Friday, May 5, 2017

Inventory Management

For any retailer, Inventory Management is about maintaining the right level of stocks at the right place at the right time. If this is achieved, then the Sales can increase by atleast 30-50%. Sadly, it isn’t so easy. The “Fill Rates” as they are called refers to the amount of stock level that’s maintained at the Retail stores. It varies according to formats, location, pricing strategy, etc. In Grocery Retail, a fill rate of 80% is considered to be healthy while in fashion, it is ideal to have 90% and above. It may not even be relevant in Gold Jewelry while in Consumer Durables, it is normally about the breadth of brands and models one carries.


I set-out earlier this week to buy some general merchandise for our new office. As always, I prepared a list and walked in to one of the oldest Grocery stores in the neighborhood. The first thing I asked – a dustbin, wasn’t available. Really? And then I asked for another thing, which wasn’t available. And then another thing and the same answer. This sends a very negative imagery about the store to the potential customer. In Retail, it is estimated that over 70% of customers always purchase more items than they had originally come to buy provided a wider range of items are available and also the Retailer maintains a level of excitement at the store. In just a few minutes, I knew how the store was being managed since products of the same category were kept for display in two locations inside the store! Really felt bad for the store and the Retailer Brand that there is scant focus on merchandising & visual merchandising. But the god thing was I also picked up something which caught my attention at the cash till, which I had not written in my list. Smart placement, I would say.


Soon, I reached out to another store closeby for purchasing the rest of the items – now this is the last thing that a customer wants to do – store hopping for essentials. And trust me, while e-commerce has chipped in to some extent in offering a wider range, even they haven’t been able to crack the Hyperlocal delivery where such products are delivered in the fastest instance. At this store, I picked up the stuff I was looking for, thankfully got what I wanted and bingo! Picked up a few more things which I hadn’t planned to purchase. Again, because it was displayed near the Cash tills.

Inventory Management at a Retail Store has been automated for well over 2 decades now, from running simple software solutions to implementing complicated ERP solutions from top IT Companies. Sadly, even then, the fill rates in India in the Grocery store business continues to be less than 60%, sending Customer Experience to very low levels. I would also say, Indian Customers have been very nice to Retailers by being lenient loyal to such retail stores, shopping frequently at the same store even though the Retailer provides a poor experience. When I try to analyze, it’s partly tech-related but more importantly, the attitude of the front-end staff make all the difference. If only they displayed the products that have arrived from the Warehouse and also send out feedback of what’s not available! Wishful thinking.

I reiterate that Retailers can improve not only their Sales but also their margins by managing Inventory better. But it is a discipline to be followed daily.

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