Tech Investments Pay Off as Retail Inventory, Supply Chain Pain Lingers

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So-called supply chain control towers, end-to-end systems involving a high degree of coordination and real-time data sharing amongst retailers, providers, freight forwarders and providers, is another investment that’s paying dividends as the motion of items has ended up being exceptionally challenged.

And the massive online shift in consumer spending stimulated by COVID-19 isn’t likely to return all its gains from the past couple of months, making those tools even more important and informing the next wave of investment decisions.

Retailers that have invested in stock management tools that provide real-time visibility across channels are faring much better than those that didn’t as strategies like ship from store and curbside or counter pickup are showing to be survival aspects, industry specialists agreed.

Stock Visibility Critical, Investments Paying Off

“Better stock positioning, allowance and more just-in-time abilities, these tools are table stakes going forward,” stated Steve Osburn, a managing director with Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy. “Knowing where all your inventory is, and having the ability to quickly shift it around, are now omnichannel fundamentals for every retail business.”

Saunders said while big centralized centers are still a major piece of a business’s satisfaction network, store fulfillment will just increase in significance.

“The idea of relying entirely on a warehouse or DC to meet online orders is most likely something that’s going to end up being less significant,” he stated. “Retailers will rely more on stores for circulation, both to ensure they pull their weight and are economically feasible, however likewise since it’s more cost efficient to do it that method, specifically in a country like the U.S. with a large geography.”

“A great deal of it has to do with reducing the last mile, pushing consumers to come to the shop to get orders either curbside or at the counter, which undoubtedly costs less and is much better in terms of success,” Saunders said. “That has great deals of ramifications for how you represent stock levels, your allowance systems and evaluating information by geography. All those things require financial investment and modifications to systems and innovation utilized.”

Neil Saunders, a handling director and analyst at GlobalData Retail, stated the stock presence piece gives retailers much higher flexibility in terms of scaling up store fulfillment now and in the post-COVID world.

Another Look at RFID

“It not just brings accuracy up, however if a customer goes to another shop with a return and doesn’t have a receipt, the tag is scanned,” he said. “Outdoor Voices, for another example, was uncertain about RFID. However they piloted it in one shop in 2015 with a $2,000 financial investment and two RFID weapons, then rolled it out to other stores.”

While expense has actually been a knock on RFID, consisting of the chips themselves, that barrier has come down with the development of low-cost printers for stores. International sporting products merchant Decathalon, for example, with more than 40,000 SKUs, has store stock that’s 99% RFID tagged, with some exceptions based upon sizes and shape, Schambach stated.

“Retailers have been hesitant to adopt RFID, but it’s the only method to get to a precise requirement for omnichannel,” he said. “If you guarantee an item through ship from store or pickup, you must have it readily available the exact same afternoon. You might say, it will take 2 to 3 days, that’s extremely safe however not an excellent experience. The other choice is setting security stock levels, and removing a SKU’s schedule online when it falls below five on the rack. The issue there is, it breaks the entire idea of omnichannel selling all inventory to the last readily available product to prevent markdowns.”

Schambach stated historically a 70% store-level inventory accuracy rate has actually been appropriate, as they can only sell what’s on hand anyway to walk-in clients. But when store pickup or store shipping is turned on, it needs to be a near best 99% or above.

The technique to arriving, Schambach said, is employing serialized inventory utilizing an unique number such as a QR code or near-field interactions (NFC) signals. Stock is gotten utilizing RFID so merchants know exactly where a product is in the shop.

Another area of financial investment in crucial supply chain visibility, particularly as store fulfillment actions up, will be RFID systems, tags and readers, predicted Stephan Schambach, creator of omnichannel retail platform NewStore. A lot of sellers have thought about RFID in the past but didn’t shoot due to cost or applicability to their business.

Non-Seasonal, Multichannel Businesses Doing Better

Some of the types of companies that are succeeding among Barry’s clients are in farm and house and garden products, dietary supplements, appeal items and alcoholic beverages.

Brian Barry, president of satisfaction operations consultancy F. Curtis Barry & & Co., stated if a company has domestic production capabilities “it will bring you for a while. If your raw materials are overseas, the supply chain hasn’t captured up. The problem is everyone is going after the exact same stock. If you had no preexisting relationships on the outdoors, you’re in problem.”

“We deal with a 3PL whose biggest client is a skincare business” he stated. “Their primary volume was through retail, however now they’re pushing a lot more into ecommerce. Total sales are down however ecommerce is up 40%. We’re seeing a big transition. Another is a large beer and red wine retailer, with foot traffic down but curbside picking up. There are great deals of indications of a shift from physical into ecommerce, including home shipment.”

“True physical was currently in problem, and now it has a death grip on it,” he stated. “Big department shops and garments merchants, they may not leave this. They’ve missed out on the spring season, and can they economically survive?”

Echoing others, Barry stated business that have been in multichannel or omnichannel mode are doing far better than those that weren’t.

Q4 Disruptions Coming

In regards to the supply chain from overseas, Barry said ocean freight shipments that generally took 8 weeks to get to the U.S. are seeing added delays of four weeks or more, causing huge backlogs. “Does that imply you miss your next season?” he asked. “What do you do if you can’t get winter clothing in time? If factories are closed down, and you’re attempting to cut POs for Q4, for how long will that supply chain be delayed now? You have a shot at getting products in time, but some organisations will absolutely be hurt by that.”

“That financial investment is seeing substantial dividends as sellers attempt to figure out where inventory is and where it requires to be to start offering as things launch once again,” Osburn stated. “But it’s not a packaged service you simply plug in. It’s a complex set of tools for aggregating data from a lot of locations. For some retailers, it’s been a savior as things start to recover.”

Osburn concurred that Q4 and peak season will likely be interrupted to a degree by the pandemic’s effect on the supply chain, from basic materials to finished goods. “Factory orders might be postponed,” he stated. “A lot of peak season inventory is being produced or prepared now, consisting of buying basic materials. Some shipments have been postponed, although the ports catch up quickly, and canceled orders suggest less volume.”

Retailers that have stood supply chain control towers over last few years, allowing a better manage on items in transit, have been better prepared to react to COVID-19 disruptions.


“Better inventory positioning, allocation and more just-in-time capabilities, these tools are table stakes going forward,” said Steve Osburn, a handling director with Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy.”A lot of it is about reducing the last mile, pushing consumers to come to the shop to select up orders either curbside or at the counter, which undoubtedly costs less and is much better in terms of profitability,” Saunders said.”Retailers have actually been hesitant to adopt RFID, however it’s the only method to get to an exact requirement for omnichannel,” he said.”It not just brings precision up, but if a client goes to another store with a return and does not have an invoice, the tag is scanned,” he said.”That financial investment is seeing substantial dividends as retailers attempt to figure out where stock is and where it requires to be to begin offering as things start up once again,” Osburn stated.

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