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Halloween is coming – banish these ‘monsters’ from your supply chain

The spooky time of year is here, and your supply chain is not immune to being haunted by hobgoblins of technological inefficiency, opaqueness, and obsolescence. 

Last year, I wrote a Halloween column about removing “monsters” that prevent omnichannel retail success. In the continuing spirit of the season, this year I will review three creatures you should expel from the dark recesses of your supply chain. 

Invisible inventory
Among the many challenges COVID-19 has presented to retailers is unpredictable consumer demand surges. Most famously, there was a nationwide shortage of toilet paper in the early stages of the pandemic. Hand sanitizer has been hard to find on shelves since March, and more recently throughput for paper towels has significantly increased.

In response, retailers need to implement cloud-based supply chain solutions with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities that can be quickly scaled and customized to meet shifting demand. Furthermore, retailers can enable item-level inventory transparency with technologies such as computer vision and RFID. This granular level of visibility is a crucial component to rapidly locating and retrieving suddenly hard-to-find products.

Dressing room phantoms
The dressing room has been colloquially termed the “black hole” of the store. Once customers bring items in, retailers typically have had little to no insight into what products they wind up purchasing, or why. Retailers are increasingly shedding light into these phantoms of the dressing room with a variety of technologies.

For example, J.C. Penney is piloting new interactive fitting rooms with the Checkpoint Systems InterACT fitting room solution and its proprietary [email protected] Service technology. It includes interactive screens that provide customers access to detailed product information, product recommendations and seamless communications with styling assistants. 

Many retailers are also starting to tag individual high-end items with RFID tags. This allows retailers to know exactly what items customers bring into the dressing room, bring out, and ultimately buy. Retailers can then leverage this data to better tailor their product assortment at a regional, store, or even individual customer (with opt-in loyalty membership) level.

Zombified order fulfillment
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the slowly-building trend of consumers fulfilling online orders through other channels has evolved into an established part of the retail landscape. According to a recent survey from Incisiv and Manhattan Associates, 80% of respondents expect to increase BOPIS and curbside pickup over the next six months, while 85% have significantly increased curbside pick-up since March. Almost eight in 10 (79%) respondents say contactless store pickup is very important to them. 

On-demand delivery of online orders is also becoming a standard retail offering. “Zombified” order fulfillment infrastructure which is siloed by channel needs to be cut off at the head. Fortunately for retailers who need to eliminate zombies from their fulfillment environment, numerous third-party platforms are available to help them quickly stand up omnichannel fulfillment operations that operate at the speed of the modern customer.

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