Filippo Battaini (Head of IDC Retail Insights, Europe)

You know what it’s like. You’ve been waiting for ages and the store associate comes back from the stockroom to tell you they don’t have your size or they’re completely out of stock. This is the kind of customer experience retailers need to avoid.

In a commerce everywhere environment, where the interaction with the shopper occurs through many touchpoints, avoiding out-of-stock issues is easier said than done. The way to go is for retailers to ramp up their inventory management game.

Inventory Management Key to Winning the “Next Normal”

Inventory management is becoming key to seamless customer experience execution. Shoppers can interact with their favourite brands online, in store and on social media. The shopping journey might start online and finish in the store, or vice versa.

The lockdown hastened the importance of efficient inventory management. eCommerce has emerged stronger from the pandemic and is here to stay in the “next normal”, whatever form this will take in retail.

Many legacy retailers saw growing pressure on their operations as ecommerce grew beyond their wildest expectations in the first few months of 2020. In most cases, this accelerated their innovation plans and required ad hoc investments in specific business use cases including advanced inventory management capabilities.

As the next normal materialises, retailers will operate through a complete integration of physical and digital, with shoppers able to check store inventory in real time and brick-and-mortar outlets turning into dark rooms for the fulfilment of online orders.

Retailers Gear Up Inventory Management

In a recent interview, Rita Williams, Kroger’s economic development director, said, “COVID-19 has escalated us two years ahead of what we expected.” The US retailer reported 92% digital sales growth in its first quarter ending May 23, 2020 — an increase that made its partnership with Ocado for the rollout of robotics customer fulfilment centres even more pressing.

In the UK, grocery retailer Sainsbury’s saw online deliveries increase from 7% to 17% of the chain’s grocery business, with click-and-collect sales up 13-fold in the first quarter ending June 27, 2020. During the period, Sainsbury’s added 184 click-and-collect locations, hired more staff and invested an extra £500 million in inventory and store operations.

Preparing for the Retail Next Normal

Commerce everywhere is going to be the defining feature of retail in the next normal. Retailers must step up their customer experience game by being able to reach out to shoppers whenever and wherever they are.

In this environment, efficient and intelligent fulfilment capabilities become a key competitive advantage. Technology vendors and service providers provide precious support for retailers undertaking their journey to digital transformation maturity.

On October 20, IDC will host the European Retail Executive Digital Forum 2020. With leading industry experts, retailers and technology providers taking part, the forum will be an unmissable opportunity to network, share best practices and jointly address the complex challenges of the next normal.

Contact Helena Chappell for more information.