Collaborative Stock – how retailers and brands can gratify customers demand in a connected world

Retailers are investing heavily in a variety of marketing activities in order to reach the customers and attract them to come into their stores. However, the level of a satisfying customer experience at the point of sale often is (too) low. One of the reasons is a poor merchandise availability. What could be more disappointing than not finding the desired item?

As a remedy, retailers increasingly research and adopt concepts like “In-Store Order”, “Endless Aisle” or “Digital Shelf”. All these approaches have one thing in common: the store gets access to additional pools of stock. Be it from a central warehouse, the e-commerce channel, another store of the same retail chain or – that’s new – directly and instantly from the central stock of a connected brand!

By displaying this ‘collaborative stock’ on mobile devices, online kiosks or digital signage in the store, retailers maximize the range of products on offer while simultaneously cutting storage costs by reducing stock levels. Sales assistants in the store can order missing items – especially colors and sizes – immediately.

And this is not only happening in stores. Recently, Zalando has announced that they will increase their business as brand fulfillment center and start sharing stock data with brands. That is definitely something that was not considered possible in the past. Or take for example US-based department store chain Nordstrom that just opened a merchandise-free store, which is their ‘service hub’ for online orders. Or the international online platform miinto which presents the local stock of more than 1.200 independent fashion shops in their web shop. All these concepts are based on a collaborative stock.

Online or offline commerce will continue to merge – as retail and brand stocks will do.

But what’s the benefit? Simply put – if retailers and suppliers are able to grant access to their stock information, they can – collaboratively – enlarge the availability of items and fulfill customer’s demands. Vice versa the brand or online platform is able to connect to the stock of the retailer and use the stores as a local fulfillment center and pass orders from their brand webshop on to local stores. Online orders from nearby can be picked and delivered to the customers within the same day or be provided as a “click & reserve” service. This truly creates a very positive shopping experience and can result in loyal shoppers or even better: fans. The right assortment, and the best product availability, with seamless service and an emotional brand image sum up the perfect customer journey.

RFID & EPCIS are the key to successfully sharing a virtual (accurate) stock.

Such a virtual stock, provided by a collaborative stock platform, requires a platform that is able to share the status of stock between different entities – be it stores, brands or webshops. However, it is necessary that stock information across all those systems is accurate and consistent. Only then fast (web) order fulfillment and a high customer satisfaction rate is guaranteed. Here, RFID and EPCIS standards are the key as RFID enables a high stock accuracy while EPCIS is a standardized protocol to exchange information on RFID events. This enables that all parties – the retailer, the brand or the 3rd party webshop – have access to a single pool of stock.

I truly believe that stores, brands and shopping platforms will no longer think in terms of ‘my stock’ and ‘your stock’, but rather in terms of how they can make their customers happy with the best possible service.

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About the author: Tom Vieweger

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