These days, retail is still particularly shaped by intense competition. IT is an important tool for the individual retailer to ensure advantages compared to the competition. After all, the right systems can achieve cost savings as well as an increase in efficiency. Special attention is placed on optimizing the flow of goods in the warehouse and in the store.
According to the ”Trends in Retailing 2020“ study by the EHI Retail Institute and KPMG, IT investments of retailers in Germany were about 4 billion Euros in 2010. On average, companies spent 1.12 percent of their net sales on information technology – and all this despite the difficult business conditions. Many also expect an increasing budget for the next few years.
Inventory management systems remain at the heart of retail IT
The majority of IT investments for the next few years are also intended for traditional projects. The inventory management system remains at the heart of retail IT. Twenty-nine percent of interviewed companies for the study stated that they want to particularly focus on the modernization of their inventory management systems. The main focus is also inventory control when it comes to data evaluation.
Mobile solutions optimize order planning
To avoid product gaps and to make stocking of shelves easier on associates, an optimal, demand-driven supply of the store needs to be guaranteed. Today, mobile data collection (MDC) in particular provides advantages for flexible and real-time order planning. The flow of goods is of course always tied to the flow of information.
Usually, retail prefers to use a fully automated inventory management system. It automatically checks and measures inventory, since all products are scanned when they come in and again at the point of sale. This way, the current inventory can be retrieved at any time and impending supply shortfalls are automatically reported. This system applies especially to the non-food sector. Food retailing has followed a different approach for quite some time now. Here, inventory is more often manually recorded, since unsold merchandise often has to be taken from the store due to expiration dates. For this type of data collection, associates use MDC devices to keep an eye on store inventory at any time and to adjust the quantities that need to be ordered, if need be.
Mobile data collection facilitates a better and more updated overview of the inventory. If overplanning has left shelf spaces or storage areas with too much merchandise due to decreased demand, orders can be quickly and flexibly adjusted accordingly.
Inventory gaps often result in a loss of customers
Depending on the industry sector, customer reactions to inventory gaps are very different. If an item in food retail is needed urgently and is presently not available, like milk for instance, the customer usually simply chooses another packaging size or grabs a product by a different manufacturer. In the worst-case scenario, he/she changes retailers. In doing so, the retailer doesn’t just lose sales from this product, but also sales from other products the customer wanted to purchase. If such stockouts happen regularly, there is an increasing chance that the customer is permanently choosing another market. This is very different when it comes to the clothing retail business or consumer electronics. In this case, customers are more willing to wait for the desired product and to pick it up at another time if necessary.
A mobile inventory solution always saves valuable time. The associates can also scan the barcode of the article with the MDC device and access mobile inventory information. In doing so, he/she can immediately answer the customer’s questions about sizes, colors or available inventory for example. The associate remains in a sales conversation with the customer, which increases the sales percentage while the customer enjoys great service.
Current solutions integrate all business processes
Technical development keeps evolving and thereby also increases the productivity of MDC devices. These products are becoming handier and are able to do more and more. Retail hopes to gain a lot from solutions that can be used flexibly in all areas of the store. Recently, the manufacturer Omnico has developed a tablet that is also suited as a point of sale hardware system for retail, which combines online, mobile and local store sales. Thanks to its mobility, sales assistants are able to welcome their customers in the showroom and access and display current information on the product, sales offers and availability on the tablet. By linking up to the inventory management system, such solutions can also directly facilitate repeat orders. The tablet is not just a mobile device however. Connected to a docking station, it becomes a full-fledged point of sale system. With an additional barcode scanner connected, data collection, customer service and closing a sale are combined in one mobile device.
IT infrastructure is crucial
To be able to take advantage of MDC devices, retailers also need a comprehensive inventory management system. Current solutions manage incoming and outgoing goods as well as inventory and product information. In addition, such systems are able to control new label printing, disposition as well as order follow-up.
In doing so, the inventory management system provides the foundation for consolidating the data collected by associates with the MDC devices and delivering a coherent overall picture. The information is transmitted in real-time via WLAN connection to the inventory management system. Associates receive an updated inventory status report at any time.
The use of devices for mobile data collection helps retailers to meet customer demands. By avoiding inventory gaps, mobile data collection makes prompt, comprehensive service and a positive shopping experience possible for retailers and customers. In addition, real-time data collection of course also facilitates optimization of order and storage processes, thereby realizing additional cost savings.
Daniel Stöter, EuroCIS.com