While many retailers are better versed in meeting in-store customer needs, experts argue that they have many challenges when it comes to handling digital operations, more specifically with regards to warehousing. This trend is particularly troublesome during the winter holidays season when the company’s distribution centre is handling 2 to 5 times the typical workload.
Experts say that most businesses make more than 20 per cent of their annual revenue during this season – but when service failures occur during peak shipping days, it poses a major supply-chain risk that not only translates to the delayed release of customer shipments, but also poor inventory management resulting in stockouts.
According to a recent survey, 75 per cent of in store consumers experienced stock-outs last year, and 38 per cent claiming that it was a common occurrence. The incidence of stock-outs for online shoppers was slightly less at 63 per cent, but resulted in the harshest consequences. While 58 per cent of brick-and-mortar store incidents translated to lost sales with customers skipping the purchase or taking their business elsewhere, 65 per cent of online shopping stock-out incidents resulted in the shopper pressing the delete button and completely abandoning the sale
Effect on the retailer
Stock-outs are evidently damaging to current sales, but the impact can be more even more devastating to your brand and future business activities. Forcing your customers to seek a product – that you have run off – from a competitor diminishes their loyalty.
In fact, the survey mentioned above found that 38 per cent of consumers blame the retailer for stock-outs, irrespective of the cause. Retailers, in turn, express their frustration to the manufacturers and suppliers, creating more pressure and strained relationships for performance.
The problem is further compounded by omni-channel consumers who buy online and return the item in-store, which means that retailers should have products both at the shop and in the warehouse, in the right quantities and at the right time.
How retailers can address supply chain challenges
To address these challenges, retailers are trying creative distribution strategies that not only improve forecasts within conventional channel silos, but also facilitate inventory movement across multiple shopping channels.
For instance, some retailers have opted to fill their online orders directly from their store, while others are filling their in-store and ecommerce replenishment orders from a single distribution centre.
Depending on the distance between your store and warehouse, retailers may need the services of a third party logistics provider. When your inventory is moving fast during the holidays, these tips will help ensure good relations with your suppliers, logistics provider, and customers:
- Good forecasting accuracy
One way to ensure that orders are always available in the right quantities and at the right time is by making realistic projections for order volumes and calls by hour, day, week or month in advance to give the provider enough time to plan accordingly.
You will need historical data from last year, as well as any changes in the current year that are likely to impact your sales or orders, to be able to make accurate estimates of the increase in number of calls or sales for the season. This information will allow your third party logistics vendor to prepare appropriately for different days or peak hours during the holiday season.
- Keeping the 3PL Vendor up to date on purchase orders
As a retailer, you should be in constant communication with your suppliers and third party logistics vendors, informing them of any changes on purchase orders in a timely manner.
For instance, informing them of advance shipping notices (ASNs) as soon as they arise, or any other changes in regard to the expected receipt items, quantities, or dates on purchase orders, will give the 3PL provider enough time to prepare adequately and deliver the item within your service level standard, as your customers have become accustomed.
- Allowing room for flexibility with your carrier
While you may be able to accurately project sales at different times of the year using data from previous years, you cannot always plan adequately for impulse purchases during the end of year festivities.
More often than not, your logistics service provider will be required to make last-minute, just-in-time deliveries to your brick-and-mortar store to avoid stock-outs of a certain product. To accommodate such unforeseen incidents, you should develop a network with your 3PL vendor that allows for flexibility and can adequately handle last-minute orders.
For such unplanned deliveries, it’s important to establish clear guidelines up front, especially regarding extra charges for fulfilment of the delivery.
With these tips, you can improve your inventory management for the peak holiday season, effectively increasing your sales and customer loyalty. However, to optimise your omnichannel strategy year round, it is critical to invest in software that can help you to better manage data and workflow in the supply chain by providing specific data for customer preference, inventory visibility, and logistics optimisation.