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Seamless retail inventory management-seizing the opportunities across channels

Retailers must adopt a seamless approach to inventory management—one that provides visibility, flexibility and responsiveness throughout the supply chain.

Overview

Today’s customers want a unified, seamless experience when interacting with a retailer, regardless of the channel. To attract these customers and succeed in a complex, fast-moving and hypercompetitive environment, retailers must change the game to remain relevant. They must become seamless retailers.

For retailers seeking to create a connected customer experience, managing inventory across channels is one of the biggest barriers. This point of view explains how retailers can achieve effective cross-channel inventory management through governance, decision support, seamless execution, monitoring and continuous improvement.

While achieving completely integrated solutions for cross-channel inventory sharing is a multiyear journey, it is one that can be approached incrementally. We recommend a four-stage road map to begin reaping the benefits.

Accenture’s seamless journey starts with understanding consumer preferences and ends with helping retailers deliver that seamless experience.

Background

The implications of poor cross-channel inventory management—ranging from reductions in revenue and profits to the loss of customer loyalty that online and mobile commerce have impacted—can be serious.

Today, most multichannel retailers have dedicated inventory for each channel—often as a result of having set up separate e-commerce entities when they first ventured into online commerce.

In most organizations, there are many obstacles preventing the integration of channel inventory. And while the task of integrating across channels is complex, retailers do not have to start again from scratch and drastically change all of their existing processes and systems.

Key Findings

We believe there are four building blocks of a seamless inventory framework, each of which entails a particular set of capabilities. These include:

  • Governance: A retail company must agree upon and establish channel-neutral policies that help drive decision making without having to overhaul an organizational structure with channel-specific functions.

  • Decision support: A strong decision-support system can help identify all the data required for decision making and organize it as usable information, and aids good enterprise-wide decisions by laying out the effects of all the alternatives.

  • Seamless execution: Have versatility for optimal allocation of orders, positioning of inventory and shipping across channels. This can help reduce carrying costs, increase service levels and improve inventory performance.

  • Monitoring and continuous improvement: The ability to monitor and gain better insights into inventory positioning is critical to the success of any multichannel program. Retailers must have adequate control to ensure objectives are met and improvement programs are in place where needed.

Analysis

For most enterprises today, the notion of seamless operations is still just an aspiration. The seamless journey is a significant undertaking that requires years of investment.

Given the complexity of the required transformation, embarking on the seamless journey certainly does seem daunting. The efforts and risks involved have kept many companies from getting started.

But it is important to note that consumers will reward retailers who offer a consistent cross-channel experience.

The four key building blocks are the structure necessary for directing the journey, outlining activities retailers must undertake to rapidly seize the growth opportunities and become seamless.

Recommendations

For most retailers, gaps between their existing capabilities and those required for cross-channel operations are quite significant. To mitigate risks associated with any large-scale multichannel transformation, we recommend a four-stage road map:

Stage 1: Establish a governance model

A governance model should be put in place across all levels of the company to provide overall direction on the implications of cross-channel integration.

Stage 2: Standardize processes that have cross-channel implications

Retailers should establish processes that help cross-channel functions operate efficiently while also minimizing the risks. During this stage, they need to put in place key technologies required to support and enable processes, which most likely will be manual in the beginning.

Stage 3: Pilot the IT and business solutions on a low-risk merchandising category

Retailers must conduct pilots before industrializing cross-channel solutions as it helps defer large-scale IT investment until the requirements are well understood. This approach also decreases the likelihood of rework and lowers investment costs.

Stage 4: Industrialize and optimize

Retailers must strengthen and industrialize the solutions—developed in the pilot stage—to scale across the enterprise. Additionally, pilot solutions must be updated and enhanced to support the unique needs of each merchandising category.

Industry & topics highlighted

Retail