Power to the process: how to deliver seamless retail experiences

26th Sep 2016

Omnichannel retail has come a long way over the past twelve months. Many retailers are closer than ever to being able to serve shoppers everywhere with a consistent proposition. But how many of these retail experiences would the end customer describe as seamless?

Not enough, is the unfortunate answer. While data insights are enabling retail organisations to see how consumers use each channel, and to analyse trends based on the interactions they make, turning that knowledge into a better customer encounter is another matter altogether.

Taking stock

Inventory is a prime example of knowledge needing to be turned into power. Retailers are increasingly moving towards a single stock view of their business, so that they have complete visibility of where product is located against consumer demand. However, how many of these organisations have the processes and systems in place to react to the results revealed by their single stock view?

It is a daily scenario for retailers to find themselves in a situation where stock is available to customers, but it cannot be shipped quickly enough for their needs – or it can, but unprofitably. Analyst IMRG predicts that more than 1.6 billion parcels will be dispatched by UK retailers before the end of this year, a 16% growth on last year. And with companies like Amazon operating highly competitive fulfilment models to ensure maximum speed to customer, there is growing pressure being placed on retailers to get goods to the customers whenever and wherever they want them. 

Another common scenario is for stock not selling well in one channel or even store to be marked down, only to discover that demand is running ahead of stock position in another channel or a different location, where it could have been reallocated and sold on at full price. Whether this is caused by inaccurate forecasting, or the inability to react swiftly to shopper activity across all channels, retailers find themselves in the unfortunate position of losing margin or even customers where – for a relatively small cost to their business – they could have moved stock elsewhere for a more profitable result.

More than just seeing

So if retailers have complete omnichannel inventory visibility, why are everyday challenges like this still occurring? The simple truth is that while they may have the eyes to see what’s going on, they do not always have the technology and processes to make an appropriate reaction.  All too often, disintegrated systems and disruptive processes compromise performance, which leads to lost opportunities, margin, and even customers.

The next step in the omnichannel journey, therefore, is for retailers to implement processes and systems that will enable them to deliver on their promise in any location, across any channel, at any time.

In terms of stock, this means being able to map out the scenarios that can potentially result in lost sales or more positively result in higher sales, and analysing what needs to change within the current processes to respond to consumer demand much quicker. For example, if a customer wants to click-and-collect an item that is not currently available at their local store, what are the nearest fulfilment points, and what are the costs and time frames for getting that item to the location needed? How valuable is that customer to the business if their expectations are not met, and therefore how worthy is the investment in speed of delivery?

This way, the most effective course of action can be put in place as soon as this situation occurs for real, and the customer can collect their item without ever having to be aware of the complexities that lie behind their order.

Of course, the challenge for retailers is that inventory availability is just one aspect of providing a seamless retail experience. Ideally, they need to analyse the complete end-to-end shopper journey, to identify where system and process improvements are required from start to finish. However, given that it’s impossible to change everything at the same time, inventory is an effective place to start – and they can work on other critical issues in the background once stock availability has been optimised.

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