While the convergence of physical and online stores began before the pandemic, COVID-19 has accelerated the e-commerce and omni-channel trends by a few years. When consumers pivoted from foot traffic to online options, retailers quickly worked overtime to enable speed and convenience options such as buy online pick up in store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, and ship from local store to support the needs of customers and drive business during a challenging time. But this pivot has required investment in the right supply chain and commerce fulfillment solutions. As online shopping becomes the norm, retailers can no longer live in a two-channel world where in-store and online stores are treated as separate entities. Customers today expect seamless and personalized omni-channel experiences that allow them to shop their favorite stores and brands anytime, anywhere.   

As retailers craft experiences across channels, they are looking for strategic ways to streamline their operations and attract customers. Blue Yonder’s inventory availability microservice gives them a view of real-time inventory availability at enterprise and local levels to make real-time sourcing and order promising decisions that incent customers to buy. The microservice gives retailers the ability to expose inventory availability to consumers from the beginning of the shopping journey so they know their options. Based on geolocation, retailers can show what’s in-stock/out of stock, present urgency messaging such as “5 items left,” and show items available for pick-up and/or available for shipping. Furthermore, capabilities such as enterprise real-time reservations and inventory protection ensure that what’s promised to customers is delivered. 

Let’s unpack the capabilities provided through the inventory availability microservice. It gives retailers real-time visibility into what products are sellable and non-sellable at each location and at the enterprise level.  With accurate real-time inventory availability, retailers can show shoppers what’s available at their local store vs available for shipping. This is particularly important as consumers want inventory information as well as fulfillment options from the beginning of the shopping journey to make quick buying decisions. Today, when consumers shop their favorite stores online, they most likely enter their zip code, and then search on the product type that they are looking for. In this scenario, they can quickly see what products are available at their local store for in-store pickup, curbside and other options versus items available for shipping — and then make decisions according to their safety and health needs. The solution also enables retailers to show in-stock/out of stock as well as urgency messaging like “only 2 items remaining” to drive engagement and reduce cart abandonment. Inventory and fulfillment options on the search, product, cart, and checkout pages help keep consumers engaged and drive conversion rates. 

Another part of inventory availability is the ability to manage inventory protection levels and dynamic safety stock. Retailers today need to cater to two types of customers – those shopping through their online store and those walking into their retail location. The retailer needs to ensure that they have inventory for the shopper walking into the store, as well as those visiting their online store.  Retailers have more flexibility when catering to online shoppers whose merchandise can be shipped from a distribution center or a faraway store, versus walk-in shoppers who are unlikely to go to store B if store A doesn’t have what they are looking for. Inventory protection enhances the overall customer experience by ensuring customers can get their merchandise through the channel of their choice.   Another capability that retailers use is dynamic safety stock.  Instead of assigning a set inventory level for stores, dynamic safety stock uses ML to look at history and patterns of consumer behavior to determine how much inventory should be available.   

Lastly, a key capability driven by inventory availability is product reservations. This capability enables consumers to reserve products during the shopping journey and then purchase those items either immediately or within a period of time set by the retailer. Nothing is worse for the consumer experience than reserving an item, and then finding out that it’s sold out either while they are in the check-out process or after an order is placed. With a clear view of inventory at the local and enterprise level, retailers can give consumers confidence in their ability to successfully reserve and purchase products. 

By partnering with Blue Yonder, Petco is able to provide shoppers the ability to view inventory availability online, purchase products from nearby stores and pick them up that same day. Petco deployed buy online and pick up in store capabilities across their 1500 locations in four short months in order to support consumers during the pandemic when foot traffic to stores declined and consumers pivoted to online shopping.  

In 2020, engaging customers from the beginning of their shopping journey with accurate information on how many and where a product is available is a baseline expectation. Today’s consumers demand real-time and accurate inventory availability as well as speed and convenience options on the search, product, cart and checkout pages. Companies that are able to deliver this level of supply chain transparency to consumers can expect to see higher conversion rates and continued success despite the challenges this year has brought. 

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