Omnichannel Inventory Management & the busy holiday shopping season

Santa omnichannel selling

Did you know that nearly 2/3rds of 7-figure ecommerce businesses saw their revenue either increase or stay the same since the global pandemic hit earlier this year? 

Customers shifted their consumption almost entirely online when stay at home orders were put in place this spring, which led to an explosion in sales along with supply chain headaches.   

Now that consumers have adjusted their shopping habits in response to the pandemic, many ecommerce experts are anticipating a spike in ecommerce sales for the 2020 holiday season. 

They also predict this holiday season will start even earlier than usual, and PPC and paid social advertising are expected to go up in Q4 as enterprise retailers need to use up unspent budgets.  

With increased competition and higher customer acquisition costs, ecommerce businesses need any edge if they want to rake in sales this holiday season. 

In this post, we’re going to outline why ecommerce brands should go with an omnichannel approach this holiday season to maximize their selling opportunities, including: 

Why ecommerce companies should adopt an omnichannel approach? 

In 2020, consumers expect convenience and a seamless shopping experience regardless of whether they are browsing your store on their phone, Amazon, Walmart, Etsy, or Instagram. 

This means to meet the demand for upcoming holiday sales, it is more important than ever for retailers to implement an effective omnichannel strategy, including accurate inventory management.

The challenges brought about by pandemic-initiated shopping habits will only be amplified for the holiday rush. 

For example, retailers will need to learn to quickly parse out inventory and assign it to the correct locations, update all selling channel listings, and accurately track inventory across new fulfillment centers.

Pro Tip: Watch this webinar to hear how experts at Linnworks, Shipstation, BigCommerce, and others recommend tackling various supply chain and inventory management headaches that happened during the pandemic and may happen again this holiday season.  

5 omnichannel holiday best practices  

Here we’ll discuss some of the top strategies and best practices for sellers to consider as you plan out your holiday omnichannel strategy.

1. Implement a single inventory view for all channels

When you have multiple sales channels, it’s crucial to have complete visibility of inventory. Tracking inventory in silos for each channel is a surefire recipe for confusion and costly mistakes, especially with increased Q4 sales volume. Instead, merchants should strive for an omnichannel inventory strategy where one system is used to track SKUs across all channels.

Most retailers start with a separate inventory management system for each channel they sell on. For example, a clothing store selling primarily on their website, in a brick and mortar store, and on Amazon would have three separate inventory management systems. This might have been manageable when the business got its start selling only a handful of shirts and jean styles, but as soon as scale is introduced, it can become a challenge to track.

Instead, a single inventory management process across all channels gives you full visibility of all inventory levels. This ensures orders can be fulfilled across any channel, and purchased items are available when they’re needed.

2. Automate order and inventory management 

Relying on manual processes – or worse, handfuls of spreadsheets – can set your orders up for failure. A crucial piece of inventory management involves fulfilling orders accurately. A customer that receives an incorrect order is unlikely to turn into a repeat customer. This is especially important during the holiday season when an inaccurate order may mean a customer is unable to exchange the item in time to give it as a gift.

Pro Tip: We recommend using inventory management software, such as Linnworks, that makes it easy to connect all of your sales channels and sync your inventory. This saves you time and ensures you never have to worry about not being able to fulfill an order.

3. Create generous return policies

It may seem counterintuitive to make it easier for customers to return products, but a good return policy is key to driving repeat business. Most consumers will spend more money if they’re confident they can return the item if needed. Some customers will purchase the same item in multiple variations, such as a pair of shoes in two different sizes, knowing they will return the pair that doesn’t fit right. You may have to accommodate the return for part of the order, but you would have never gotten the sale in the first place without a good return policy.

The best return policies take an omnichannel approach. The customer should be able to return or exchange the item through more sales channels than one. For example, if they purchased the product on your website, they should be able to go into your store to return the item. This helps to reduce friction or hesitancy in the buying process.

As a bonus, in-store returns help the customer find what they’re looking for and can result in additional purchases. It’s particularly helpful for gift returns during the holiday season because the recipient can shop for something in-store that’s better suited to their needs.

4. Diversify your inventory fulfillment sources 

One of the biggest issues that many ran into during the pandemic was supply chain shortages. They received a surge in orders at once, and if they were overly dependent on one supplier or warehouse, it resulted in long delays that only got longer if the supplier had to shut down during the lockdowns or to disinfect the business if an employee tested positive for COVID-19. 

One way to minimize the same supply chain hurdles this holiday season is to diversify your fulfillment sources – be it through multiple suppliers, dropshippers, warehouses, etc.  This will help you handle an influx in sales and get shipments out the door faster. 

In addition, use centralized software for tracking and managing inventory strategically across your different locations. So, you don’t want to keep all of your eggs in one basket.

5. Reward loyal customers 

Consumers ramped up their online purchasing during the pandemic and increased their brand affinity as a result. 

In addition to improving the inventory process to ensure orders are fulfilled quickly and accurately, you should also reach out to past customers. Create additional touchpoints and provide incentives, such as loyalty programs and special offers, to turn previous customers into repeat customers. You’ll want to have a plan in place to bolster brand loyalty before the holiday rush begins, so your company is top of mind when customers are gift shopping.

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The key to making the most of the holiday season and maximizing sales across all channels is to be prepared. Get started now with improving your omnichannel strategy, so you’re ready for the rush in customer traffic and sales.

Author bio: 

Linnworks are a Frooition elite partner: 

Linnworks is a total commerce solution that connects, manages and automates commerce operations, powering businesses to sell wherever their customers are. Find out more and book a demo at www.linnworks.com