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Boost inventory management in your business with an omnichannel approach to retailing


Inventory management

Small Business | Tech

By Francesca Nicasio

By connecting their physical and digital stores, businesses can give their customers a more seamless shopping experience; however, this ‘omnichannel’ approach also facilitates better inventory management. Having real-time visibility of your inventory across all sales channels means less chance of overselling, better forecasting, and less hassle for staff.

Let’s backtrack quickly – what is omnichannel? It’s where customers can browse, purchase, and interact with a business across multiple sales channels, including in-store and online via mobile device or computer, either simultaneously or interchangeably – depending on what they find convenient. However, a business with a website, a mobile app, and a physical store isn’t an omnichannel retailer unless they have fused all those channels together for a seamless customer experience. Giving customers the ability to purchase an item using your mobile site, pick it up in your store, and return it via your website is an example of omnichannel retailing in action. And in omnichannel retailing, the different channels support one another – for example, social media can boost website traffic, which in turn can generate foot traffic for the physical store.

And omnichannel program, where all your sales channels are linked together, also improves your inventory management. This is because it requires you to have all your stock synced up across every channel – so if someone buys from your website, it automatically updates your stock store levels, or vice versa. This makes it far easier to keep track of your inventory and eliminates the risk of double-sells or running out of popular products.

In my view, there are generally two best-practice approaches to bringing your bricks and mortar and online stores together. One option is to run your online and offline stores using a omnichannel retail solution, with all your inventory, sales, and customer data available, in real-time, from a single platform. Or, you can to integrate different solutions so that data flows from one platform to the next.

Option 1: Use one platform for your online and offline stores

 This is the simplest and most straightforward way to go omnichannel. Talk to your existing provider (i.e. your point-of-sale (POS) vendor or ecommerce platform, depending on where you’re selling), and ask them about their omnichannel capabilities. Make sure you thoroughly explore what the solution can provide for both online and in-store. Many systems are often stronger in one area than another, so it pays to check before making the commitment.

How does Option 1 assist a business with inventory management?

By using one omnichannel retail management system to sell in-store and online you can stay on top of orders and inventory with minimal hassle. If something sells out in your physical store, then that product will also be marked as sold-out online, and vice versa.

Option 2: Integrate different systems

For some small businesses, having one solution isn’t the best choice. For example, if you need advanced features or capabilities that a single platform can’t offer, then it makes more sense to use different solutions and integrate them together. If you’re going to connect different platforms then ensure you choose platforms with tight integrations. To make things easier, go for solutions with existing integrations that are proven to work well together, so you won’t have to develop one yourself.

How does Option 2 assist a business with inventory management?

For some retailers the features they are looking for are better met through integrating their POS with their chosen ecommerce solution. So how do they juggle their POS, ecommerce, and possibly also delivery methods? Two words: “tight integration” which means each provider has built a specific integration with each other, so you can be sure it works well. Or, you can often have a third party provider develop a strong integration for you. Doing this gives you the best of both worlds – omnichannel and smarter inventory management, with features that work best for your business.

Although connecting sales channels will improve inventory management and affords customers convenience in the way they engage the business, mistakes such as overselling can still occur. If this happens it’s important to contact your customer promptly, apologise for the inconvenience, advise them that the item isn’t currently in stock, and find a way to solve the problem for them.

But generally, this will be less likely to happen than if your systems are still kept completely separate, or you’re using a traditional till system that doesn’t have online capabilities at all. No one wants to spend hours manually checking and tracking stock across multiple stores and online – bringing everything together into a single view will have you large amounts of time, and money. You just need to decide which platforms and integrations are the best way for you to do this.

Once you’ve chosen your preferred approach and platform, the hard work is behind you. Next, you’ll need to establish business processes to support your omnichannel efforts and train your staff – and then you’re ready to reap the rewards of better stock control.


About the author

Francesca Nicasio is a retail expert and author from Vend. She’s constantly writing about trends, tips, and other things that can help retailers increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall.