Inventory – the Next Normal

28th November 2022

Logistics BusinessInventory – the Next Normal

A new survey suggests that a single view of inventory is becoming increasingly important in retail logistics.

At its 2022 ‘European Exchange’ customer conference – this year staged in Berlin – supply chain software leader Manhattan Associates Inc. revealed the findings of its latest international research, ‘Recalibrating For The Next Normal’. It described a retail landscape where the lines between physical and digital commerce are becoming increasingly opaque and complicated.

“Shopping habits have changed forever,” commented Henri Seroux, SVP EMEA at Manhattan Associates. “There can be no return to the status quo, with 83% of retailers now claiming they operate a level of interconnection between their online and in-store functions.”

“As the retail industry recalibrates for this next normal, the ability to navigate disruption, while enhancing the physical and digital customer experience will become increasingly important; as will the technologies that allow retailers to fulfil in-store and online orders in an agile, sustainable and profitable fashion,” Seroux continued.

Single view of inventory

When it comes to fulfilment, the ‘one size fits all’ approach no longer works and retailers are reacting to this. Natalie Berg, retail analyst, author and founder of NBK Retail commented: “While the vast majority of surveyed retailers stated that they have a level of interconnection between their online and in-store functions (83%), only around half are offering buy in-store and return online (50%), or buy online and return in-store (46%). And, only 6% of retailers believed that they had an accurate overview of their inventory across their entire business (in-store and online) 100% of the time.

“Shoppers today expect to shop on their own terms with more than a third (34%) considering click & collect to be the most important delivery method, followed by contactless/curbside pickup at 19%. This finding highlights the importance of offering consumers choice when it comes to fulfilment options and the need for a retailer to possess a single view of inventory, as keeping that all important customer promise just got a whole lot more complicated,” Berg added.

Almost a quarter of consumers (24%) now expect shop assistants to be able to check availability in a nearby store if a product is out of stock, or order that product for home delivery or collection, highlighting the blending of the physical and digital retail spaces.

Seroux continued: “40% of consumers still favour traditional sales checkout in-store, whereas, 19% would like to use more digital methods such as self-checkout on the shop floor with a shop assistant via a mobile device (8%). Interestingly, almost two-thirds (63%) of retailers agreed that checking stock availability was the most important customer-facing duty performed by their shop assistants in 2022.

“Over the last decade bricks & mortar spaces were seen as liabilities in a digital era. However, the perception of the physical store has been fundamentally changed by the impact of the pandemic.

“Today, many retailers are evaluating the roles of their stores, recognising their added value as strategic hubs for online sales, not least as a fulfilment hub for click & collect, returns, endless aisles, same-day delivery and more. While digitalisation and frictionless shopping are certainly two of the big winners from the pandemic, the research shows that we should not be too quick to discount the importance of human interaction or the role of the physical store in the era of digital commerce,” finished Seroux.

Key research findings:

• 51% of consumers reported environmental/sustainability efforts were important to them in shopping
• 26% of retailers believe creating a more environmentally aware and sustainable supply chain is one of their top three priorities for 2023
• 74% of surveyed retailers provide shop assistants with handheld devices that show a consolidated view of inventory across the network
• If a return is made in-store 99% of retailers make the product available for resale with 38% making it available online, 25% putting it on the shop floor and 27% doing both
• 68% of retailers reported that they were now operating micro-fulfilment strategies in efforts to service the numerous channels used by today’s hybrid consumers
• 65% would like to have a choice of couriers and delivery dates, and 18% would like a choice of couriers with different cost options

• Survey: 3,500 adult (18+ years’ old) consumers and 700 management or senior-level retailer respondents, representing Tier 1 retail organisations (generating more than $100m in annual revenue) were surveyed, in France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, UK and USA.