Stores are back, but will the inventory be there?

(Source: Supplied.)

Australian shoppers are ready and are headed back to stores, bringing with them high expectations that the products they want will be in stock.

According to Oracle’s latest Retail Consumer Study, 53 per cent of consumers plan to shop mostly in-store this holiday season, and an additional 25 per cent plan to shop through a combination of in-store and online channels. Unfortunately for retailers, the ongoing global supply chain disruptions have not yet ceased, leaving many undersupplied. For retailers facing such disruptions, merchandise in the wrong place at the wrong time can become one of the highest costs to their bottom line. 

So how can retailers be proactive in their inventory placement to avoid compromising top-line growth and customer satisfaction? With inventory availability being one of the top priorities for shoppers this holiday season, retailers must leverage their inventory management and customer experience tools to optimise their merchandise strategies. Not only will this help ensure margins are managed, but it will ensure customer expectations are met.

Here are three considerations retailers should consider when preparing for seasons of high demand:

Strength in numbers

Retailers must ensure they have complete confidence in the data reflected in their inventory management systems. With 40 per cent of shoppers in the same study stating that out-of-stock items would constitute a bad experience, this could make or break customer retention, compromising top-line growth and customer satisfaction. By using customer data to create a single, dynamic, real-time view of demand, it becomes easier for retailers to forecast which products are most sought after and order the necessary stock to meet demand.

Preparing for the rush

To stay ahead of the game, retailers must optimise their use of supply chain management tools, leveraging them as an advantage over their competitors. In Oracle’s report, 28 per cent of Aussie shoppers have expressed fear that their holiday gifts won’t arrive on time, likely due to the delivery backlogs of recent years. Compounding this concern for shoppers are the ongoing supply chain disruptions hitting the nation, making it a major consideration for where they purchase from. For retailers, this has created an urgency to ensure gifts are delivered on time while providing transparency on the delivery status along the way. To alleviate this concern and create a better customer experience, retailers must intelligently plan for demand, supply, order fulfilment, and production across the entire supply chain. Real-time, end-to-end visibility of where stock is will help improve customer service while minimising disruptions and costs for retailers.

New customer expectations

After several years of online shopping being the dominant purchase channel, consumers are heading back to stores with new expectations. For the returning consumer, retailers must create an endless aisle experience for increased customer satisfaction and the likelihood of customer retention. It is even more critical for retailers to be proactive in their inventory placement as they consider their stock assortment’s size, style, and colour to avoid massive store-to-store transfer costs and delivery delays and satisfy all customers’ needs. 

To recreate the online experience, store associates need to take the extra step to help in-store shoppers find the item they need. This could even extend to identifying online stock and shipping it directly to the customer’s home. It is also vital to provide online shoppers with an accurate view of product availability at their nearest physical location. With 25 per cent of shoppers saying they would go to another retailer if a product were not in stock, retailers must go above and beyond for customers. This means ensuring nearly every interaction ends with the consumer leaving satisfied with the product they needed. 

Customer loyalty and satisfaction should always be at the forefront of retailers’ minds. As inventory availability becomes an increasingly important aspect of a positive shopper experience, it is, therefore, essential that retailers brace for the busy shopping season. By maximising their use of customer experience and supply chain management platforms, retailers can ensure they have access to a holistic view of shopper interactions. This way, retailers can make better inventory decisions, ensuring they provide the best customer experience.

About the author: Damien McLaughlin is a director at Oracle Retail.