How a Single View of Inventory can Help Aussie Retailers Thrive After COVID-19 Crisis

By Graham Jackson | 22 Apr 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a mass temporary closure of bricks and mortar retail and a high demand for online deliveries, with items such as tents for backyard camping and gym equipment selling out.

If you sell in multiple markets, especially across multiple channels or national boundaries, it is essential to connect all your enterprise applications (ERPs, e-commerce, POS, WMS) for a single view of all your inventory. It lets you virtually segment your physical inventory so you can control what is available for scenarios such as by channel, region, delivery type and pre-order. You can even promise inbound inventory that’s not yet on-hand.

To serve the customer who wants something delivered to their homes now, retailers need a single view of product availability and frictionless engagement. They also need to be able to communicate quickly and effectively where products are and how quickly customers will be able to receive them to avoid costly overselling and returns. Here are four ways retailers can do so:

1. Minimise disappointment, maximise sales

While not ideal under usual circumstances, right now, updating inventory on a daily or weekly basis only would be catastrophic in the current climate. However, many customised ERPs or e-commerce platforms just aren’t designed for real-time inventory management. Imagine the added stress for a person at home to find out later that the product they ordered is no longer available or won’t get to them in the time they need it. Stale inventory can lead to angry customers and is a danger that no retailer can afford now.

With inventory accuracy, you can reduce cancelled orders, out-of-stocks, and customer disappointment. Plus, you’ll finally be able to effectively manage your margins by knowing exactly what inventory you have and where. Your order management system should provide the ultimate flexibility to control what you sell, when and where, so you can adapt quickly to changing market demands and conditions.

2. Increase basket size, reduce fulfilment costs

Recommendations and upselling are excellent features of many e-commerce platforms, however, too often this doesn’t factor in fulfilment. What if you could prioritise which upsell products were displayed on the product detail page based on which items were in stock and available at the same time or same location as the main product? That way, if the customer adds an additional item to their cart, they can receive it all together avoiding a split shipment or have the ability to pick it up at the same time using click and collect.

3. Reduce delivery time

In the on-demand world, and especially so in these challenging times, speed matters. Conditioned by Amazon and other fast-retail players, customers now expect to get what they want delivered the same day or next day, not in weeks and months.

The COVID-19 retail closures have also meant that the advantage of bricks and mortar stores has been largely stripped back, with most now reliant on online services until they can launch a successful rebound.

But even if your stores are closed to the public, you can still ship from store and ensure that orders are routed to customers from their local area saving both time and delivery costs in the last mile. Or like Super Retail Group, you can consider offering customers contact-free Click and Collect for essential products. This week, 400 Supercheap Auto and BCF stores across Australia started offering their online customers the option to buy online and pick up purchases without leaving their cars, with staff loading into their boot.

4. Facilitate the unexpected, retain customers

In a perfect world, if a customer receives the correct order in a timely manner, all is good. That’s the happy path. But the order lifecycle can include many exceptions that are difficult or impossible to handle without a dedicated order management system. These could include changes to an order, or for example to the shipping address or adding an additional purchase, or post-purchase the customer may need to make returns, exchanges or request refunds.  Retailers may also want the flexibility to offer discounts if something goes wrong. A single view of product availability can make these an opportunity for great customer service rather than a challenge and can mean the difference between customer frustration and long-term loyalty.

Offering a single view of product availability is no small matter, yet in a world where shoppers demand instant-gratification, accurate, up-to-date inventory is essential to maintain market position through these challenging times.

Graham Jackson is the CEO of Fluent Commerce. 

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