The Perfect Inventory Storm
The sharp increase in November and December sales makes inventory planning and scheduling an extreme challenge for cross-channel retailers. The combination of increased sales, long vendor lead times, inherent forecasting challenges and limited cash availability create a “perfect storm” of inventory management opportunities. Understanding the factors that create this perfect storm will give you a head start on putting solutions in place to optimize your inventory ownership and improve sales and profits.
The chart to the right displays the extreme and short-lived sales peak. Due to the annual flurry of holiday shopping and increased marketing through that period, typical direct retailers see November and December sales average roughly 50 percent higher than all other months of the year. Many direct retailers see significantly higher peak sales. The abrupt increase in November and even more abrupt decrease following Christmas creates a challenging six-week peak season to manage.
To compound the challenge, most direct retailers purchase a significant percentage of their inventory offshore, with lead times of 12 weeks or more. As a result, they must purchase the majority of their anticipated demand long before the sales peak begins. Nearly all the planned inventory to cover this period's sales should be on hand by November 1.
Average product-level forecast error in the direct retail industry is 30 percent to 40 percent. In other words, if a direct retailer has $10 million of inventory on hand on November 1, between $3 million and $4 million may be unwanted excess inventory — and a similar amount of unfilled demand may exist. Within a six-week period, inventory managers are asked to purchase inventory to fulfill the potential lost sales and put plans in place to address the excess inventory.
The combination of these challenges means a typical direct retailer has more than one-third of its total inventory purchased incorrectly. Furthermore, there's not enough time to correct their ownership through vendor purchase adjustments, in addition to limited funding being available to make purchases for the “runners” in the business. The potential financial impact of lost sales, back orders and gross margin problems stemming from overstocks liquidation is huge.
Joe is Vice President of Product Solutions at Software Paradigms International (SPI), an award-winning provider of technology solutions, including merchandise planning applications, mobile applications, eCommerce development and hosting and integration services, to retailers for more than 20 years.
Joe is a 34-year veteran of the retail industry with hands-on experience in marketing, merchandising, inventory management and business development at multichannel retail companies including Lands’ End, LifeSketch.com, Nordstrom.com and Duluth Trading Company. At SPI, Joe uses his experience to help customers and prospects understand how to improve sales and profits through applying industry best practices in merchandise planning and inventory management systems and processes.