For fashion businesses with several successful stores, moving into the online world is a logical next step. However, doing so requires the ability to balance and optimize fashion inventory for in-store and online customers. Business owners must consider issues such as evaluating what to order, considering shipment from store distribution and establishing full inventory visibility.
Why Expand Online?
The online fashion industry saw $52 billion in revenue in 2014, according to Statistica. An “omnichannel” sales approach — having multiple channels work together to provide a unified consumer experience — expands your potential audience reach, in addition to improving the customer experience. Forbes reports that 50 percent of customers expect online ordering capability from retail businesses and may experience frustration if the store isn’t currently providing an e-commerce solution. Yet, fashion stores encounter several unique logistical concerns when taking their business online.
Ship from Store Benefits and Challenges
A ship-from-store approach replaces or supplements a warehouse-inventory strategy for fulfilling online orders. Instead of distributing inventory from a warehouse, the fashion company ships orders from their various store locations. Some benefits of ship from store include:
Avoiding the expense of maintaining another warehouse
Leveraging multiple distribution centers to reduce shipping time
Fulfilling orders on stock the warehouse is out of
The primary challenges of shipping from store include ensuring retail store capability, providing employee training and creating inventory visibility. The retail store needs enough storage space to handle inventory needs, along with properly trained employees who can support ship-from-store challenges. Inventory visibility, for the consumer as well as the business, is also a critical part of both ship from store and online expansion.
Inventory visibility refers to customer-facing inventory resources and the retail inventory management software used by the store. The store needs a solid inventory management infrastructure in place to sync the e-commerce inventory with warehouse and in-store offerings. Some retail POS options sync the inventory and update numbers in real time through retail store channels and online. Once the company has complete visibility on its end, it can work this into the e-commerce website and apps, allowing customers to quickly find out whether items are in stock.
Retail business intelligence reports help with future forecasting so businesses reduce the risk of markdowns. Customers might love shopping the clearance racks at the end of the season, but stores want to give customers the styles they want, when they want it. Smart businesses must watch fashion trends and overall purchase trends to help stay well-stocked throughout the fashion season.