The customer is taking a back seat to other retail operations
The customer comes first – or so many retailers claim. After all, if they are not serving their shoppers adequately, they will not be able to generate sales in the long-term and drive reliable, consistent revenue. Yet, one recent study conducted by Retail Info Systems News’ EKN research department found that many merchants are not staying true to that motto – other mission-critical tasks are taking priority and putting the customer in the back seat.
Three out of four retail respondents said they were unable to effectively manage and measure customer engagement, as other concerns took priority. For example, 77 percent of retailers noted inventory planning as of “extreme importance,” while 65 percent said the same of merchandise allocation.
This isn’t to say that customer service and relationship management have fallen way off the totem pole – customer experience was the No. 3 concern on the list with 64 percent citing it as being of “extreme importance.” However, this does note the challenges many retailers are currently facing in regards to crafting an adequate omnichannel experience.
The trinity of inventory visibility, merchandise allocation and customer experience
Inventory visibility, merchandise allocation and customer service and experience are all intertwined when it comes to providing patrons with an excellent omnichannel shopping experience. These three factors need to be executed effectively, or else the shopping experience will suffer, so it should not come as a surprise they were all listed so highly.
Inventory planning and visibility is an omnichannel must. If companies want to sell goods across multiple channels, they need to learn how to utilize their inventory appropriately. Failure to do so may result in running out of stock in certain channels, which results in lost sales and angry customers. Inability to manage inventory may also result in the over purchasing of stock, which is just as bad because merchants are then forced to offload excess inventory at discounts.
Merchandise allocation is pivotal to ensuring inventory is used effectively and efficiently. Stocking the right amount of inventory in the appropriate store eliminates many of the problems merchants face. However, with better inventory visibility, sellers do gain some degree of flexibility, so if they allocate too much inventory to one channel or location, they can make the necessary changes quickly to ensure an equal offering of products.
This all ties back into the customer experience. People expect consistency from omnichannel retailers – if a product is available through one channel, shoppers expect it to be up for purchase across all. It can be frustrating to look at products in-store, then head online only to find the same item is not available (or perhaps not in the size or color customers want). Inventory planning ensures not only that retailers have adequate stock to make sales, but also they offer the same selection.
Putting the customer first
While it may seem that customer satisfaction has fallen by the wayside, the fact of the matter is that inventory planning and merchandising play important roles in that pursuit. If merchants want to create an optimal shopping experience, it starts by being able to serve them adequately across all channels. This means always maintaining a healthy stock of top products and not running out of inventory at critical moments. As merchants topple this challenge, they will be better able to focus on other facets of customer satisfaction and relationship management as well, which will go a long way toward making the customer king again.