Omni-channel retail refers to retail that not only incorporates multiple sales channels but integrates these channels so that one, seamless and holistic shopping experience is presented to the customer. It certainly is the direction in which the retail industry is travelling, however, it is a road not without speed bumps. Let us consider how an omni-channel retail method is best implemented.
The effect of omni-channel retail on inventory control
Inventory represents one of the largest assets of a company, and when improperly managed, it can turn into one of its biggest liabilities. How then, is inventory management facilitated through the adoption of an omni-channel approach?
The answer is not to simply store more inventory in more locations thereby increasing all the risks and costs associated with stored inventory. Instead, a customer can order an item from any of the channels, be it at a customer services desk in-store, or the mobile-capable website, and have their order fulfilled in a timely manner. This is due to the ability to reallocate inventory across the different channels based on demand. If there is a stock-out situation, there is no need to keep the customer waiting days or weeks for the next shipment; instead, you can reallocate the stock that was assigned to a different channel to satisfy their demand. The other benefit of inventory control is the prioritising of inventory to the channel that will most likely sell it. The effect of this is increased sales, quicker turnaround of stock and decreased stored inventory.
It is imperative that a company’s inventory management system actively supports an omni-channel retail model as with outdated systems, this strategy could wreak havoc on inventory control. For example, if a customer makes a purchase online through the e-store and then opts to pick the item up in-store, the brick-and-mortar store’s inventory is reduced with no corresponding sale to reconcile it. Therefore, the inventory must be redirected to a different channel in the management system.
Likewise, if a customer returns something to a physical store which they purchased online, it must be receipted into the inventory of which it did not originate from. This transaction must then be recorded and reconciled accurately, otherwise managing inventory across the multiple channels will become a nightmare.
Putting your best foot forward
So, how can you best manage an omni-channel retail strategy?
In a single-channel retail business, errors can creep in resulting in inventory not being reconciled. This is even more so for an omni-channel retailer where data is being received and goods are going out from multiple locations. With a dedicated online inventory management software, you can be sure that stock levels are accurate across various locations.
Multiple distribution centres
It is beneficial to have multiple distribution centres and make sure they are all stocked appropriately after accurate analysis of sales trends over time and across the different channels. A primary benefit to this technique is improving shipping times as orders can be fulfilled from the closest distribution centre to the customer. Likewise, instead of restocking a store from a warehouse, inventory can be redirected from one of the many distribution centres which creates a more efficient and cost-effective system.
Multi-channel inventory management software
To effectively run an omni-channel business, you need the support of a software that can assess and manage multiple channels in one integrative, holistic system. This would allow you to consider all your inventory as a single entity despite it residing in multiple locations; have a transparent view of stock across all locations; analyse sales trends for each channel and then quickly transfer inventory to suit; and finally, to easily update inventory records when items are returned to any location.