Customers are shopping in more places than ever, and ecommerce sellers want to be the retailer of choice regardless of the channel or device. The challenge is having the inventory to fulfill those orders, no matter where they originate. Creating that effortless, seamless customer experience requires optimizing your omnichannel inventory management.
76% of consumers say convenience is their key priority in selecting a retailer. Furthermore, 90% of shoppers will prioritize retail sites that offer a seamless experience. If you can’t provide that level of service, customers will find someone else who can.
Learn why an omnichannel inventory management system is important and how to get started. If you’re further along, we’ll show you how to improve your processes and maximize your omnichannel investment.
Why is omnichannel inventory management important?
Modern ecommerce businesses need real-time visibility into all inventory to proactively address supply chain and customer needs. Businesses face a mix of opportunities and challenges in today’s landscape.
New sales channels and platforms offer new revenue streams, but sales trends vary across channels, requiring channel-specific strategy. You also need the most up-to-date information on each channel to ensure that customers have accurate product and order information.
Omnichannel inventory management also informs demand planning. Stock frequently travels between suppliers, warehouses, customers and brick-and-mortar stores. You can’t make informed decisions about your orders without the ability to track your inventory across all of these locations accurately. Poor forecasting might not show up immediately but can eventually add months of additional work as you recover from lost sales and missed opportunities.
How to get started with omnichannel inventory management
Whether brand-new businesses or corporations expanding their footprint, sellers are always looking to grow and find new customers. The first step to getting started with omnichannel inventory management is to analyze your current state and see where you want to go. Here are a few steps you can take to get started.
Take stock of your inventory
Your inventory is spread across many locations and workflow stages. It’s important to have a complete view of your inventory to identify high-level issues while still maintaining the ability to analyze specifics. Whether you’re just starting to expand your business or already have multichannel sales, you need a thorough understanding of what’s in stock and in transit. A good inventory management system provides you with consistent updates of real-time stock levels as orders are processed across all sales channels, helping ensure you are informed and can respond accordingly.
Analyze your operations
The needs of every business are unique. Some companies only sell on one or two channels, and they can get by with manual processes. But as businesses become more established and want to scale, they should start testing other sales channels, such as social media platforms and marketplaces — and consider the benefits of omnichannel inventory management.
Analyze the current productivity of your inventory processes and procedures. How much time do you spend producing sales forecasts, for example, and how accurate are they? If you’re finding regular gaps in your inventory, suffering from poor sales performance or failing to capitalize on opportunities, you probably have operational inefficiencies.
Review your product offering
When examining your stock, look at variables such as production, alternative sources and complementary or supplementary products. You’ll uncover potential challenges, opportunities and areas for further investigation.
For example, you notice that a recently introduced product has dominated sales generated by your newsletter. Because it’s expensive to source, you want to test sales performance in a broader audience while limiting the risk. Omnichannel retail lets you list your product on multiple sales channels and review performance across the board. Because you don’t have historical sales data to use for forecasting, you need the ability to review your products across all channels in real time.
Real-time omnichannel inventory management also enables you to compare sales and inventory levels from other products to make strategic inventory decisions. As new sales are completed, omnichannel inventory management software can update product listings to avoid overselling and send notifications when it’s time to reorder stock. You can also use this data to assess each product and vendor.
Consider inventory management solutions
Automated inventory management solutions help streamline workflows from ordering and restocking to inventory forecasting, but don’t forget to consider how such systems align with your business needs. Effective platforms can offer features beyond simply tracking inventory. The ability to monitor stock levels across your warehouse networks, add integrations and create purchase orders — all from a single location — are just a few examples of key features.
Optimizing your products across all sales channels from one centralized platform is the easiest way to scale effectively. When all your data is in one place, it’s also easier to access reporting features across your sales channels and stock-keeping units.
How to improve your omnichannel inventory management
Omnichannel inventory management is a daily activity, but that doesn’t mean you should devote all your time to it. Many processes can be optimized and automated, freeing time to manage other aspects of your business. Here are some ways to improve your omnichannel inventory management.
Improve inventory visibility
The downside of a hotly selling product is the risk of selling out. While it might seem like a good problem, selling out can be a retailer’s worst nightmare. Stockouts mean lost sales while you scramble to find inventory and create a poor experience for customers who can’t complete their purchases.
In a world where people can order with a click of a button or a tap on a screen, one bad experience can have lasting effects on your business.
To prevent the negative consequences of stockouts, you need an inventory management system that provides complete visibility into your stock across all locations. This makes your inventory information more accessible and allows you to synchronize data across warehouses, order fulfillment and distribution centers, and sales channels.
Inform demand forecasting
One of the biggest challenges for many ecommerce businesses is providing clean, accurate data and analysis for demand forecasting. An inventory management system enables you to access dashboards and reporting tools that can help improve your forecasting. In turn, this increasingly accurate forecasting enables you to maintain the optimal inventory levels for each sales channel.
Integrate your supply chain
Visibility also affects your entire supply chain. You need to know where any of your inventory is at any given point in time. Visibility also helps you establish accurate timelines for deliveries and returns. Supply chain bottlenecks can cause delays for your customers, so your ability to identify these issues quickly enables you to resolve issues faster, minimizing their impact on your bottom line.
Use multiple locations to stock inventory
For many businesses, a single warehouse or other touch point can quickly become a bottleneck that limits efficiency and hinders growth. Using multiple locations to stock your inventory can help when dealing with a large volume of merchandise or many different products.
Warehouse management across multiple locations also helps when you need to offer alternative product or delivery options. For example, bad weather or shipping delays can require businesses to pivot quickly. They need the right technology to make these adjustments.
Create a customer satisfaction plan
Your customer experience doesn’t end once your product is delivered. Sellers need a plan to satisfy customers at every point of their journey, including the post-sale experience. This is your way of showing your customers that you are committed to providing them with the best possible experience. Omnichannel retail is about creating a seamless experience across all channels.
Your customer satisfaction contingency plan should reflect that by clearly communicating your policies, including shipping and handling information, exchanges and returns, and how to contact customer support.
Embrace effortless ecommerce with omnichannel inventory management
Managing inventory across multiple sales channels and at all stages of the customer journey is already challenging. Add in volatile market conditions, intense competition and heightened consumer expectations, and inventory management can become exceedingly complex and challenging to manage without the right tools.
This challenge can become even more significant as your business scales and sells on more channels. Without the right technology and strategy, your business will experience human-caused errors, more delays and additional costs, ultimately leading to a negative customer experience and lost revenue.
An automated, omnichannel inventory management system puts you in control of everything from ordering and restocking to inventory forecasting. A centralized inventory platform allows you to optimize product listings across all sales channels, improve your stock forecasting to make informed replenishment decisions, and reduce excess inventory and lost sales.
Because your inventory is centrally managed, you can also capitalize on dashboards and reporting features that can help you analyze performance and find opportunities to make improvements.
Sellers have nearly unlimited potential to reach customers wherever they are across channels and make the sale. Scale your business with confidence when you embrace the power of omnichannel inventory management to improve your visibility, avoid stockouts and delight your customers.
Linnworks offers order and inventory management software built for modern retail. With Linnworks, online stores of all sizes can scale with multichannel capability and increase customer satisfaction, even as they expand to new sales channels and reach new audiences.