Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Ubiquitous virtual reality and embracing the real-time online catalog: a case study in cross-channel sales coordination 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on August 25, 2014

This is my second posting to a series on integrating customer online experience and particularly their always on and always connected interactive online experience, into the bricks and mortar storefront and its ongoing operations (see Part 1.)

I focused in Part 1 on the customer experience and on enriching it in ways that create value for the customer, and increased sales and competitive advantage for the store as a result. And at the end of that, I said that I would turn here, to consider this set of issues from a more strictly business perspective. Adding in online information channels for your customers can create new business efficiencies and even in your seemingly more back-office operations – like inventory purchasing, and inventory warehousing and its systems management.

• My goal for this posting is in fact to outline something of how customer facing online channels can help a business to manage their inventory systems dynamically and in real time,
• Making it possible for sales staff to track and real-time update the records of what is in stock and available and where,
• Making it possible for customers to know what is available, and both immediately onsite in the physical storefront that they are in, in any other same-business storefronts, in off-site warehouse inventory for ready delivery to their most local storefront, or strictly online – and for all options and features available for goods offered,
• Making it possible for the business to track ongoing shifts in consumer interest and demand and both for individual stock keeping units (SKU’s) and even for entire product categories. This is invaluable for reducing the levels of overstock from over-purchasing of inventory while minimizing the likelihood that a customer be lost because the items they want are not in stock and not readily enough available.

The key to all of this is in developing a single comprehensive database driven online accessible inventory system that has a robust access permissions based gatekeeper in place so members of participating constituencies can only access the specific resources that they need, and according to specific rules-based access permission processes.

• A customer, for example, might be able to search the online system for information on specific items, and for their cost, features and so on and for their availability. They would not be able to change the descriptions of any of the items they find but if they purchase an item found, that would update the inventory level information for that specific SKU. So they would have this specific write permission, and under this rules based circumstance as well as read permission for database entries that are drawn up through their online searches.
• A member of the sales staff would have these same permissions, and in addition would be able to directly query where in the business’ storefront and warehouse systems, particular items can be found. They would be able to send inventory transfer requests to have items of immediate customer interest shipped to their storefront. And they would be able to place special orders where that is consistent with the underlying business model, with all of this data going into this overall database system. And they would also be able to enter in returns information for items brought back to the store, as well as update information on inventory damage and loss where that is found.
• Sales and Marketing level systems administrators would likely have all of these read and write permissions, and would also be able to edit item descriptions and that activity would in fact in most cases be carried out by personnel from those departments.
• And overall systems administrators would have general read and write permissions for managing the overall system. And they would maintain the database queries that would underlie what information was, for example, actually sent to the inventory database when an online customer clicked to see their business’ inventory of summer weight blouses, and when they ordered a specific one in a specific color and size.
• Online sales fulfillment personnel would then indicate in this system when this purchase order was fulfilled and the item shipped.

The idea here is to organize this entire complex of processes into a single dynamically updated seamless whole. And the business that can do this is much less likely to find themselves holding large amounts of excess inventory that their customers do not want, and that would have to be remaindered or directly sold by them but at greatly reduced clearance prices. The goal here is development of effective lean inventory systems capability.

But up to here, I have only offered a more traditionally standard approach to how customer online experience can feed into creating sales opportunity and increased business strength. I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will more fully consider the way that customers increasingly use their smart phones and other always-on devices, and for everything they do. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and at Page 2 of that directory. You can also find this and related material at Web 2.0 Marketing.

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