As retailers endeavour to meet the challenges of trading during a pandemic – one of the major issues is “How do you deliver products and service in line with rising and continuously changing customer expectations? Across all your digital and physical touchpoints retailers need to meet customer expectations and give them what they want, when they want it – smoothly and quickly. Otherwise your customers will go elsewhere.
This means looking differently at stock inventory and how you make the best decisions about delivering orders, and having options to quickly respond when things don’t line up.
Conflict between customer requirement and retail reality
There is currently a big mismatch between ideal and reality. While the vast majority of consumers say product availability and delivery is very important to them, only a minority of retailers rate their execution as excellent. The problem is achieving optimized fulfilment whilst maintaining profitability.
Taking an end-to-end view
Retailers need to be looking at this from an end-to-end perspective. At the front end of the retail supply chain, there needs to be a range of customer-touch point solutions and ominchannel service options. Behind the scenes, retailers need to build the right infrastructure to anticipate, manage and satisfy the expectations, and then ensure that the right inventory and assortments are in the best locations for rapid and smart fulfilment.
With a solid end-to-end processes, customers will easily transition from their initial excitement to purchase without unnecessarily losing a sale. Customers need to feel confident that their product is available and ready to go to them according to their requirements. Offerings such as click-and-collect mean giving access to up-to-the-minute in store stock holdings to be sure the item is there when the customer arrives, and wants a quick easy purchase.
In other situations, say when an item is not in stock, require similar management. Save a sale by offering endless aisle, but you need to make sure you can suggest delivery windows that are based on real inventory availability. Your in-store staff need to also be empowered to access accurate inventory, as must your in store self serve kiosks.
Likewise, you need to be able to manage inventory that comes back to you across the network. Customers want to be able to buy online and return in store, even if that store does not stock that item, and your store needs to be able to easily ship that item elsewhere.
Visibility gives you flexibility
Truly flexible fulfilment relies on having a reliable, single, and live view of all of your inventory. It supports you in to ensuring your inventory is located in the right quantities and locations, and that you are fulfilling customer orders rapidly, in the right way, and profitably.
The store profile is changing in this new inventory fulfilment network. Some stores are becoming virtual warehouses with click-and-collect, curbside pickup, deliver and ship from store. Larger stores, are becoming central distribution centres for smaller outlying stores. Retailers’ ability to adapt and be flexible is more important than ever.