There’s nothing much worse than seeing an “out of stock” sign for a product you want. Frustrated customers either buy from a competitor or don’t buy at all. As the merchant, you lose the sale.
75% of all adults have suffered from an unavailable product in-store in the last 12 months. 63% of those adults experienced it online, according to Retail Customer Experience.
Poor inventory control is a serious problem for merchants. It leads to poor customer satisfaction and lost sales. One fix for these problems is updating inventory availability in real time. This article defines real time inventory, explains why you need it, and how you can get it.
Real Time Inventory Availability Definition
Real time inventory availability allows shoppers and company employees to see the available stock of a product.
The key word to focus on here is real time. Real time means your management system updates inventory levels immediately after inventory is sold. This ensures that your inventory levels are always accurate, even across multiple channels.
It’s important to note that real time inventory updates are different from batch inventory updates.
Batch inventory updates are when systems update inventory in batches at a set time interval, such as every 15, 30, or 60 minutes. The system does not update inventory levels immediately after a sale.
Batch inventory updates still leave room for inventory control problems.For example, let’s say you only have one product in stock of a popular item. In an hour, two people can easily purchase your last item. It’s a messy situation to explain to someone that you don’t actually have the product they purchased.
Imagine the problems that merchants can run into when running promotions for flash sales, Black Friday, or Cyber Monday. Without real time inventory updates, you easily run the risk of overselling.
Why Real Time Inventory Availability is Important
Real time inventory availability is key to delivering a better customer experience.
It allows you to manage both your virtual and physical shelves so that they’re always stocked. By being aware of product levels, you can replenish items when needed. If you don’t have more inventory, you can be sure to inform customers before they buy.
Overall, customers have a better experience. They know when items are in-stock and trust you to deliver. It increases their likelihood to buy.
Consider Amazon Prime. Amazon customer know that items flagged as “Prime” are available for immediate shipment – instant gratification. It’s why the program works so well.
It also helps company employees better serve customers. If an item is out of stock, an employee can look up product availability to direct a customer to where they can make their purchase. In the best case scenario, your employee can even purchase the product and have it shipped to the customer.
Real time inventory availability is especially important for multichannel sellers. These types of merchants can have the same stock available on multiple marketplaces and their webstore. It’s easy to oversell across multiple channels. On marketplaces like Amazon, overselling can lead to banishment from the site!
Real time inventory availability is a must for competing merchants. It gives visibility into your inventory so that you can better serve your customers.
Key Requirements for Real Time Inventory Availability
If you want real time inventory availability, then your software needs to meet the following requirements:
Inventory accuracy begins with having strong perpetual inventory management features in your inventory tracking software and ends with strong inventory control procedures.
It is a bigger problem to report out-of-stock inventory as available, then it is to report in-stock inventory as unavailable. The latter may lose a sale, the former may cause you lose to a customer. Also, some marketplaces have rules requiring merchants to only list in-stock items.
Data Synchornization Speed
It’s a daunting task to keep inventory levels synced across all your selling channels. This is especially true with one-of-a-kind or high volume products.
As mentioned above, this is why real time, not batch, inventory updates are paramount.
Matrix/Dimensional Product Support
Some systems do not track or report inventory for matrix items, like apparel, down to the size and color. They only track the high level SKU. This can it make difficult to control inventory levels.
Linking Vendor Inventory
Inventory control becomes more difficult when factoring in suppliers and other vendors. For true real time product availability, you need to be able to report inventory from multiple locations.
Tracking Lead Times
If you wish to offer inventory from suppliers, merchants need to let customers know when they should expect the product to shop. For examples, some suppliers will guarantee that if you order by 2 pm, they’ll ship the same date.
Not all software systems have a method to track this information.
Get Real Time Inventory Availability
Your ability to update inventory in real time depends on the technology that you use. Keeping these requirements in mind will help you choose the right software to run your business. These criteria are important when evaluating what ERP, POS, or inventory management software to use.
If you need help picking out what systems to use, check out our Multichannel’s Buyer’s Guide to help you evaluate platforms.
If you’re a multichannel seller and already have your systems in place, see how nChannel can help you achieve real time inventory availability.