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Editor's Blog

Retail-Time Data


Accurate and real-time inventory data can give local retailers an edge in competing against online shopping portals.

By Mark Cummins

The way we shop is evolving rapidly. “Research online, buy offline” is quickly becoming the most likely path to purchase and shoppers are now used to seeing what a store has in stock at the click of a button.

In order to remain competitive, retailers need to be able to predict what customers will want in the coming hours and days in real-time. The technical challenge is immense, and is still a work in progress for most retailers.

For customers, time is a precious commodity and their number one priority is convenience. Take for example a typical millennial trying to buy a brand or product of interest: their natural first instinct is to take out their phone and search for it. What they experience next is deeply broken – dozens of e-commerce results, but almost no information about where the product they desire is available locally. If a store 50 feet away has the product in stock, they might never know.

Worse still, the customer finds the product they are looking for online and goes to the store to purchase it, only to discover that it is out of stock. Poor inventory management and incomplete online information are usually to blame for these poor customer experiences. In order to improve the in-store experience and compete with e-commerce giants, retailers need to innovate and improve their supply chain. Modern technologies that give more visibility and control over inventory and provide access to real-time data can help with this.

Providing A Real-Time Picture Of Offline Retail

Up until now, it’s been difficult for retail industry professionals to predict and fulfill sudden surges in demand for specific products. Additionally, marketers have only been able to determine the success of a promotional campaign after it has ended. Poor online visibility and a lack of critical information such as local inventory availability has been the cause of many brick and mortar retailer’s failure to meet customer demands at the same pace as e-commerce giants.

Given a choice of e-commerce options, most consumers opt for Amazon. But a local purchase option can give traditional retailers the edge. Huge advances in retail time inventory data technology mean that retailers and their partners finally have the ability to respond to changes in customer demands quickly and monitor the effectiveness of their in-store promotions as they are ongoing. By displaying local inventory online in real-time, brick and mortar retailers can leverage their competitive advantage over pure e-commerce players.

Automating The Inventory Management Process

In order to compete in today’s online world, it’s essential that retailers have complete control over their inventory. This is no easy task however, and one that even the big box retailers are still struggling to get right. Supply and demand are not meeting, held apart by a barrier of legacy inventory systems and missing data. For instance, many retailers are spending thousands of dollars each year hiring people to physically count stock levels. It’s a time consuming method of inventory management that often results in inaccurate and incomplete data. 

But this is finally beginning to change, powered by universal integration companies. Modern technologies like these have the potential to give more timely and automated alerts about out of stock items and cut down on manual work. They’re allowing retailers to create a unified search experience across their inventory data and contributing significantly to the efficiency of their supply chain, resulting in enhanced customer satisfaction and increased sales.

The ability to get a real-time picture of offline retail is a momentous step in the right direction for brick and mortar stores. Aside from the obvious direct impact of helping connect direct purchase intent to local availability, real-time data has the potential to transform the supply chain by creating better visibility across inventory and allowing stores to meet the demands of today’s digital shoppers in a more efficient manner.

Mark Cummins is co-founder of Pointy, a startup that helps local retailers get their products online. Previously, Cummins co-founded Plink, a visual search engine company acquired by Google in 2010. He studied engineering and computer science at Oxford, where he graduated top of his year and later earned a doctorate in Robotics from the university. 

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