Inventory visibility is pivotal to a successful omnichannel strategy. By gaining real-time insight into inventory levels across all stores, distribution centers, warehouses, and supplier networks, retailers and manufacturers can promise accurate delivery times, avoid stockouts, and prevent overstocking.
This level of visibility empowers businesses to optimize their inventory management, streamline operations, and fulfill orders efficiently. Customers, in turn, benefit from the ability to check product availability, access accurate delivery information, and enjoy a consistent shopping experience, regardless of the channel they choose.
In the highly competitive world of omnichannel retail, inventory visibility is not just a convenience; it is the fundamental first step that paves the way for increased revenue, enhanced customer satisfaction, and long-term business growth.
What is Inventory Visibility?
Real-time inventory visibility refers to the ability to access and monitor current, up-to-date information about the quantity, location, and status of products within a company’s supply chain at any given moment. With real-time inventory visibility, businesses can continuously track the movement of goods across different stages, from production and warehousing to distribution and retail stores. This immediate and accurate view of inventory levels allows companies to make informed decisions on order fulfillment, stock replenishment, and allocation of resources.
Here’s a common consumer shopping experience: A retailer’s website shows they have an artisanal coffee maker in stock, but when the customer stops by the store to buy it, they discover it’s sold out. This disconnect is frustrating and can motivate the shopper to go elsewhere (never to return). Why did this happen?
Likely because the store’s inventory is not aligned (in real time) across all touchpoints. Someone may have bought the last coffee maker that morning, but that information didn’t make it to the website. In today’s age of information and immediacy, it is not good enough to display semi-accurate inventory availability. Real-time inventory visibility is necessary for seamless omnichannel fulfillment.
Assessing Your Inventory Visibility
As outlined above, a lack of inventory visibility can negatively impact the customer experience. To help you assess your company’s inventory visibility, start with these key questions:
- What systems do you currently have in place to track and manage inventory?
- How frequently are inventory levels updated, and in what format is the data presented?
- Can you access real-time information on inventory quantities across all sales channels and locations?
- Do you have visibility into inventory movement, including transfers between stores or warehouses?
- Are there any discrepancies between your physical inventory and recorded quantities?
- How do you track inventory that is in transit or with third-party suppliers (if applicable)?
- Can you view historical inventory data to identify trends and patterns?
- Do you have the ability to forecast future demand based on current inventory levels?
- Are there any obstacles or limitations preventing you from achieving comprehensive inventory visibility?
- How does our current inventory visibility impact the customer experience, order fulfillment, and overall business performance?
By addressing these questions, you can better understand your existing inventory visibility capabilities and identify areas for improvement to enhance your omnichannel strategy.
The Role of Inventory Visibility in the Customer Experience
Inventory visibility plays a crucial role in the customer experience, directly influencing how customers perceive and interact with a business. By allowing consumers to see inventory availability in real-time, retailers can drive more foot traffic into stores, make more sales, increase inventory turns, and reduce markdowns.
Accurate Product Availability Information
There is nothing more frustrating for a shopper than spending time searching for the perfect product only to find out it’s out-of-stock at checkout. With inventory visibility, customers can access real-time information about product availability across various sales channels. They can confidently search and check whether the item they desire is in stock at their preferred store or online, which helps manage their expectations and avoid disappointment due to stockouts.
Laura Canada, a popular women’s fashion retailer, has more than 150 stores across the country with a significant eCommerce presence. The retailer tends to have low-depth inventory, which means that a single store or distribution center does not have a large amount of stock across available sizes and styles. To ensure online customers can shop inventory available in their distribution centers and physical stores, Laura Canada needed to unify inventory data in real-time and be able to make that inventory available to eCommerce customers.
Using Kibo Order Management, Laura Canada turned their stores into fulfillment centers, allowing them to capture inventory data from store locations and enable online customers to shop all inventory online. As a result, online revenue increased 25%.
Seamless Purchase Experience
When customers have visibility into inventory levels, they can choose from multiple purchase options like in-store pickup, buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS), or home delivery. This flexibility enhances the purchasing experience, allowing customers to select the most convenient method based on product availability and delivery preferences.
Ace Hardware gives shoppers the ultimate omnichannel shopping experience by using Kibo’s order routing capabilities and real-time inventory visibility to offer multiple fulfillment options, including BOPIS, curbside pickup, deliver from store, and ship to home. Using geolocation, Ace Hardware presents multiple fulfillment options on the product detail page, allowing the customer to choose which option works best for their needs. After enhancing their omnichannel strategy in 2021, Ace Hardware saw a 279% increase in online revenue.
