Real-Time Inventory Visibility Can Help Rescue Sales and Engage the Post-Pandemic Consumer

December 23, 2020
real-time inventory visibility ecommerce order management fulfillment

The 2020 coronavirus pandemic slammed retailers’ omnichannel fulfillment operations. With agility remaining the watchword heading into 2021, fulfillment will dominate new-year priority lists. And fulfillment’s strongest foundation will come in the form of real-time inventory visibility.

The past nine months have proven that retailers need more flexibility than ever when it comes to inventory. Temporary store closures drove double-digit online sales growth. Curbside service expanded at stores for online orders. “Dark stores” opened to source orders for local delivery. Now, the holiday season has been radically altered, with online sales during the Cyber 5 weekend jumping an astonishing 81% year-over-year for Kibo clients. A trend that teases the push for retailers to find new ways to connect shoppers with products. 

Boosting Sales in 2021 With Inventory Visibility

Underpinning the flexibility that today’s consumers demand is a commitment to inventory visibility. In 2021, it will be essential to provide reliable, real-time inventory visibility that presents a holistic view of every location where stock is available, because:

  • Inventory transparency motivates shoppers. More than four in five buyers look up product inventory information online prior to a store visit, Kibo found. Buyers are also less likely to choose retailers that can’t guarantee that products they browse are in stock.
  • Stockouts are a leading cause of lost sales. The ability to pull inventory from across traditional company silos is crucial to winning customers. After shipping costs, out-of-stock status is the third-leading cause of online shopping cart abandonment. 28% of customers have left websites when items aren’t available. And in stores, out-of-stock items are the leading reason shoppers leave to purchase elsewhere.

Given customers’ high expectations around inventory accuracy, near-real-time inventory visibility can fall short. “Light” order management systems (OMS) that rely on overnight inventory data from the warehouse can quickly become stale, especially during peak shopping periods. A robust OMS that compiles and communicates data in real time is essential. And the right order management system can achieve significant gains in every fulfillment channel. Here’s how:

O2O: Maximize Pickup and Curbside Potential

real-time inventory visibility bopis curbside

More than a third of shoppers, predict they’ll regularly continue using curbside and store pickup. This even after the pandemic is over. Real-time inventory gives shoppers an accurate picture of which store locations can fulfill their orders, while internally, visibility into network-wide product availability can help retailers more accurately allocate products.

In addition, real-time inventory data can inform marketing offers, making promotions more relevant and accurate. Kibo client Boscov’s has achieved attachment rates of 40% with its targeted offers to store-pickup customers.

Online: Use Store-Based Distribution to Meet Demand

While consumers still prioritize free shipping, their expectations for speed are rising. Deloitte found that while just 15% of shoppers prefer fast over free shipping, 60% believe 2-day delivery shouldn’t cost extra. Real-time inventory visibility can help solve this conundrum. Enabling retailers to tap local store stock to fulfill online orders can help reduce delivery costs and timeframes by shipping from the outlet closest to the customer, as well as avoiding markdowns on store stock. 

In-Store: Enable “Save the Sale” Clienteling With a Single Streamlined Interface

Speed is of the essence when stockouts do occur. Store associates must find a workable solution before shoppers whip out their phones to order on Amazon. Real-time inventory visibility empowers store workers with a “single source of truth” for either locating the right items quickly, or suggesting relevant alternatives that are guaranteed to be on the shelves. 

Marketplace: Optimize Marketplace Allocations to Win the “Buy” Box

Given that Amazon has long vied with Google as the top destination for shoppers starting their product research, third-party marketplaces can be valuable visibility boosters. But that opportunity is squandered if sellers’ marketplace items are out of stock.

On Amazon, stockouts can affect sales rank and reduce chances of “winning the buy box”—the coveted status as default seller of an item. This can result in lower visibility. Other marketplaces similarly penalize sellers who don’t allocate inventory appropriately. With real-time data, sellers can throttle ATP allocations according to demand, ensuring that items are available to marketplace customers for prompt fulfillment.

Meeting Rising Expectations With Real-Time Inventory Visibility

With consumer expectations forever reset, merchants need more agility in their fulfillment operations. Armed with real-time inventory visibility, sellers can meet the moment with responsive, timely service that enhances brand reputations, and earns lasting loyalty.