Make inventory management the center of omnichannel efforts
When most merchants talk about omnichannel operations, they generally refer to the implementation of mobile devices or offering in-store pickup to online shoppers. However, as Forrester Research Vice President and Principal Analyst Peter Sheldon recently noted, one area of omnichannel strategies merchants cannot overlook is inventory management.
Evolving technology and what it means for inventory management
Before retailers were treating all their different sales avenues as one cohesive channel, many merchants divided inventory allotments on a store-by-store and channel-by-channel basis. If a brick-and-mortar shop had 10 units of a specific SKU left in stock, they were stuck at that location even if an online store was running out of inventory due to high demand.
For the most part, a big reason for this is simply because the technology did not exist for people to easily access inventory data in real-time.
However, many modern merchants now have the technical capabilities to access inventory on the fly, regardless of whether they are looking at stock in-store, at another nearby location or at a distribution center several hundred miles away. Having this information available in real-time is pivotal because it can greatly improve eCommerce operations.
For instance, if a customer orders a product from a retailer, having inventory information allows it to fill the order in the best way possible. That may mean pulling the item from a store close to the customer to expedite delivery, or passing the order onto a distribution center if nearby stores are out of stock.
Accuracy is key for better inventory management
While inventory management can be tremendously beneficial, data accuracy is pivotal to this effort. If merchants cannot be sure their inventory information is on point, they will not be able to make the best decisions.
"An effective omni channel strategy depends entirely on having accurate in-store inventory," Sheldon told Multichannel Merchant. "It's the Achilles heel of the whole thing, and most retailers are not there. Some are investing in RFID to get to better accuracy, and a lot of them are relying on legacy point-of-sale systems."
As retailers look to develop their omnichannel strategies, it is crucial they make inventory management the center of these efforts. Better management of inventory and stock levels can help merchants improve margins, which is critical in a post-recession retail landscape.