The Future of Inventory Management: 8 Stock Control Trends to Watch in 2019

By Victor Ijidola

When advancements hit retail, inventory control is a usual target for change.

Whether it’s in form of improved demand forecasting, supply chain methods, or other inventory-related automation and integrations, these changes start new trends; and when those trends prove to be successful, they ultimately change the face of retail.

So, why are we putting the spotlight specifically on inventory management? Simple: the impact of inventory management on retail is as critical as it gets — U.S. retailers sit on about $1.43 in inventory for every $1 of sales they make.

With that being said, here are eight of the biggest inventory management trends in 2019:

1. Stock control for omnichannel retailing

Stores doing omnichannel retailing are at the top of their game; they attract the 90% of consumers who switch between at least three applications per day to complete specific tasks.

And that’s minus consumers who shop physically.

Imagine profits gushing in from several online channels and from your physical store too. But that profit advantage comes with a serious inventory control responsibility — omnichannel inventory management.

To phase this responsibility, brands now include solid inventory control plans for sales coming through multiple selling channels.

In fact, Joel Beal, CEO and co-founder of Alloy.ai, predicts that in 2019, brands will capitalize more on sophisticated data analysis methods to leverage store-level data. He says:

“Companies are becoming increasingly attuned to the importance of using store-level data to customize supply to match local demand. With sophisticated data analysis options now available, brands and retailers will capitalize on the opportunity to improve sales.”

Armed with such concrete and advanced-level data, you can control your store supply chains, distribution channels, and avoid stockouts this year.

However, as you start attracting sales from multiple channels, it becomes a tad more complex to control inventory — given that you’ll be serving way more customers than you used to (depending on how much omnichannel grows your business).

But to take proper control of your inventory regardless of how many channels you receive orders from every day, you’ll need three key solutions:

  • A stable safety stock level: more stock means less or even no stockouts, but more importantly, you need a sweet spot for your safety stock level — so you don’t end up with overstocks.
  • More distribution centres (DCs): it’s a no brainer; the more expansion omnichannel brings you, the more complex your stock management and distribution gets. So you need more DCs to match that level of complexity.
  • A great inventory control tool: as keeping a close watch on inventory can’t be manual, you need inventory software that alerts your operators stock levels; this way, you can better forecast future product demand and have the right stock levels.

2. Inventories that power experiential retail

Experiential retail is a trend that’s catching fire — especially in the past few months.

In fact, they keep popping up in the news section of Google search results:

The concept of consumers being in an exciting and relaxed place because a brand is becoming one of the strongest arms of retailing today. But as experiential retail grows in prominence and usefulness, the inventories that power them grow as well.

For example, Nordstrom launched “Nordstrom Local” — a new line of smaller stores, with its first in West Hollywood, California. They didn’t design the store to sell anything; it’s simply an inventory that powers experiential retail for Nordstrom.

According to CNBC, “Nordstrom Local will have eight dressing rooms where shoppers may try on clothes, but stores won’t actually keep inventory for purchase in stock.”

The stores also have bars where shoppers can order drinks.

“Shopping today may not always mean going to a store and looking at a vast amount of inventory,” Shea Jensen, Nordstrom’s senior vice president of customer experience, explains. “It can mean trusting an expert to pick out a selection of items.”

From brands like Amazon and Apple to backyard restaurants, every store is launching its own experiential retail initiatives in whatever way possible.

And while creating compelling experiences is certainly a step in the right direction, inventory management for experience-first stores is different from traditional stock control. For starters, experiential retail stores often carry little (or no) inventory and instead allow shoppers to browse in-store, but ultimately have their purchases shipped to their home.

Successfully implementing that right requires a solid order management platform. You need to have clear visibility into which products are showcased in-store and where you need to ship them from.

Once again, accomplishing that requires a good retail management platform. See to it that your system allows you to easily move stock from one store (or warehouse) to another and that you centrally manage everything from one system.

3. Streaming Analytics

With the increasing chatter about customer-centricity and personalization, stores are turning to Streaming Analytics — the use of real-time data to make and implement decisions.

Dataversity puts it this way: “Streaming Analytics is the ability to constantly calculate statistical analytics while moving within the stream of data.”

It’s not entirely a new concept, but it’s getting more and more important. Mainly because it amplifies the effectiveness of your personalization models and helps you become more data-driven.

Retailers have used Streaming Analytics over the past few years and will continue to do so, given its impact on retailing.