Reduced Fulfillment Time
Real-time inventory visibility enables efficient order processing and fulfillment. Customers experience faster delivery times and receive their products promptly, leading to higher satisfaction and increased loyalty. With Kibo’s inventory visibility capabilities, clients have seen, on average, a 78% reduction in fulfillment time for ship-to-home orders.
Fewer Stockouts and Backorders
Inventory visibility allows businesses to optimize their stock levels and anticipate demand. By avoiding stockouts or backorders, customers are less likely to encounter delays or disruptions in receiving the products they want, improving their overall experience.
Overall, inventory visibility is the backbone of a positive customer experience in an omnichannel environment. By providing accurate information, ensuring seamless order fulfillment, and offering personalized services, businesses can meet customer expectations, build trust, and gain a competitive advantage in the market.
Business Benefits of Inventory Visibility
While inventory visibility improves the customer experience, it also can streamline and optimize fulfillment, order, and inventory management strategies.
- Reduction in Fulfillment Costs: With real-time inventory visibility and order routing capabilities, you can intelligently source fulfillment locations through customizable filters and logic and efficiently allocate inventory, minimizing the time and cost associated with order processing.
- Minimize Channel Conflict: Real-time inventory visibility enables a shared fulfillment network, where both physical stores and the eCommerce site can contribute to fulfilling customer orders— allowing all sales channels to work together towards a common goal of meeting customer demands effectively.
When Mizuno USA, a renowned athletic gear manufacturer, expanded its eCommerce capabilities, it raised concerns among its 5,000 retail partners about potential channel conflict. However, Mizuno promptly addressed these worries by seamlessly integrating retail outlets and their inventory into its online fulfillment options.
Thanks to the cutting-edge real-time inventory capabilities of Kibo’s order management system, online shoppers can now easily locate the nearest Mizuno retail partner with the specific product they desire. This integration not only resolves concerns about channel conflict but also enhances the customer experience by providing convenient and efficient fulfillment options — the company increased the BOPIS conversion rate by 85%.
- Enhanced Supply Chain Management: With accurate information on inventory levels and customer demand, you can make more informed decisions regarding procurement, production, and distribution, leading to a more efficient and responsive supply chain.
- Data-Driven Decision Making: You can use inventory information to make data-driven decisions, such as optimizing pricing, marketing strategies, and inventory allocation, resulting in more effective and targeted operations.
- Optimized Inventory Management: Real-time inventory visibility provides accurate insights into stock levels, enabling you to reduce the risk of overstocking or stockouts, allocating stock where it will move the fastest, and ensuring that the right products are available when and where they are needed.
- Better Customer Service: Giving customer service representatives access to real-time inventory data allows them to provide customers with accurate and transparent product recommendations and quickly find what that individual needs —driving customer satisfaction and boosting sales.
Overall, the benefits of real-time inventory visibility culminate in increased profitability and long-term growth. By efficiently managing inventory, reducing costs, satisfying customers, and making data-driven decisions, you can improve the bottom line and position your company for sustainable success.
Getting Started with Inventory Visibility
By following these steps and embracing the right technology and processes, an eCommerce company can successfully attain inventory visibility, leading to improved operations and better customer experiences.
- Assess Current Inventory Management: Identify any gaps or inefficiencies in tracking inventory across various sales channels and locations.
- Set Clear Goals and Objectives: Determine what level of visibility is required, such as real-time stock updates, multi-location tracking, or supplier network integration.
- Choose the Inventory Visibility Software: Order management solutions with automated reporting are central to near real-time inventory visibility. Ideally, the system should be seamlessly integrated with your ecommerce site, WMS, an enterprise resource planning system (ERP) (whichever is applicable in your tech stack) — capturing continuously updated inventory data from store, warehouse and vendor locations as it’s entered and plugged into a distributed order management solution.
- Integrate Sales Channels: Ensure that all online and offline sales channels are integrated with the inventory management software for seamless data exchange and real-time updates.
- Centralize Inventory Data: Consolidate inventory data from different sources into a centralized system.
- Train Staff and Establish Workflows: Provide comprehensive training to employees and establish workflows and protocols for inventory tracking, order fulfillment, and data maintenance.
- Monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Define and track relevant KPIs, such as inventory turnover, stockout rates, and order fulfillment time, to evaluate the effectiveness of the inventory visibility strategy and identify areas for improvement.
Achieve Inventory Visibility with Kibo
Embracing inventory visibility as a strategic imperative, companies can not only meet the ever-evolving demands of the omnichannel world but also pave the way for sustainable growth and success in the years ahead.
Kibo’s Order Management System eliminates inventory data silos to enable intelligent decision making. Quickly identify slow moving inventory, avoid the wrong price markdowns, and ensure your customers never experience “out of stock” again. With Kibo Order Management, you can expose inventory across your network to consumers looking for your products right now.
See Kibo Order Management in-action with our 15-minute demo.