Why this festive season is the acid test for omni-channel retail

This is a stressful time of year for all retail businesses. Christmas is traditionally a peak time for sales of course, but, for many retailers, December 25 represents just a brief respite before the January sales kick-in. This year, many stores have experienced footfall growth with shoppers out in force, taking back unwanted presents and making the most of the cash generated to pick up bargains.

According to the retail specialist, Springboard, more than £200 million of unwanted presents were expected to be returned on 29 December, dubbed Take Back Tuesday, resulting in a 5.1% rise in footfall as compared to Tuesday 30 December 2014. We also saw another peak on Saturday January 2nd, with footfall across UK high streets up 9.7%.

This represents encouraging news, of course – but retailers will still await their December and January sales results with trepidation. This festive season is shaping up as the first big test of their omni-channel strategies – and recent consumer research by HSO demonstrates the importance of retailers creating a synchronised stockpile to efficiently manage stock across the online and ‘bricks and mortar’ worlds.

Our survey shows that the moment of truth often comes when an item is shown as out of stock online, an experience common to 92% of consumers. In this scenario, if retailers suggest the stock is available in a store for collection as an alternative purchase option, the survey highlights that the sale can often be saved.

It’s a tactic that has especially strong potential for fashion retailers. 45% of consumers buying clothes said they would be prepared to travel to a nearby store if the item was out of stock online. That represents a huge revenue-generating opportunity. In the past, retailers have often maintained separate ring-fenced stock pools for their physical store-based and online environments. Without an overall view of sales demand and real-time single stock management, they miss out on online sales and end up with a surplus of unsold stock in shops.

To address these challenges retailers need to implement technology that allows them to coordinate and integrate their stock management approaches across the online and physical store environments and make the process as seamless as possible for the customer. We believe enterprise resource planning (ERP) meets that need.

ERP enables retailers to achieve a 360° view and maintain a single stock pool across the whole operation, while at the same time obtaining real-time updates on the stock held in that pool. As none of the stock is ring-fenced but instead distributed on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, this approach allows businesses to satisfy orders across all channels more easily. Moreover, the ability to receive regular updates based on sales throughout the day also gives retailers confidence that the pool stock figure is accurate and makes sure they can fulfil demand and keep customers happy not just at Christmas but also throughout the whole year.

by Hector Hickmott, HSO Sales Director

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