If I’ve experienced a more chaotic summer for retailers, I can’t remember it.
There’s a huge variance in the type of products people need – and where they’re needed most from day to day.
Here in Massachusetts, school is starting in early September, as usual, and everyone is still on summer vacation.
In the South, on the other hand, the school season has already started! Some states like Florida are a mixed bag, with some school systems starting the year in August and others starting in September.
That creates a huge difference in demand for certain products from one week to the next. And with the Delta strain on the rise, some schools may decide to start virtually.
This all translates into a huge amount of uncertainty for retailers. Where should you offer the most school supplies? Where should you continue to push summer goods? In which areas should you skip the enormous back-to-school sales because the demand will not be high enough? And how do you avoid the dreaded “dead” inventory (i.e., backpacks and lunch boxes that aren’t needed if kids are staying home)?
The name of the game is agility. You need to have enough flexibility in your supply chain and visibility into your inventory movements to identify which areas need which products – and when. More importantly, you need the ability to pivot when trends unexpectedly change. (And let’s be honest – they will!)
Retailers with both prescriptive analytics and workforce management solutions will be best poised to navigate the uncertainty of this year’s shopping seasons. By having these two powerhouses in your toolbelt, you will be able to:
balance and transfer inventory to meet demand shifts almost anywhere.
stock and manage that inventory with the right amount of staff.
As I’ve written in past blog posts, prescriptive analytics is an analytics solution that tells you:
- What is happening
- Why it happened
- How much it is costing you
- What to do about it
- Who should do it
This is an ideal suite of capabilities for inventory-related matters, especially when it comes to sporadic seasonal demand. Managing inventory in such conditions starts by deciding how to allocate what product is available. Prescriptive analytics uses a variety of historical and real-time data to identify the ideal inventory levels across different stores. It dispenses simple prescriptive actions to your merchandising team members, advising them of the most appropriate allocation.
But this is only half the battle, of course. No one can predict when or where an outbreak of COVID-19 will delay school openings – something that could suppress demand for school supplies and potentially lead to overstocks. A huge piece of successfully managing inventory amid unpredictable demand is being able to adjust your plan in the moment.
Many of our customers have configured their prescriptive analytics solutions to monitor product movements across various stores for unexpected fluctuations. If their solutions detect that demand for seasonal items like school supplies is increasing, they will dispense an alert to the appropriate individual, with clear instructions on how to respond to this demand shift.
Example scenarios include:
- To merchandiser: Demand for pencil boxes, #2 pencils and 3-ring binders overwhelming supply at stores in District #12. Order expedited shipment from Alliance School Supplies to warehouse.
- To store manager, location #33: Increasing sales of school supplies detected at store #34. Execute store transfer of four cases of composition notebooks, one case of erasers and two cases of safety scissors.
- To general merchandise manager, store #18: Local school system postponing start date. Remove in-store back-to-school display from sales floor and return product to warehouse.
- To logistics manager: COVID-19 surge detected in Sedona, AZ; will likely delay first day of school. Re-route all Sedona-bound shipments of school supplies to Tucson.
This meticulous analysis of sales trends and associated fluctuations also unlocks flexibility in pricing and promotional strategies, as well as verifying compliance. What if school supplies are selling poorly in an area with no COVID-19 outbreaks and a fast-approaching first day of school? More tellingly, what if school supplies are selling just fine in other areas with similar market conditions? Prescriptive analytics easily identifies this combination of behaviors and alerts the right individual to take action with a variety of fixes as appropriate.
Example scenarios include:
- To merchandiser: Lackluster sales of school supplies in district #49; sales normal in similar districts. Authorize markdowns and associated credit.
- To store manager, store #21: Crayola markers and crayons selling slowly (aisle 17, endcap B). Check display for compliance with planogram.
With prescriptive analytics in-house, you can better monitor product shipments and more quickly re-balance inventory across locations as needed. This ensures maximum sell-through and minimal waste.
Uncertainty in this year’s upcoming peak shopping seasons also makes it more difficult to both schedule your staff and ensure your staff is engaged and productive during their shifts. Whether due to COVID-19 outbreaks or changes in consumer buying patterns, disruption affects customer traffic and sales, both key variables used to align your labor scheduling with in-store workload.
Inefficient labor scheduling can cascade into a number of other major issues. A misalignment between labor scheduling and in-store workload means that stores may be understaffed, making it difficult to keep shelves stocked, execute back-to-school promotions or turnover displays and seasonal departments quickly. That, in turn, frustrates front-line employees who can’t seem to keep up with the continuous flow of work, depressing morale and decreasing engagement.
Today’s customers already expect a fast and convenient experience in stores. If promotional signage isn’t posted, if shelves aren’t stocked with high-value products, and if employees appear frustrated or disengaged, it’s difficult to persuade customers to come back to that store for repeat visits.
However, with intelligent workforce management, you can account for all the variables that matter most at your stores, such as customer traffic, in-store workload, new product promotions, and disruptions such as COVID-19 spikes and peak sales periods. These solutions automate the labor scheduling process, automatically factoring in these variables, creating fully optimized schedules in a matter of minutes instead of hours. In doing so, they ensure labor schedules are accurate and your staff is utilized in an efficient manner.
And this flexibility and precision isn’t the only benefit of these solutions. With the added benefit of cross-store functionality, you can utilize employees across multiple stores in a specific geographic region, giving them the opportunity to work at a different store if their skills are needed there. All of this greatly improves employee morale and engagement, giving them the boost they need to complete their tasks in an effective manner, which also happens to boost retention. Ultimately, your customers end up happier when employees are engaged, shelves are stocked, and key initiatives are consistently completed.