If poorly planned and handled, multichannel inventory management can get very ugly during high-volume order surges around holidays. Without question, the Number One holiday inventory mandate is: avoid stock outs. All of your resources and expertise must be focused on having the right items in the right mix at the right place to meet holiday demand. Poor omnichannel inventory management can create stock outs for one channel while other channels suffer overstocks. Inventory must be managed holistically across channels, from ecommerce shopping carts to call centers, from catalog orders to point of sale at brick and mortar stores.
Forecast, Deploy, and Flex
Forecast, Deploy, and Flex may sound like the name of a law firm, but in fact they are the three keys to winning the battle against inventory mismatches. First, generate an inventory plan that comes as close to actual demand as possible (understanding that, by definition, all forecasts are wrong, of course). Second, position the specific amount of inventory at warehouses, racks, bins, stores, and third party drop shippers for on-time fulfillment…and customer satisfaction. Finally, develop the flexibility to transfer, replenish, and reorder product as your line of defense against the inevitable disparity between predicted demand and real-world actuals.
Deciding how much inventory to order is a lot easier if you have a set of sophisticated algorithms working for you. An advanced forecast system can automatically generate new forecasts based on smart interpretation of the sales histories of existing products. For new product introductions, the system should allow you to select the history of a similar existing product and apply that to the new product. The forecasting tool should allow you to edit demand calculations to take into account anticipated sales trends, seasonal factors, and any planned promotions that will affect the demand curve.
This intelligent forecasting system should break forecasts down to annual, quarterly, monthly, and weekly periods in order to specify how much inventory you will need when, thus making your purchasing decisions more accurate. When the forecast feeds into an integrated purchasing module, the system can automatically incorporate inventory-related factors such as back orders and on-hand stock to net out exact purchase quantities, then take into account factors such as vendor minimum buys, purchase order limits, and more. The forecasting and purchasing processes should also be broken down by sales channel and physical warehouse or distribution center.
In an omnichannel world, orders may originate at a physical point of purchase, online shopping cart, call center, and more. The location and availability of retail inventory can be crucial to filling these orders on time. Because inventory is horizontal across channels and purposes, visibility to inventory—incoming, on-hand, committed to customer, transfers—is the priority. Does your system present a comprehensive view and understanding of where inventory is, how it is moving, and where it is needed?
Can you analyze each channel separately? Are your ‘available to sell’ levels accurate across all sales channels? Are the levels published to your sales channels to avoid ‘stock outs’ or over selling?
Once inventory is received at the warehouse (or distribution center), it moves to inventory bins from which it can be picked. Bins should be assignable so that inventory can be dedicated to any purpose. Examples include reserving stock for a specific store location, or assigning items to an individual channel. Your packing manager must be able to see all orders and choose which bin to pick from. For instance, in a situation where multiple warehouses are in operation, the packing manager may pick a Web order from a bin at the warehouse located closest to the delivery address. Methods and practices like this and many others can be codified in the order management system as “warehouse rules” that automatically guide operations according to established priorities and best practices. An advanced warehouse system should be able to stack rules so that, for instance, when one bin stocks out the pick is assigned automatically to the next bin in priority order.
The key to managing multiple warehouses and enforcing optimal picking preferences is knowing how much inventory you have in each bin within each warehouse. There’s no substitute for being able to see inventory live so you know exactly what has and has not been picked across channels. Bins can be dedicated to many purposes and categories of stock, such as returns, damaged, bulk storage, and much more. Auto-replenishment rules can ensure stock is available at high-priority locations, and even suggest which units to transfer. One comprehensive system lets managers at multiple warehouses see where everything is, facilitating smart cooperation in getting product to the best staging location as conditions change over time.
An inventory management system that supports bar code scanning can take inventory tracking to a new level of automation and accuracy. It’s the sure-fire way to record what’s going on in inventory and adjust levels to reflect sales and shipments. A comprehensive inventory dashboard facility lets managers at multiple levels in the organization see what’s selling, what’s not, what’s back ordered, individual picker and packer productivity scores, and more.
When you can automatically and accurately match orders and sales to inventory levels in purpose-dedicated bins across one or more warehouses in an omnichannel sales environment, you’ve got the support it takes to keep up with the volume surges of a Black Friday or a Cyber Monday or anything else the holiday sales period throws at you. Without a comprehensive system for coordination and visibility, you are in the dark…pouring over spreadsheets to make decisions manually based on lagging information. And when it comes to reordering and replenishing during the most time-critical part of the sales year, it builds confidence just to know you have proper inventory counts that accurately reflect inventory depletions, etc. Your inventory system should display a purchasing screen that lists low stock items and lets you decide to re-order, then automatically produces purchase orders and sends POs to the vendor.
Repurchase thresholds can be set to whatever levels work best for your business, taking into account factors like lead times, vendor minimums and more. The system should produce reports daily, and support the purchasing actions needed to replenish and receive goods back into the system…including automatically filling back orders on receipt, prioritized by order age, priority, or customer status,
A comprehensive order management and inventory system can balance the needs of your ecommerce channel with brick and mortar point-of-sale inventory, using separate bins dedicated to different purposes—store reserve, warehouse location, item status, and so on. The system should allow managers to easily transfer items from any one bin to another with just a mouse click, even if that bin transfer initiates a move from one physical location to another, places inventory “out of reach” in Do Not Sell bins, or puts inventory “back in play” by moving it out of Returns or Hold for Inspection bins.
Freestyle’s Multichannel Order Manager (M.O.M.) is a comprehensive system that lets you do all the forecasting, deploying, and flexing tricks of the trade with ease. Whether you have a moderate but growing inventory footprint or are struggling to handle large numbers of stock items, M.O.M. is a cost-effective way to gain confidence, helping you understand what’s going on at all times so you can make better inventory management decisions. Every time you replace a slow, error-prone manual procedure with an accurate, automated alternative, you win one more victory in the battle against overwhelming holiday workloads. With a powerful, full-range system like M.O.M. you can implement new capabilities at your own pace, yet grow your efficiencies without limit to optimize your business processes as you grow to any size over the years.