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Availability Is Key – an Omni-channel Story

May 11, 2016 4 min

Working in the field of inventory management and supply chain I guess one gets to be more appreciative, as a customer, when companies get things right and perhaps more disappointed when they don’t. You’re a supply chain professional when you’re at work, but also when you’re a customer, buying things from other companies. So you’ll understand, better than most, that we live in a world where availability is key for any retailer.

Most want to make it as easy as possible for consumers to buy their products. These days that old Henry Ford maxim; ‘any color you like, as long as it’s black’ has been turned on its head. Because companies can be efficient, cost effective and give consumers what they want, it means that consumers have come to expect better choice and better service. And we all know that someone, somewhere is always raising the bar and with it consumer expectations. These days good service means making stuff available to customers whenever and wherever they want, whether that be delivered to their door or available to collect from anywhere.

My Omni-channel Story

The other day this was particularly brought to mind for me. I was looking for a basketball hoop to buy for my kids. I wanted one that had an adjustable height and a base that you fill up with water to keep it steady on the ground. I searched for it on the internet and found one available at a big box retailer near me. Great! Isn’t it just so easy buying stuff these days? It’s not like twenty years ago when you had to physically visit three or four shops and not even know if you’d find what you wanted. So, I just clicked and bought it online and drove to pick it up at the physical store later that day. But when I arrived it soon became clear that they didn’t have it in stock after all. Somehow the available product had either been bought by someone else before I had arrived at the store (in which case it hadn’t been reserved for me as you might expect) or the online store did not show the right balance in the first place.

Either way, I was quite irritated since now I had to drive even further to pick it up at another store that actually had it in stock the next day. (And remember, my decision to buy it from this particular retailer in the first place was because I could collect it from one of their stores close to me). Anyhow, I drove on to the second store even though it was further away. Luckily when I arrived they had one available, it was the last one in stock, so I was able to pick it up then and there and take it back home.

When I got back (a bit disappointed because I had spent so much time picking up something that should have been easy for me to just pop down the road and collect), I set up the basketball hoop and filled the base with water… and meh! The base was damaged, there was a hole. Water went in. Water came out. The end result was no basketball hoop and a whole weekend wasted driving around just because this retail chain couldn’t manage its inventory across an omni-channel operation and show me the right balance at the right store. Nor could it reserve stock for me online or at the store.

But it gets worse. I took the damaged hoop back to the store closest to me to return it but, oh no, ‘sorry mister, you gotta take it back to the actual store you collected it from.’ They wouldn’t even accept the return. I had to drive all the way back to the store all those extra miles away just to rectify yet another botch that they, not me, had made.

The conclusion? I purchased the hoop from their competitor, this retailer lost a sale (and quite possibly a customer) and I won’t be shopping from that online store anytime soon. Twenty years ago I’d have probably taken it on the chin. But these days, we have come to expect better because we know that better is possible. We all make buying choices all the time. Those might be based on service or on price. I might forgive you poor service if I save money – but if I have to drive an extra fifty miles to collect something because your inventory management doesn’t work what I saved in buying from you I lose on gas.

Bottom line: supply chain matters; inventory management matters; joined-up, omni-channel management matters. You can’t have a single brand and act like you’re six different operations rather than one company because that’s not how the customer sees you. You may be a black box to the consumer. They may not understand how you get stuff to them. But they will reflect on their experience of you, compare you with the competition and, if you’re not measuring up, they won’t stick around.

Written by

Wyatt Wood

VP Sales & Business Development