For veterans in the retail industry, chances are they recall the days when ‘supply chain’ and ‘customer experience’ were rarely mentioned in the same sentence. These were the days before omnichannel completely upended traditional customer service, store operations and supply chain models.
Fast-forward to today, and accelerated by a certain pandemic, we now live in a world where shoppers expect to buy, collect and return from virtually anywhere. As a result, retailers are faced with near-constant disruption – the threat of online players, shifts in consumer behaviour, the evolving role of the store and whatever is the ‘next big thing’. As retailers rush to align their people, processes and technologies to achieve unified commerce (a term that is often seen as the panacea for omnichannel complexity), retailers remain hard-pressed to live up not only to consumer expectations, but to the new industry norms – particularly, in a way that is profitable for their business.
Unified commerce is not for the faint of heart. But undoubtedly, the ability to provide consistent, seamless and superior customer experiences across digital and physical channels is now a requisite – at least if you want to be competitive.
So, how does a retailer get started down the path towards unified commerce, or if already on the journey, how can a retailer take bold strides forward? Survey 10 different retail experts and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. Well, allow me to offer you an 11th perspective.
Unified commerce starts with optimised omnichannel inventory management.
A retailer that boasts an optimised omnichannel inventory management strategy can provide its customers and associates with inventory visibility across its estate. This retailer can also manage the movement and availability of inventory across its estate to best satisfy customer demand from any channel, with the highest level of profitability for its business.
When a retailer is able to achieve this, it is best positioned to improve the customer experience, streamline its supply chain and maximise profitability.
And while we won’t get into the great debate over whether retail is currently product- or experience-driven, the fact remains: You cannot be a successful retailer if you are not
successfully moving inventory.
I believe there are three key considerations for retailers looking to achieve optimised omnichannel inventory management:
1. Establish a real-time view of inventory across the estate.
Omnichannel is no longer in its infancy. Nevertheless, many retailers are still working to establish a single view of inventory. When a retailer cannot see its inventory because that inventory sits in disparate silos or is in transit or for other reasons, chances are the retailer is losing out on opportunities to satisfy its customers – and earn a sale.
By establishing a single version of the truth for inventory, retailers can better manage fulfilment performance, including offering services such as click-and-collect with confidence.
2. Find a way to keep – and maintain – stock accuracy.
If knowing where your inventory resides is the first step to unified commerce, the second and most logical next step is finding a way to maintain stock accuracy.
To get a better handle on inventory accuracy, some fashion and apparel retailers are turning to RFID tagging.
According to a report by ABI Research which examined the transformation of in-store inventory management, “as stores strive to perfect how they serve customers and integrate various shopping and delivery channels, being able to accurately count, control and predict available inventory will become a basic operational requirement.”
The report also went on to say, “Using RFID technology, these retailers can reach near perfect inventory intelligence at more regular intervals, leading to improved customer satisfaction, reduced shrinkage, and improved sales velocity.”
I would caution, however, that RFID is not for everyone. The operating costs are still difficult to justify for many retailers, where such an investment makes more sense with higher volumes or high-ticket items. You have to conduct an ROI analysis and determine whether there are other more cost-effective means to gain better inventory visibility.
3. Offer fulfilment flexibility with distributed order management.
Order management systems are configurable, rule-based applications that optimise retailers’ fulfilment performance for consumer orders.
An order management system should be able to capture orders from any channel and support a long list of omnichannel fulfilment use cases, from ship to home to click-and-collect and everything in between.
The order management process must expose available-to-sell inventory from every fulfilment location (store, DC, vendor or even in-transit), based on rules managed by the retailer.
The system should also have the ability to collect, prioritise and intelligently route orders and interface to payment systems. By focusing on an order management platform that can serve multiple order creation and order fulfilment processes, retailers can insulate themselves from disruptive changes to core processes, even while the consumer-facing side of the retail model continues to evolve.
Optimised omnichannel inventory management: A journey worth taking
As retailers’ omnichannel inventory management processes become more mature, we will see more retailers forecasting consumer fulfilment choices and optimising inventory levels and positioning accordingly.
In doing so, retailers will be able to make exponential strides in achieving optimal inventory levels to meet demand from all shopping channels.
While there’s no single correct way to begin your unified commerce journey, one very good place to start is with what you already have – your inventory.
Read the State of Omnichannel Customer Experience 2020, Download here.
Regional Vice President, Asia Pacific at Aptos
Based in Singapore, Zaki leads Aptos’ Asia-Pacific expansion plans. With a global knowledge base, Zaki leverages his 20 years of experience gained from working across five continents in sales and delivery management to make Aptos the go-to partner for APAC retailers.
Zaki utilizes his industry knowledge to expertly execute new business efforts. Zaki thrives on the challenges associated with expanding Aptos’ footprint in the APAC region, always employing alternative strategies and out-of-the-box thinking to gain new