I recently had a terrible online buying experience.
I purchased a set of wine glasses from a well-known retailer’s website. I completed the transaction and received a confirmation email for my order, including a pick-up location and date.
Three days later, I received an email notification that my order had been cancelled because the wine glass set was out-of-stock.
Excuse me? I was counting on them to deliver. Fat chance I’ll ever buy from that retailer again. They gave me a bad customer experience, because they couldn’t manage their inventory effectively.
Do your customers experience this problem? Are you even aware whether they do? If so, it must stop. The problem can be solved, by providing real-time product availability.
This post will explain why real-time product availability is crucial for delivering an exceptional customer experience. We’ll also discuss what technology you need to achieve it.
What is Real-Time Inventory
Real-time product availability means that both shoppers and company employees have the ability to view accurate inventory status for all products. Real-time means that inventory is updated instantaneously across sales channels when items are sold. (Not every day. Not every hour.)
For shoppers, this means having confidence that sellers only offer products they physically have. They don’t necessarily care how you manage their inventory. They just know whether they can (or can’t) trust you to deliver your end of the bargain, when they make a purchase.
For your employees, it’s being able to inform customers of an item’s availability, even by nearest location. They are able to provide a better customer experience, especially in stores, when they have accurate inventory data to work with.
Real-time inventory will require different approaches for different companies. At the very least, you must keep your on-hand store inventories up to date. It gets more complex when you incorporate your warehouses, distribution centers, and drop ship suppliers.
But, that’s where you it really be valuable. That’s where you can provide an endless aisle.
Real-Time Inventory and Customer Experience
Inventory accuracy is critical to providing positive customer experiences in many of the sales channels you may utilize.
Real-Time Inventory for Marketplaces
Leading merchants today excel at providing accurate information to their customers. Amazon Prime has set a new benchmark in meeting customer expectations. (And they are still going). Amazon shoppers know that items flagged as “Prime” are available and will be shipped immediately. They trust they’ll receive a great experience.
If you’re competing against Amazon or wish to be an Amazon Prime seller, you must be able to provide an accurate status of products for both shoppers and your employees. It is not an option.
The same is true of eBay, where reputation management plays a huge part in your success. You can’t sell products to customers, then tell them you didn’t actually have the product. eBay’s community of buyers will not accept it.
Real-Time Inventory for Webstores
You probably put a lot of time and money into your digital marketing. It isn’t easy to attract someone to your website, then get them to add something to the shopping cart, then get them to check out. Why would you blow it by not having the product in stock?
Shoppers who visit your eCommerce website expect accurate information. The color must be as advertised. The product must be as described. But, they also expect that when your product says “in stock”, that it truly is.
It only takes one “sorry, we actually don’t have it” experience to lose a customer forever.
Real-Time Inventory for Stores
Shoppers also expect your store employees to be able provide accurate inventory information. When one location is out-of-stock, your employees should be able to inform customers, on the spot, if another nearby location has that exact item–down to the right size and color.
Store visitors are more invested in their search. They took time out of their days. They made a trip to your store. If you can’t provide what they want or tell them definitively where they can get it, they will not be happy.
How to Provide Real-Time Inventory
My experience, shared above, is a perfect illustration of how delayed inventory data creates a bad experience. I can only guess why it took the retailer three days to realize an item I bought was actually not in-stock. It’s probably because they don’t have the right systems in-place to provide that kind of information.
In the 2015 Multichannel Buyer’s Guide, nChannel CEO Steve Weber outlines the following key requirements you need to have to provide real-time product availability. He says you must…
- Have strong, perpetual management features and control procedures in your inventory tracking software
- Be able to keep inventory in sync across channels in real-time
- Track or report inventory for matrix items like apparel down to the size and color, not just the high level SKU
- Be able to report inventory from multiple locations, vendors, and other sales channels
- Give customers accurate shipping information when utilizing inventory from suppliers
Most of all, understand that many systems that retailers use today do not support these requirements. You need to be diligent about selecting technologies that do.
What to Do Next: Multichannel Buyer’s Guide for 2015
When you’re capable of real-time product availability, customers can rely on you for an exceptional customer experience. However, certain technology is needed to make that guarantee. We created your guide to building the kind of multichannel platform that you need to meet today’s customer expectations.
Download our Multichannel Buyer’s Guide for 2015 to learn more about software requirements for real-time product availability as well as everything else you must do to be a multichannel powerhouse.