Trend 1: Predictive Picking and Human Study Using Artificial Intelligence

Imagine a warehouse that picks products before customers even hit “buy”. According to some companies, this is entirely possible. Thanks to artificial intelligence, advanced systems use unstructured data to recognize patterns and interdependencies and predict behavior. They can effectively initiate the order fulfillment process before the order’s even made. Today, variables like weather, season, and marketing campaigns can determine what’s being called “near-perfect forecasts” of customer orders. The application of AI to inventory management goes beyond making predictions. In some cases, AI is helping robots learn to physically navigate warehouses like humans. Many tasks are simply too “human” for robots to mimic.

Trend 2: Focus on Omnichannel Inventory Management Solutions

A successful inventory set-up in an omnichannel retail environment requires the following features:

  • Regular inventory reconciliation exercises: Without a rigorous inventory management process, it’s easy to get inaccurate numbers. For instance, failing to account for online sales may inflate your count and lead to stockouts.
  • Multiple distribution centers: An omnichannel retail environment offers more opportunities for customers to find your products. Fulfilling this can be a challenge. Adding a distribution center closer to your customers shortens your fulfillment times and reduces your shipping costs. Moreover, you can easily address stockouts by topping up with inventory from your other distribution center.
  • Connected systems that provide a “single source of truth”: With inventory spread across multiple locations and sales conducted in-store, online, and via mobile, conflicting data becomes an issue. Integrated warehouse management, inventory management, and point of sale solution helps ensure you have one set of accurate numbers.

As omnichannel retail increases in importance, retailers and warehouses will have to focus on developing inventory management process that can keep up.

Trend 3: Nimble Inventory Solutions for Experiential Shopping

The shopping experience as we know it is changing. Today, consumers browse online for goods and services from the comfort of their bed. Convincing people to get up, get dressed, and get down to a shopping mall takes a lot more than the promise of a new outfit. In response to this shift, brands are shifting to “experiential” retail. They want to turn shopping into an experience much like going to the movies or eating at a restaurant. To meet this objective, they open “concept stores” designed to draw customers in and introduce them to their product.

Trend 4: Increasing Personalization and Its Impact on Inventory Control

Ecommerce personalization extends far beyond knowing your customer’s name. It’s about knowing your customer’s buying habits, helping them find new products, and creating a seamless user experience based on their prior activity. Of course, this requires a suitable inventory management schedule. Determining inventory levels is already a difficult balancing act between preventing stock-outs and reducing carrying costs. Throw in a new variable like a recommendation engine and the process becomes even more complicated. Real-time or streaming analytics is one way for retailers to facilitate this shift towards personalization. It also helps companies who design product strategies around online customer conversations about their brand.

By using advanced streaming analytics tools, brands accomplish more than just accurate demand forecasting. They can also:

  • Obtain greater visibility over where raw, semi-completed, and completed goods exist in their supply chain
  • Monitor fluctuations in supply costs and recalculate stock levels accordingly
  • Minimize inventory costs by identifying which suppliers routinely fall short of their service level agreements

Personalization drives sales, increases brand loyalty, and elevates the customer experience. That said, this strategy only works if you can deliver on said goods once you acquire those customers.

Trend 5: Creative Financing Agreements Between Vendors and Customers

Innovation is expensive, but it’s unavoidable if companies wish to remain competitive. With this in mind, warehouse management software providers and machinery suppliers are working with customers to develop creative financing options. In some cases, these supplier partners move away from the traditional own-or-lease model to provide more flexible rental options. In fact, some software providers are taking a proactive approach by forming strategic partnerships with the hardware companies that use their software. By working together, they come up with cost-saving opportunities that they can pass on to the end-user, thereby acquiring more customers. In the inventory management world, where there are endless solutions managers can adopt, from RFID tags and scanners to pick-to-light functionality, these financing options provide businesses with a cost-effective way to execute on their strategic technology roadmap.

Trend 6: Streamlined Management of Returned Inventory

Consumers return roughly 20-30% of the goods they buy online while they only return 8.89% of goods bought at brick-and-mortar stores. Add this to the rising popularity of online shopping and the increasing number of individual packages rather than bulk packages, and you have a growing inventory management nightmare. About 49%of retailers provide free return shipping. If consumers see that you don’t offer this, 79% say they won’t bother shopping through your online store at all. With this in mind, how can retailers manage the increasing influx of return orders? A robust warehouse management system (WMS) helps handle this. Keep in mind that your WMS needs to do more than just help workers pick, pack, and ship. The WMS must also help you allocate returned inventory accordingly.

References:

7 Inventory Management Trends Retailers Should Know. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.logiwa.com/blog/inventory-management-trends.

Questions:

  1. What are the new trends in inventory management?
  2. How can the returned inventory be managed better?
  3. How can inventory control be streamlined better?