What Happens Without Retail Inventory Visibility?
Looking for a new soft leather briefcase for my laptop, I set out to purchase from a local retailer. I wanted to find one that I liked online. I wanted to order it and pick it up in store. That’s when the frustrations set in. To my surprise, most of the retailers carrying the briefcase I wanted, simply could not show me their local inventory. Retail inventory visibility is a necessity in this day of hyper-competitiveness. If you don’t have it, then you won’t have your customers for very much longer – either.
Where is The Retail Inventory Visibility?
Like many customers, I had a deadline for my purchase. On my way to NRF, I no longer felt comfortable porting my laptop in my ratty, old backpack. Besides, the bright baby blue just did not match the green of my new dinner jacket. So, I set out to find the leather briefcase I have wanted for over a year, online. Not having the time to wait for a shipment, which could be two to fourteen days, I wanted to pick it up right away, from a nearby retailer. Besides, it would support the local economy.
I found a few nearby retail chains carrying what I wanted. The models were different. Colors varied, as did sizes and styles. Frankly, the best option before purchasing was to reserve, then go to a nearby store to scope it out, and purchase if it was really what I wanted. After all, I needed to see if my laptop would fit snuggly or comfortably, if it had sufficiently padding (not easy to see in professional photos), if it looked good live, and if it felt right while carrying it by the handle, or with the shoulder strap.
I searched a few retailers which I knew would carry a leather briefcase of some sort. Of the four I checked, each retailer had a great online site showing me the briefcases I might consider. Even though two of these retailers had some omnichannel capabilities, I was surprised that none of the four told me whether their nearby stores had inventory of the model I wanted.
In itself, this was already frustrating. Instead of heading to a mall, knowing that the retailer would have the selection I wanted, I had to choose the first of a few possible locations. Two of the retailers I looked up online were at the mall I chose. So off I drove.
Close but No Cigar
After visiting both retailers at this first mall, and spending time looking through their selection, I did not find their inventory to be great. Both had shown my preferred models online. However, they were out of stock on that particular unit. Sadly, the in-store associates did not even offer to look up whether another store had what I wanted. Their systems probably did not provide any more information than my online searches did.
With both retailers, I was frustrated to have spent time driving to their locations, only to end up walking away empty handed. Do I have to say it? They both lost the sale!
Forty minutes later, I made it to the second mall. One of the two retailers whom I had visited earlier was at this mall, too. Annoyed at how much time I had spent on this search, I decided to check them out last.
Although I will not mention the retailers, the third on my list had the soft leather briefcase I wanted.
By this point, I had spent time researching my choices online. With no retail inventory visibility available, I then had to venture to two different malls, and three different retailer stores. All told, I must have spent four and a half hours searching for what should have been a simple and quick purchase. When I finally found what I wanted, despite a small discount I negotiated with the associate, I paid a significant premium for the briefcase. This could have been spent with the first name brand retail store, had they saved my time, and shown me the store which had what I wanted.
Lessons in Retail Inventory Visibility
First, I know two of the retailers I checked have an order management system. To my surprise, their system did NOT provide real-time retail inventory visibility. Frankly, there is no excuse for this ommission. Any respectable order management system provides the retailer with real-time robust inventory visibility. If yours does not, then you need an upgrade – FAST!
For customers, retail inventory visibility is a baseline. Every omnichannel retailer needs to show their customers which stores have the merchandise the consumer wants. Otherwise, like the first two retailers I visited, they will lose the sale. Worse yet, a frustrated consumer loses faith in your chain, and might not consider your brand, the next time they need a purchase. For me, that is exactly how I view the first two retailers. I specifically will now go out of my way to avoid making purchases from their stores, unless I have no other options. Naturally, this is not the sentiment you want to engender with your customers.
No Longer a Nice-To-Have
Simply put, retail inventory visibility is no longer a nice-to-have feature. It is a basic necessity in omnichannel retail. Customers expect it. If you don’t have it, then don’t expect to keep your customers either. If you don’t have it, but your competitor does… then they win, and will probably get the consumer’s business.
Many light order management systems are not full featured, to include robust real-time capabilities. I suspect that is exactly what happened with the first two vendors I visited. They clearly had some form of system, just not very good ones. If yours is such a system, then think of getting a fully functional best-of-breed solution deployed, quickly. It does not require a full overhaul, just an enhancement to your core order management technology.
Now, I wonder where I might find a pair of Oxfords and belt to matches my new briefcase? Who has inventory on my path home, tonight?
Charles Dimov is Director of Marketing at OrderDynamics. Charles has 21+ years experience in Marketing, Sales and Management across various IT and Technology businesses. Previous roles include Chief of Staff, Director Product Marketing, and Director Sales. Charles has held roles in brand name firms like IBM, Ericsson, HP, ADP, and OrderDynamics.