Comment: Stock and data will define success for retailers

Mark Thomson, director of Retail Solutions, Zebra Technologies, says stock accuracy is key to a successful retail supply chain.
Mark Thomson, director of Retail Solutions, Zebra Technologies.
Mark Thomson, director of Retail Solutions, Zebra Technologies.

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While the daily news paints a gloomy picture about the state of the retail industry, the statistics reveal a more positive outlook. With ecommerce figures climbing year on year and retailers reporting a more engaged, communicative customer base, the industry may simply be in transition, rather than turmoil, as the model evolves to better serve consumers.

Working with retailers worldwide, we have seen countless cases of rejuvenation and reinvention; retailers of all shapes and sizes taking on the challenges created by evolving consumer needs and a fluctuating industry landscape. Whether ripping out and replacing all technology or simply making a few tweaks to operations or strategy, there are a few universal truths we have found apply to all retailers. Indeed, with investment in two key pillars of modern retailing, merchants can map out a very profitable, connected future.

Stock Accuracy

Online or instore, stock management is at the absolute epicenter of every retailer’s world. Efficiency in the stockroom reduces friction along the entire supply chain and has a very measurable impact on the bottom line. That’s true for both independent stores and mega-million-dollar retailers with advanced distribution networks. And the role technology can play to ensure that efficiency should not be underestimated.

A manual approach is no longer a viable option. To be competitive, retailers need to offer customers a superior shopping experience, reliable service and real-time visibility into stock and pricing. According to retailers surveyed in the Zebra 2018 Retail Vision Study, the key sources of customer dissatisfaction were out-of-stock merchandise and the same product available for less at another retail store. For the current, empowered generation of shoppers, this will not work. So, it is important, to embrace platforms that transform real-time, visibility-driven data throughout the supply chain into actionable insights.

Top of the wish list for retailers looking to digitalize and manage front- and back-end stock in real time should be radio frequency identification technology (RFID).  Where the use of outdated pen and paper systems or fragile, underpowered devices has been prevalent, RFID can quickly and efficiently overhaul and link up all aspects of the retail journey. RFID platforms can boost inventory accuracy to 95%, while out-of-stocks can be reduced by 80% with item-level RFID tagging. Simple investments such as this will empower staff who can quickly and accurately access information from anywhere to add value to your customers’ experience.

Merchants are turning to Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to simplify and enhance the store experience, reduce operating costs and create new revenue streams. To achieve this, they are automating manual processes, such as implementing sensors on shelves to reduce out-of-stock inventory, a major source of shopper frustration.

Becoming a Data-Driven Business

The truth is that data, correctly and ethically used, is the linchpin to a mutually-beneficial experience for both consumers and retailers. Data capture and analytics capabilities allow the development of innovative ways to exceed customer expectations and deliver a competitive advantage.

Data-driven technology provides visibility into every corner of operations and provides retailers with customer insights and intelligence that help grow the bottom line and maximize efficiencies. On the flipside of that, customers get a personalized, satisfying experience. Both sides come away with what they want from the encounter.

The Zebra study revealed retailers are investing in IoT technologies — from beacons that send shoppers customized coupons to radio frequency identification (RIFD) tags that track inventory — to simplify, enliven and customize the shopping experience, generate revenue, and reduce costs. Mobility is a driver for most surveyed retailers who plan to invest in mobile barcode or thermal printers, handheld barcode scanners and mobile computers within the next three years.  For retailers, there has never been a more appropriate time to embrace IoT platforms and transform real- time, visibility-driven data throughout the supply chain into actionable insights.

What’s Next for the Retail Sector?

What is certain is that being a successful retailer in 2018 will come down to how much you care about your customer. It will prove essential to obtain customer-related data to provide deep insight on how to improve the experience. From the first moment of interaction with a retailer, the customer journey must be absolutely on point. Physical and digital touchpoints must function seamlessly without giving up the best qualities of each.

As retailers continue to evolve their operations to support a more joined up commerce strategy, they must provide a modern, engaging customer experience for the uncompromising modern shopper. A  Zebra study conducted by IHL Group predicts technology budgets among retailers will rise over the next few years. Technology is evolving at a rapid rate and any scrimping on keeping up will certainly lead to merchants being left behind.

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