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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.
There is an important difference between real-time (or near-real-time inventory visibility) and what is displayed on a retailer’s e-commerce website. It all depends upon the system that is in place, the integrations within the fulfillment network and the timing of updates. To have real-time inventory visibility, a retailer needs an order management system (OMS) that can integrate into multiple systems, collect/consolidate inventory positions at specified intervals and display this information when required.
Light order management systems — which are typically an extra module of an e-commerce system, part of some ERP systems or an add-on to a POS system — do not have the integration layer, performance capabilities and scalability to dial in to a retailer’s entire fulfillment network. These types of systems will do a single inventory dump from the ERP once a day … and that’s not real-time inventory visibility.
Unlike these simple systems, a robust OMS can integrate to multiple inventory locations by exposing REST APIs and update based on the retailer’s preferred timing and configuration. It can track all the incoming and outgoing dynamic inventory positions including online orders, shipments and in-store inventory and gives you a complete view by location.
Letting customers know that the item they want to order is available at the store near their home or on their route somewhere means they might stop in to pick it up right away. Showing how many units of an item a particular location has lets your customers know that you have exactly what they want, at a nearby store. From the retailers’ perspective, it means you secure the sale immediately and turn over the inventory right away. Better yet, that inventory is turning over in your stores — which means you will limit the pressure to discount at the end of season. Plus, shoppers are likely to buy more products when they come in to do a pickup. That means, just getting them to drop in is likely to increase your sales!
As is customary in an omnichannel commerce world, customers do online research before making a purchase. They’ll see an item they want and notice that the website shows it is ‘in stock.’ At their earliest convenience, they’ll stop into a nearby location and find that the item is out of stock. Technically, one can argue that the item was in stock at some locations and in stock at the warehouse. Maybe the item might even have been in stock first thing in the morning, but was purchased. Great.
Does your customer care? No. More importantly, this just created a bad customer experience, regardless of the reason.
With a lack of real-time inventory visibility, more of your customers will encounter the out-of-stock situation, when they go to the store to purchase. Over time, and a growing number of frustrated buying journeys, your retail brand becomes known for not providing the right information online (erosion of trust), or always being out of stock.
Even during the in-store shopping experience, customers are browsing online at your website and your competitor’s website to check for merchandise, pricing and availability. Shoppers now expect retailers to have the technology to tell them whether the store has the inventory and where it is situated. If they are actively shopping and your in-store reality does not match the one online, shoppers will lose confidence. This is where real-time inventory visibility shows its true importance.
We’ve just reviewed three good reasons why you need real-time inventory visibility. While retailers can show some level of stock information with light systems and minimal integrations, having outdated information is just not good enough for today’s shopper who has multiple options at their fingertips. A robust OMS with a REST API layer to enable multiple integrations to your fulfillment network will get you started on the right path to deliver a seamless omnichannel experience, in store and online.