As we fast approach the peak Christmas period many experts are predicting that the global supply chain crisis is likely to get worse before it gets better. They point to bottlenecks at every link of the supply chain including shipping, trucks, railroads, air and warehouses.
The problems are affecting most industries and retailers are no exception, keeping operational managers awake as they look for solutions.
The pandemic has forced many shoppers to buy online. While many retailers have benefited from the rapid growth in e-commerce, the frustration has been coping with high but unpredictable demand, alongside lower levels of stock.
At this point, some brands started to realise their inventory control systems were unable to cope with the unprecedented situation.
Stock management is a major challenge for any retailer at the best of times, but it has been a particular concern of late. Shoppers expect total flexibility in what brands offer across all channels, but that is often being pushed to breaking point.
A starting point is an examination of an organisation’s stock management systems. More and more, we see a typical buyer’s journey is fluid. It begins on one platform, for instance the company website, but then migrates to another, say a city store, before a purchase is made in a shop in another city.
As customers increasingly move between channels, inventory systems need to capture stock levels in all physical locations, which could mean shops or warehouses. For larger retailers this could also involve international locations and networks of warehouses either serving their bricks-and-mortar stores or their online channels.
The situation is further complicated if sales channels and back-office systems are not fully integrated. This in turn will prevent the retailer from having a single view of all shoppers, which can put them at a competitive disadvantage.
The advice for retailers is to invest in their inventory control system so that it offers a real-time, single view of products across every location and channel. This needs to be complemented with a fully connected payments infrastructure for purchases and returns to allow customers to pay using their preferred payment methods.
Return policies and procedures are increasingly important to consumers. During times of lockdown, customers are often unable to take items back to physical stores. As a result, retailers with a flexible and convenient set of return options have scored highly for customer preference and loyalty.
Customers now buy multiple items online and expect to return those they don’t want, so systems and payments options must be able to keep-up with this new pattern in the way customers engage, so that returns and refunds are hassle-free.
We expect to see those retailers that offer a unified commerce platform, one that synchronises all sales channels, harmonising them with stock management systems and payments across every location and channel, be the ones that deliver the best shopping experience wherever customers choose to shop. Consumers appreciate it when retailers make it easy for them and respond to their preferences.
So, the inventory and omni-channel aspiration and benefits seem clear. However, offering this level of service can be difficult. Often there are different inventory management and payments systems for online and in-store purchases, all posing risks to customer loyalty.
The good news is that more routes are emerging to build a unified commerce platform. Once in place, it gives retailers the ability to integrate Click+ services. Click & Reserve, Click & Collect, Click & Deliver and Click & Meet all offer more choice for customers and enhance the shopping experience.
With little sign that supply chains will be back to normal soon, it’s vital that retailers optimise their systems now to cope with ever changing consumer preferences.
Find out how a unified commerce platform could simplify and optimise your omni-channel experience and delight your customers.
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