting customer expectations

Let’s think about what then becomes possible. If the last extra-small denim jacket gets reserved online for in-store pick up, a store associate should be notified to immediately set that item aside, so that shoppers walking in the stores don’t think it’s available for sale. Ideally the customer should be notified when the item is ready for pick-up. And replenishment of that popular item should be fast-tracked back in the warehouse so that future store sales aren’t missed. But in too many cases retailers’ antiquated inventory systems haven’t been built to handle modern omnichannel scenarios like these. 

Empowering sales associates to sell 

If store teams do have access to accurate inventory data, they are in a strong position to progress store browsers into buyers, greatly boosting store performance. Cegid has worked with luxury swimwear brand Vilebrequin in just this way. The retailer operates a chain of small boutiques but wanted to leverage a much wider inventory and invested in our unified commerce technology to do so. 

Now omnichannel services such as endless aisle (also called store-to-web) are available in the boutiques across the globe. Sales associates use Windows tablets to show their customers items not available in the shop, and virtually expanding assortments to capture more sales. The investment has paid off. As Vilebrequin added new omnichannel offerings, its digital sales doubled and doubled again. This was made possible through a unified approach to commerce, where stock, orders and customer data is centralised and fully visible to the retailer in real time.

Inventory tracking makes you awesome

Store backrooms can be a black hole when it comes to inventory visibility. Retailers might have warehouse shipment data and overall store inventory level data to work with, but is this enough? Knowing what stock is held in store is even more important today, because outlets are becoming mini warehouses, as part of the click-and-collect (or BOPIS) services so widely offered by retail brands. 

Thankfully we’re seeing the arrival of mobile devices into stores that facilitate better cycle counts of physical inventory, leading to greater stock accuracy. Retailers can now leverage modern mobile hardware and software solutions to carry out inventory tracking, accepting or initiating product transfers and BOPIS picking, regardless of where these tasks take place in the store.

Know the location of every item

By capturing every movement with a powerful scan — physical inventory, cycle counting, receiving, storing, stocking, picking, transferring, and so on — retailers can be confident they’re capturing precise detail on the location of every item, as well as ensuring the accuracy of every order fulfilled.

Together with POS data, the ability to capture stock movement as it happens provides an accurate, real-time view of the location of all inventory in the store – incredibly valuable in the race to secure every possible sale.  

With this degree of stock visibility and inventory tracking, retailers can confidently serve customers and keep order promises that matter so much to loyal customers. If they love your product and want it, why not let them have it.

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