Power the Busy Holiday Season With a Real-Time Database
Holiday shopping season is upon us. From the initial look of things, retailers can expect “peak on peak” demand again this year. While the pandemic increased e-commerce shopping by 44 percent last year (NRF 2020), it also exposed the weaknesses of retailers. Seventy-seven percent of the retailers experienced increased latency and downtime during the holiday season, and 94 percent of them expressed concern about supply chain issues (Retail Holiday Reality Report 2020 by GCP Harris Poll).
This year will be fraught with even more challenges. Several CEOs at major toy manufacturers have already warned that the global shipping crisis and labor shortages might limit their ability to keep stores stocked throughout the fall holiday shopping season. Demand is also expected to be at an all-time high this year; recent data shows that consumers plan to buy more gifts and spend more money than they did in 2020.
In this rapidly changing environment, retailers need a powerful data platform that can help them adapt and respond with more flexibility and agility than ever before to capture digital and omnichannel shoppers and optimize their inventory. Here are some considerations for leveraging data in real time to enhance shopping experiences and supply chain processes:
Instant Shopping Experience
Nine out of 10 shoppers say they will abandon a retailer’s website if it's too slow. However, faster responses for mobile apps and websites is only the beginning. Retailers need to improve all stages of the customer journey — e.g., lightning-quick browsing of product catalogs even during traffic spikes, blazing fast and typo-tolerant site search, accurate and up-to-date stock information, searching through previously bought items, reserving items for pickup — to offer a convenient, user-friendly and fast shopping experience.
Caching is often the easiest way for online retailers to deliver instant shopping experiences with minimal resources and overhead. Instant indexing of the product catalog and full-text search support allows shoppers to be able to quickly search and filter across hundreds of items to find what they're looking for.
Responsive, Seamless and Personalized Omnichannel Experiences
The demand for speedy, same-day delivery and curbside pickup has enabled brick-and-mortar stores to compete against e-commerce giants. Consumers want the convenience of online shopping with the instant gratification of having the item in hand nearly instantaneously. According to IDC’s Retail Consumer Insights Survey, 59 percent of respondents indicated they would shop elsewhere if the retailer didn't offer the ability to buy online and pick up in-store.
This requires retailers to adopt an omnichannel strategy, meaning that interactions between customers and the company happen in many ways across multiple channels. This includes a myriad of situations — e.g., customers may buy in-store or online and may want to pick up their purchases at the store or have them shipped to their home, office or other site. Retailers also must account for customers returning items via mail or to the store. The complexity lies not just in knowing how much of what is where, but maintaining consistency across the multiple places (typically databases) that keep a record of that information. For everything to work together, retailers need to be able to build and deploy integrated end-to-end solutions using a microservices architecture. There must be one system in place, synchronized, to connect and use inventory data in real time, and then convey it to the shopper.
Real-Time Inventory for Optimizing Order Fulfillment and Shipping Costs
Your customer might order an item online, but omnichannel retailers might be able to speed the process and reduce costs by having the item delivered from a closer store or warehouse, or even one already delivered to other locations near the customer. It’s all about making sure items are in the right place, at the right time, at the right price.
Without real-time inventory, retailers can’t optimize inventory, yield management, and supply chain management. Relying on historical data makes inventory forecasting less accurate, increasing costs from carrying excess inventory and requiring unnecessary shipping. Retailers can also face reduced yields due to poor execution of enterprise-wide pricing and promotional strategies — e.g., the inability to allocate available inventory to the highest-margin locations.
Currently, inventory management systems are batch-processes and data are not consistently updated across all channels. Retailers need a database that can modernize existing inventory management systems without causing disruption and at the same time provide data consistency and bilateral updates across channels at the speed of transactions.
Invest in Agility to Scale Up Quickly to Handle Peak Traffic
Retailers need an agile tech stack, while still maintaining a low-margin business model. To meet that agility — while building and maintaining real-time inventory systems — enterprise architects must address several critical questions, such as:
- How can we support traffic spikes with zero downtime while avoiding overprovisioning infrastructure year-round?
- How can we deliver must-have e-commerce features while managing the complexity and costs of technology and vendor sprawl?
- How can we scale to ensure inventory availability in the face of peak Black Friday-level traffic?
- How can we support demand — driven holiday sales or seasonal marketing campaigns — and be nimble to dynamically adjust pricing to compete in the market?
Given this year’s supply chain and shipping challenges, synchronization of inventory and having real-time access to data is a business imperative. Without real-time inventory management that works at scale and ensures consistency across your channels, you’ll frustrate customers, reduce brand loyalty, and miss out on sales.
Delivering real-time retail requires personalized, customer-facing processes; real-time inventory that enables optimized stock management; and scalability and resilience to continue operating in any situation — especially during high-volume seasons. Savvy retailers are preparing now for the complexities of real-time inventory management during this challenging holiday shopping season.
Ashish Sahu is head of product and solution marketing at Redis, an open source (BSD licensed), in-memory data structure store, used as a database, cache, and message broker.
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