September 2011 | Commentary | IT Matters

Inventory Intelligence: The Key to Unlocking Omni-channel Retailing

Tags: Logistics I.T., Retail

Jim Caudill (pictured) are, respectively, director, softgoods solution marketing, and senior director, global retail marketing, Tyco Retail Solutions, 561-912-6000

Omni-channel retailing–providing shoppers a seamless experience through all channels–combines the flexibility of cross-channel and mobile shopping with the revenue- and loyalty-building capabilities of a face-to-face retail experience. Because keeping availability promises is vital to omni-channel success, retailers depend on integrated IT systems.

Retailers who succeed at integrating their inventory intelligence can cut costs, accelerate turns, and build revenue by driving high-fidelity information back into the supply chain, aligning it with shopper demand. To gather the most accurate inventory intelligence, retailers must remain vigilant about the quality of data they collect.

The first step to ensuring quality data is integration across physical locations. Retail supply chains are typically vast, efficient, and very accurate, considering their complexity. But even the fastest, most accurate supply chain can receive poor-quality information from retail endpoints. To ensure data accuracy, here's where retailers should track information:

  • At the back door. Inputs must document a complex array of sizes, styles, colors, and options on received products; outputs must reflect the same information on returned items.
  • On the items. Tracking tags must be compact, capable of storing detailed information, and tamper-resistant, yet easy for store associates to remove.
  • At the point of sale. Systems must capture transaction, loyalty program, gift card, and coupon data, and help detect, remove, and recirculate tags.
  • At the front door. Inputs and outputs should show real-time store traffic and intercept shoplifters without intruding on the legitimate shopper's experience.

Setting Standard Formats

Effective omni-channel retail operations also require integration across technologies. For example, the task "enter line item" must represent the same function on a POS terminal as on a smartphone. And systems should provide inventory information in a standard format, even when it comes from different sources.

Over any time period, inputs should offer end-to-end visibility across stores, distribution centers, and manufacturers, as well as top-to-bottom visibility from the retail floor through regional sales and distribution centers. Most importantly, the information collected should provide actionable intelligence, with execution support to make those actions effective.

Direct and indirect benefits

By investing in inventory intelligence, businesses can implement omni-channel retailing with confidence—opening shopping to omnipresent online and mobile environments, while retaining focus on the store. They can also reap direct and indirect business benefits, including cost reduction, inventory management, and revenue growth.

Fast processes and lean inventories improve turns, and reliable item tracking helps stores reorganize stock to optimize floor space and sales per square foot. More accurate forecasting, ordering, allocation, and replenishment intelligence helps stores tune their product portfolios, and make better use of fixtures, displays, and other capital assets.

High-quality inventory intelligence collected from stores feeds the entire supply chain, harnessing its efficiencies to meet shopper demand.