Last year, brands and retailers saw unprecedented online demand — with 10 years’ of growth crunched into just three months’ time.  The trend is likely to continue, with e-commerce sales expected to grow another 14% this year.

But the supply chain also faced unprecedented challenges, with manufacturing delays, carrier rate increases, and transit issues continuing to plague retail and online fulfillment experiences. 

Meeting the pace of growth while navigating new constraints has forced brands and retailers to reassess their traditional inventory management strategies.  Companies are getting creative by offering inventory that they already have in-network, in new and different ways.

How can brands and retailers maximize the inventory they already have to create the innovative experience their customers need?

Set customers’ delivery expectations earlier in the shopping journey

Everyone understands the impact the “Amazon effect” has had on customers’ “fast and free” delivery expectations — but the pressure to compete has also opened the door to new fulfillment options like same-day and local delivery.  There are plenty of partners and third party providers that can enable last-mile fulfillment services (particularly in urban areas), but — how can brands craft an entire shopping experience around a fulfillment option?  

Customers like specificity when evaluating options, and offering estimated delivery dates ahead of checkout gives customers the visibility they’re looking for to make purchase decisions.  More brands are personalizing the online shopping journey by using targeted messaging like “Get It Now” and “Delivery by tomorrow” upstream of checkout.  This not only gives customers the visibility they want, but better showcases inventory that’s readily available to meet customer demand — resulting in higher conversion.

Bring ‘click-and-collect’ experiences to the forefront of the customer journey

For brands with brick and mortar stores, buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup options have proven to be incredibly valuable — 85% of BOPIS customers make an additional purchase in-store, yielding more sales and higher basket size.

Offering BOPIS is now a must-have, but many retailers cite lack of customer awareness as an obstacle to successful program roll-out.  How can brands ensure customers are aware of the BOPIS experience early enough to see the benefits?  Again, we think the answer is:  showcase the option earlier in the customer journey.  

While most companies offer BOPIS or pick-up options only at checkout, many of Onera’s customers have brought location-level inventory visibility upstream to the product description page (PDP) and product landing page (PLP).  Adding the ability to filter for BOPIS on the PDP has resulted in >50% of BOPIS orders converting to additional in-store purchases.  Adding “shop by store” inventory filters to the PLP drives higher conversion, with the average conversion rate for a shop-by-store experience among our customers landing at ~2x that of a “standard” e-commerce shopping flow.

Use in-transit inventory to satisfy customer demand

Supply chain delays are expected to continue well past this year’s peak season.  Overwhelmed facilities translate to more out-of-stocks on websites and extended back-orders, both of which come with heavy costs to revenue and customer retention.

How can brands make more inventory available, more quickly?  Offering pre-orders is a proven strategy to satisfy customer demand while avoiding the risk of over-purchasing.  But some trailblazers are getting even more creative by promising in-transit inventory.  

This in-transit inventory is any finished unit that does not yet exist within the four walls of a fulfillment channel, but is actively in shipment — including units that are en route from the manufacturer, store replenishments that are in transit from warehouse, or even in-flight return items that will be processed for resale.  

Tapping into this already-created, not-yet-arrived inventory is an efficient way to ensure there are enough units to satisfy demand, without risking either over-purchasing or interim out-of-stocks. 

Create one digital inventory pool to power every channel

Shoppers expect to be able to research, compare, and purchase products through whichever channel they choose to shop.  Many brands are expanding into social shopping and marketplaces, and building their own native mobile apps to meet customers where they’re already scrolling. 

But purchasing and managing web, mobile, social, store, and marketplace inventory pools separately is a recipe for compounded data accuracy issues and crunched margins.  Why not share inventory data, and manage a single, real-time pool for every demand and fulfillment channel?  

An omnichannel strategy that fulfills from a single digital pool means that an Instagram purchase can immediately update the available quantity on the website. Sharing event data across channels creates a single source of available-to-purchase inventory, eliminating the risk of over-promising inventory in one channel, or facing gluts where supply is greater than demand in another.  

Investing in real-time data visibility is key to future scalability

While each of these strategies can improve margins, increase revenue, and improve customer retention, they’re not risk-free.  Underlying infrastructure constraints may contribute to inventory inaccuracies, data processing delays, and disjointed customer journeys. 

Many platforms, like Shopify, can power the front-end needed to offer these customer experiences.  Often, though, brands are stuck with back-end systems that simply can’t keep up with the speed and amount of processing power needed to offer a seamless customer journey — which explains why 22% of retailers believe that their current tech stacks are not sophisticated enough to support new omnichannel strategies.  

Increasingly, we’re hearing from brands that are moving away from monolithic systems, and are instead building their tech stack around a network of modular components that improve flexibility, functionality, and agility. For brands looking to create a seamless integration across online and offline, fulfillment locations, and demand channels, investments that enable real-time data visibility will be key.  

How Onera can help

In every channel and location, events are happening in real-time that impact inventory.  These events have an immediate and critical impact on operational inventory (inventory that is made available for the customer to purchase). But the systems that manage operational inventory are inefficient due to:

  • Discrepant front-end and back-end records of inventory 
  • Batched and asynchronous processes between systems
  • Limited visibility and configurability of inventory

These system disconnects lead to poor outcomes — negative customer experiences, operational complexity, and a whole bunch of tech debt.

Onera is the single platform to manage your inventory data (your “inventory hub”).  It connects events across siloed systems into a single, real-time source of truth of operational inventory — powering any channel or application at web-speed. 

Creating a unified, real-time inventory record accelerates growth and innovation.

  • Sell any item from any location, through any channel
  • Consistent, positive customer experience—reduced cancels
  • Flexible inventory management—data in operators’ hands
  • Fewer systems, streamlined integrations
  • Unconstrained innovation

 

Looking for ways to improve inventory visibility?  Contact us to continue the conversation!

Tagged in

  • customer experience
  • data
  • e-commerce
  • inventory management
  • supply chain