Blending Inventory Management Strategies Between Warehouse and Store Locations

Dustin Caudell
Fri, Sep 7, 2018
Enterprises in the retail space can make headway here by implementing an out-of-the-box inventory methodology that transforms storefronts into miniature fulfillment centers.
Enterprises in the retail space can make headway here by implementing an out-of-the-box inventory methodology that transforms storefronts into miniature fulfillment centers.

The emergence of omnichannel retail has forced sellers with brick-and-mortar footprints to make major operational adjustments. A significant number of these retailers have set their sights on the sales floor, attempting to implement in-store enhancements that bolster the shopping experience and increase foot traffic. Connected store technology is popular among brands hoping to draw customers away from their screens and into their shops, according to analysts from Deloitte.

While these innovations can certainly generate results, there are more effective methods for replicating the technology-centric, streamlined purchasing experience modern consumers find online. What might those be?

Pursuing the flexibility at the foundation of the highest-functioning modern retail operations is perhaps the most effective strategy.

Top-notch sellers such as Amazon succeed not only because they offer sleek transactional interfaces but also maintain responsive back-end inventory management and fulfillment practices. This is, of course, easier said than done. In fact, analysts for PricewaterhouseCoopers found that fulfillment mistakes ranked among the top concerns for CEOs at omnichannel retailers, despite increasing investments in this area. Even so, enterprises in the retail space can make headway here by implementing an out-of-the-box inventory methodology that transforms storefronts into miniature fulfillment centers.

Standardizing strategies

Shops and warehouses have, in the past, housed connected yet disparate workflows critical to supply chain continuity. Today, this division of labor is not optimal. Retailers need to be able to move with the market and scale to match sudden booms and busts. Rigid, overly segmented supply chains cannot support this kind of functionality. However, more malleable alternatives can, allowing sellers to easily adjust to the ebb and flow of customer demand. Many analysts advocate for new-age supply chains featuring physical retail locations that act as their own fulfillment centers, according Retail TouchPoints. Why would this model be more favorable then existing supply strategies?

Standardized inventory management strategies commonly used in fulfillment centers can add structure to storefront operations and facilitate data-driven flexibility. For example, retail location teams that standardize common shop practices such as shelf replenishment and gap scanning can collect critical operational insights that promote flexibility and responsiveness, laying the groundwork for more robust customer experiences. This strategy also reduces the likelihood of human error, as employees can leverage established, detailed workflows rather than rely on more general guidelines that are open to interpretation and may therefore lead to inconsistency.

Additionally, these kinds of data-driven, uniformed inventory management practices allow brick-and-mortar establishments to further enrich specific in-store-only experiences that already drive foot traffic. For instance, shoppers are more likely to make impulse purchases at physical locations, rather than online, researchers for KPMG found. Stores that use analytics collected via standardized inventory management processes can better serve these customers and take advantage of this phenomenon.

Retailers are transforming storefronts into miniature warehouses.Retailers are transforming storefronts into miniature warehouses.

Technology strategies 

How exactly do sellers transform their shops into miniature warehouses and reap the benefits that come with this approach? Rolling out high-quality inventory management technology is perhaps the first step. Using mobile data collection or voice-directed picking tools could be particularly effective in this scenario, giving managers the power to more effectively guide employees overseeing back-of-house stock or executing replenishment activities on the sales floor.

While these systems have yet to enter retail location en masse, they are among the most prized assets within modern warehouses, one-quarter of which have implemented the technology, according to research from the Association for Logistics Workers. The mobile-ready warehouse management system is another cutting-edge fulfillment asset that could facilitate the creation of storefronts with fully optimized inventory management processes designed to serve modern consumers. Many forward-thinking warehousing leaders are using these tools, whose interfaces resemble those found on consumer-grade equipment, to boost productivity and reduce the likelihood of human error, The Wall Street Journal reported. Physical retail locations could find success with such systems as well.

Of course, these devices have little impact without the support of enterprise resource planning. These platforms support robust data-collection workflows and deliver mission-critical insights to key decision-makers. With consumer data in hand, sales managers and other brick-and-mortar leaders to can create rich customer experiences and shape their inventory to generate maximum revenue.

The sheer power of business intelligence has led almost 50 percent of sellers to invest in digital transformation efforts, according to data from JDA Software. In the end, a significant number of these brands will likely boast mixed inventory management processes wherein storefronts hold as much sway as warehouses.

Of course, retailers intending to embrace this up-and-coming inventory management methodology need the technology designed to support it. Here at RFgen, we implement a variety of backend solutions designed to streamline retail operations. Connect with us today to learn how our software can help your retail business move forward and find success in the post-Amazon era. 

To learn more about the future of the warehouse, read our white paper, "Warehouse Automation Trends":

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