Many smaller retailers simply don’t believe that improvements in inventory planning will provide enough incremental profit gain for a company its size to justify investing in staff, systems or processes. However, they may be overlooking a crucial piece of the puzzle: how inventory planners help marketing and merchandising grow sales and increase gross margin.
Retailers are in the midst of the holiday peak. While the sales peak ends at Christmas for most, the inventory returns peak is yet to come. This annual phenomenon invariably creates waves, especially if you sell products with typically high return rates (e.g., footwear and apparel).
One of my favorite moments from NEMOA's Fall 2011 directXchange Conference was when Country Curtain's President Phil McAvoy said the following during his keynote speech: “Don’t be a hero at budget times.” His point is that you should already have contingency plans in place so you can respond to the inevitable challenges that arise during the year. Be a hero when it counts — at the end of the year when you meet or exceed your budget.
Every retail company I talk with seems to feel that its inventory challenges are unique. Large cross-channel retailers contend with the variability of demand planning by channel and the complexity of communicating assortment plans between merchandise and inventory planners. Small internet retailers often run out of best-selling products because they don’t have the staff resources to stay on top of their buying needs. Catalogers are forced to plan and analyze product-level demand by offer. B-to-B retailers struggle to have the right amount of inventory by SKU for that unexpected large order.
Increasing investment in back-end systems is a natural and predictable trend for the maturing internet retail industry. That investment will help push internet sales higher while simultaneously increasing operations and inventory efficiencies, resulting in higher profits.
Any company’s long-term success depends in part on its ability to perform quality product-level profit analysis and accurate demand and inventory planning. Your product marketing, merchandise planning and inventory planning functions can all benefit from detailed square-inch analysis. So, regardless of the primary purpose of your catalog, you’ll be best served if you have the tools and processes in place to capture and report your product-level advertising exposure and expense.
Over the last 30 years, there's been a consistent push to streamline business processes. After all, time is money. Nowhere is this more applicable than in supply chain processes.
Direct retailing has always been about adapting new media to market from a distance. Whether the medium is door-to-door selling, newspaper and magazine advertisements, mail order fliers, 300-page catalogs, specialty catalogs, infomercials, or e-commerce, direct retailing has always been about selling products to consumers from a distance. The format of the message and the speed of communications certainly change, but the fundamental process of selling products to consumers remains.
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.