Multichannel Inventory Strategies: What all retailers can learn from Foot Locker

In a recent article published by Retail TouchPoints, Foot Locker’s growing success has been attributed to their multichannel strategy that has focused on inventory visibility.
Foot Locker has implemented endless aisle and drop ship concepts to pull together their omnichannel efforts. The article covered a lot of interesting trends that we’ve seen popping up all over the retail landscape.

I sat down with Tara Bartlett, iQmetrix’s Director of Marketing, to discuss what lessons can be pulled from Foot Locker and applied to other retailers.

How Foot Locker is Winning the Race with Inventory Visibility talks about the importance of allowing customers to shop how they want to shop by making their entire inventory available to their customers and their stores. Endless aisle concepts are great for offering consumers your entire product range but what are some back-end benefits for the retailers?
Tara: One of the biggest benefits endless aisle offers retailers is a more efficient use of space. Retail space is expensive and the more retailers can cut down on cost per square foot the better for their bottom line. With endless aisle, retailers can keep more stock in the back of the store, at their warehouse or even with a supplier if they have a virtual inventory program in place.

They no longer have to find a spot on the shelf for all of the inventory they carry, endless aisle quite literally offers a digital extension of shelf space so that the retailer can provide a less cluttered, more pleasant shopping space while still giving consumers more product choices.

When the opportunity to sell that product comes along the retailer doesn’t miss out on that sale.

Another benefit to endless aisle is when a retailer pairs it with a virtual inventory program through suppliers. In this case, the retailer doesn’t carry the risk of carrying the inventory (it’s sitting in the cloud as part of the supplier’s virtual inventory program) however they can still provide the expanded product options to consumers. This works especially well for the unique and specialty items (like the size 13 purple Jordan’s in the Foot Locker example) that the retailer typically wouldn’t carry in stock but that when the opportunity to sell that product comes along the retailer doesn’t miss out on that sale.

Overall, in order for endless aisle to be successful, the retailer needs a tight inventory strategy and program in place and the right solutions to seamlessly manage inventory across multiple channels. A 360-degree view of inventory is a must for cross-channel inventory alignment. 

Foot Locker has implemented ship-to-store as well as ship-to-home. Beyond convenience for the consumer, why is it important for retailers to offer some sort of drop-ship option for today’s consumer?
Tara: Thanks to Amazon, consumers have become accustomed to fast, convenient and flexible product shipping options as part of the online shopping experience and in response, retailers now want to offer those same options in-store. This helps retailers both compete with online shopping options as well as enhance and complement their own eCommerce experience (for example consumers can reserve products online and pick-up in store). 

Adding ship to store and ship to home options brings the eCommece experience consumers are accustomed to in-store.

Consumers now get the best of both worlds, they can visit a store to touch and try products, have access to product experts while still having the expanded product availability eCommerce offers and flexible ways to get the product.

The company states they are doing a number of things to blur the lines between stores and online such as connecting their stores and their internet sites to the same events and activities shown online so they will also be in stores. What are some other strategies retailers can implement to bring online in-store?
Tara: With smartphones and tablets being such a prevalent part of our everyday lives, consumers can access product information anytime, anywhere and this has changed their expectations of the in-store experience.

Bring the online experience in-store by offering interactive touchscreens throughout the store that provide relevant, useful product information that the consumer can use to make an educated purchase decision.

Interactive, self-serve touchscreens offer a better experience than a website, displaying rich product images and videos, reviews, pricing, inventory availability and options to alert a sales rep’ for customer service, all on a screen size where they don’t have to zoom and squint to see the info. The interactive touchscreens can be strategically placed according to product or solution zones featuring focused content that both educates the consumer about product options and also helps the retailer sell specific products and upsell.
Ideally, the displays are pulling content from a centralized product library that also powers the retailer’s eCommerce site so that consumers are seeing the same branding, messaging and product info online as they are in-store for a consistent experience.
Offering convenient check-out options from self-serve to mobile POS will also help retailers bring the online experience in-store.

Foot Locker is a major retailer with access to significant resources. As their last paragraph describes their efforts at winning the multichannel race” how can smaller retailers compete? Are omnichannel strategies only for the big guys?

Retailers of all shapes and sizes should be looking at their omnichannel strategy. If they are trying to deliver the best possible consumer experience across more than one channel, whether or not they are even familiar with the term omnichannel, the concept remains. Consumers are using multiple channels to interact with retailers and retailers need to recognize this and come up with a strategy. 

It’s not just the Macy’s, Walmarts and Best Buys of the world that need to be thinking omnichannel and it’s also not just the big guys who can afford it.

Omnichannel is simply about connecting your channels and ensuring consumers can interact with you when and how they want. The trick is to have the right solutions in place and make sure they too are connected. Whether you are working with an ERP or a simple POS, a sophisticated eCommerce platform or a free web template, you just need to ensure that there is a platform that is enabling your solutions to share information. The smartest omnichannel retailers are integrating back-end and front-end processes with centralized commerce platforms to deliver consistent information and a consistent experience.

Eager to learn more about blending a multi-channel strategy with in-store? Check out our whitepaper, Five Steps Toward Reimagining the Physical Store!