brands with benefits

Make merchandise (digitally) available

Brands with benefits: making merchandise digitally available across all channels

By Tom Vieweger

December 6 2020

Just recently, I wanted to buy new shoes, and this time, contrary to a long tradition, my first way did not lead me into a store, but I picked up my mobile phone. 

When it comes to buying shoes, I believe that I need to try them out and see if they really fit well. So the reason for browsing online was that I wanted to check if my preferred brand's products are actually available before I go to the store. After using various apps, search engines, and market-places, I wondered why it was not possible to show in which stores my desired products are actually available. 

Make merchandise (digitally) available 

One of the biggest wins to create a seamless shopping experience is to make store stock available online. In this context, studies say that 73% of consumers are likely or very likely to visit a local store if the retailer provides in-store product availability information. To serve those shoppers who want to buy right now, it is essential that brands and retailers can trust their inventory data. They need to know where products are and how soon customers can receive or collect them – both in real-time. RFID technology is the foundation for accurate stocks. It allows for fully automated stock management – resulting in nearly one hundred per cent stock accuracy. If then, brands and retailers share their stock information in a unified stock pool, the digital availability of merchandise is increased to the max. 

Looking at the frontrunners 

As a visionary retailer, Foot Locker in New York City enables users of the Foot Locker app as well as the Nike app to check the availability of products in their stores online. For example, NikePlus members can view the availability of items in the store and can reserve them for pickup at the location. 

Together we are combining our knowhow to create truly differentiated experiences for Foot Locker and Nike customers alike

Foot Locker CEO Richard Johnson  

Speaking the same language 

Exchanging stock-relevant business data amongst brands, retailers, and other partners can easily and trustfully provide deep insights into the provenance, the location, and the status of products. The use of standards for identification (GTIN / SGTIN) and communication (EPCIS) is essential for successful collaboration. These standards guarantee efficient, cross-company communication and enable them to integrate their data with speed and ease. By exchanging information from the brand's EPCIS with the retailer's EPCIS, relevant stock data along the supply chain can be digitally exchanged and ensure more transparency and trust in cooperation.  

3 Reasons Why Brands and Retailers Need an EPCIS 

An EPCIS repository allows retailers and brands to exchange their stock information easily. If, for example, a brand-owner is selling in a store of a retail chain, the EPCIS repository provides real-time information about the stock. Consequently, this unified view of product availability across all channels can provide great benefits - let's look into three use cases:

1. From sheep to shop – End to End Traceability

Brand owners want to know where their merchandise is, while a retailer wants to know if the products are genuine. And finally, customers want to know if the product they bought is authentic and where it came from. With RFID, a so-called digital identity, and access to its tracking data in the EPCIS, brands and retailers share full visibility about the lifecycle and the status of a product. 

The EPCIS enables brands and retailers to pool all item-level tracking data together on a single shared platform so that data can be evaluated and communicated as required. This is the basis to provide information about a product's provenance and unlocks use cases like brand authentication and grey market identification. Still, it can also be used to provide a "sustainability pedigree."

   2. A unified stock pool unlocks merchandise availability

For the last 15 years, brands and retailers were already working on collaborative planning forecasting and replenishment (CPFR) initiatives. They are sharing sales and inventory data over so-called electronic data interchange (EDI) processes. However, this "one-to-one" communication is slow, error-prone, and requires a lot of (manual) data clearing. Furthermore, it does not provide insights into sublocation-level or unique item-level data. This is where EPCIS enhances the concept of vendor managed inventory to its level 2.0: 

   3. Buy & return anywhere

Customers do not only expect to view in-store inventory online; they also want to order or reserve their desired products immediately. So, combining the stock information between retailers and brands aims on the one hand to provide instantaneous insights into what products are available, and on the other hand, how, where, and when the customer can get them.  

As part of a seamless shopping experience, today's consumers consider easy returns as an inevitable service. And just as shoppers now expect flexible fulfilment options, they also demand the same experience and options when returning a product. An EPCIS allows to accept returns at any location, offer partial or full returns, and get the item back into inventory as soon as possible.  

Make customers happy together 

In this omnichannel world, brands and retailers have identified that cooperation is the key. By sharing item-level and real-time stock information, they increase their (digital) product availability and, finally make customers happy together. 

Tom Vieweger
RFID business expert
Tom Vieweger