Dusan Rnic, VP UK, Oracle Retail at Oracle, writes for eDelivery on the importance of demand management and supply chain efficiency for keeping the promise to the customer.
This year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales of around £3.3bn in the UK mark just the beginning of the holiday shopping season as shoppers flood the high street and online in search of the perfect gifts.
For retailers, it is absolutely critical they get their Christmas offering right. Not only does a successful run-up to Christmas significantly boost revenues, it also helps build a positive opinion of their brand in consumers’ eyes.
With 1bn online orders expected during the run-up to Christmas, retailers will need to ensure the shelves in their stores are adequately stocked with the right products, that they can deliver on all their customers’ online and click & collect orders, and that their websites can handle exceptionally large surges in traffic in the run-up to Christmas.
How can businesses deliver on these expectations?
- Embed convenience throughout the retail operation
Convenience is king for today’s shoppers, and even more so during periods when they are time-poor and highly stressed like the holidays. Retailers need to ensure they deliver a consistent and seamless experience that doesn’t fall apart when the lines between smartphones, PCs, tablets, kiosks, and in-store are crossed.
Consumers expect zero friction whether they decide to buy an item online and collect it in store, purchase it in-store and opt for home-delivery, or use a voucher code in-store that was issued online. From pricing to availability to returns, every element of the retail experience must be developed and delivered with convenience in mind. Any barriers can quickly become insurmountable in a world where consumers are only a click away from a competitor.
To achieve this, retailers need a responsive cross-channel inventory management system. A real-time, integrated view of inventory makes the business more agile and promotes better planning and forecasting, essential for the peaks in demand brought about by holiday shopping. Retailers should also look to embed automation across their inventory management to ensure that they can respond to spikes in demand efficiently and that nothing is overlooked.
After all, the last few days before Christmas can send sales skyrocketing, and retailers will need to respond by getting more units into stores and distribution centres as quickly as possible to capitalise on the opportunity.
- Gain a transparent view of inventory
During this incredibly busy time, it is essential retailers make inventory transparent and accessible to both employees and customers in real-time, taking into account the latest data on returns and pending orders. A single, up-to-the-minute inventory master provides retailers with one accurate version of the truth upon which to make well-informed store picking, inventory process, warehouse management, and merchandising decisions.
For in-store staff, having real-time inventory and stock data at their fingertips allows them to be as helpful to customers as the recommendations and on a retailer’s website. For customers, an accurate representation of inventory manages their expectations of what products a retailer can and can’t deliver at any given time.
Sophisticated inventory management is essential if businesses are to be able to fulfil orders in any location without incurring unnecessary cost or complexity. In 2014, Oracle research found 46% of consumers are more likely to be loyal to a retailer that provides accurate information on the availability of products. In fact 30% of shoppers said they would spend more with a company that provides this and 58%said availability is more important than price.
- Be confident in your supply chain
Businesses should also feel confident their supply chain is up to the task of meeting customer demand during the festive season, and that no nasty surprises will disrupt their seamless retail operation. Today’s supply chain solutions enable retailers to have total confidence in the quality and on-time delivery of their products by delivering total transparency into their trading partner relationships and into the procurement and provenance of their inventory from the source.
Item and inventory transparency also enhance interdependent retail processes such as customer segmentation, store clustering, pricing, planning, allocation and space planning. An open flow of data across these processes allows retailers to factor in the dynamic interplay between them when reacting to spikes in demand, which helps ensure they base their decisions on the best possible business intelligence.
Retailers must have the confidence to offer products and deliver on customer expectations regarding availability. They must also know where that stock has come from, where it is in the supply chain and how it can be optimised to deliver the greatest margin.
Optimising retail for the peak season is no small task, and with holiday sales growing yearly it will become increasingly difficult for businesses to keep up with the added strain on their operations brought on by the festive rush. From their supply chain to their in-store experience, retailers will need to keep innovating and ensure they’re agile enough to successfully manage the holiday sales boom in the years to come.