In a Forbes article last year, CTO of Arcadia Data, Shant Hovsepian, said: “Enterprises are exploring a variety of architectures and technologies to incorporate real-time analytics on streaming data into their ecosystems.”

And according to Microsoft, retailers that use the Azure Stream Analytics software include Coca Cola, Real Madrid FC, Honeywell, and many others.

With real-time data from Streaming Analytics, retailers are able to:

  • make better demand forecasting.
  • get up-to-the-minute information about where supplies are and when they’ll get to you.
  • replenish inventory and avoid stockouts.
  • know when supply prices change and adjust inventory accordingly.
  • get real-time information on suppliers to determine their performance.

Remember, it’s one thing to have access to lots of data, it’s another to use it. Streaming Analytics amplifies the immediate use of data. And stores will be taking more advantage of it this year.

4. Advanced sales forecasting

Inventory management is big on having products on the shelf ready for shoppers when they need it. It curbs stockouts and fosters better personalization.

And this is crucial since 62% of consumers expect companies to send them personalized offers.

As the need for personalization increases, there’s a corresponding need to ensure you always have products in stock. And that creates a need for more sales forecasting.

In other words, you need to know how many of product A, item F, and goods Y should be on the shelf next month or week. This way, you can better provide products customers need when they need them.

As consumers increasingly expect better shopping experiences, you don’t want to disappoint them with stockouts, which would lead to losing sales.

To avoid stockouts, stores will be doing more sophisticated sales forecasting. According to a study by Martec International, commissioned by Relex, “The primary improvement requested by respondents [store owners and stakeholders] was better sales forecasting to ensure superior availability.”

We can also expect retailers to leverage technologies such as Artifical Intelligence when coming up their forecasts. AI platforms can analyze a merchant’s sales and stock movements and make recommendations on what — and how many — products to order.

A great example of AI and stock management in action comes from Number Six, a UK-based men’s retailer that uses Vend POS. When the owner, Jake Hardy, came back from vacation, Vend’s AI feature notified him that the store was running low on a popular men’s cologne. That message prodded Jake to order the product before they ran out.

See if you can follow in Jake’s footsteps when it comes to managing your products. Explore your POS or inventory management system and see find out how you can leverage its features to make smarter and more advanced stock control decisions.

5. Season-based product recommendations

Speaking of Artificial Intelligence, AI-powered recommendation engines that adjust inventory based on real-time weather conditions and forecast are making their way to retail stores.

And it’s already begun. Walmart’s huge inventory with millions of products has AI capabilities that help it adjust based on weather forecast. So during summer, you’re usually not going to see cardigans or any other winter-related products on their shelves.

Walmart is not only a retail giant; the brand also has tons of retailer followers who look up them. So this is most likely a trend many other stores will emulate.

6. New inventory management skills

As stock control advances, inventory managers need new skills to match them.

Besides organizational skills and general computational skills in math, data analytics, and forecasting, inventory managers in 2019 will need to learn bits and pieces of topics like:

  • Coding and algorithms (you may need to insert a few lines of codes here and there.)
  • Application programming interfaces (APIs).
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP).
  • New reporting technologies (they keep improving; you want to keep up with them.)

As an inventory manager or store operator or owner, you may not need to know these skills too in-depth, but a basic knowledge of them is necessary.

Don’t have time to brush up on new skills? Fret not, there’s a growing number of retail experts and service providers that can do things like setting up your systems, program your software, and integrate various business platforms.

Consider the case of clothing brand Petit Bateau, which runs a couple of stores in Australia. Petit Bateau sought the help of SMB consultants, a cloud integrator for retailers.

After discussing their unique needs, SMB Consultants came up with a tailored solution that worked for Petit Bateau, creating a solution that integrated their POS (Vend) with their accounting software (Xero), payments processor (Tyro) and online store (Shopify).

“The catalyst, in the beginning, was that Lauren was using Xero,” says Jeffrey Atizado, Joint Managing Director at SMB Consultants. “So we started with Vend and we made sure Vend worked for her.”

With such a large inventory to upload and manage every season, Petit Bateau saves hours each week by importing Petit Bateau’s inventory and price list into Vend in bulk.

“We used to run a system that couldn’t recognize spreadsheets,” says Lauren Downs, Managing Director at Button Agency. “Now I do a bit of work to manipulate the price lists from our motherhouse in France, upload them into Vend, and we’re ready for a new season.”

7. More personalization than “Hi, [first_name]”

We’ve already seen more advanced personalization methods other than mentioning a customer or lead’s first name in an email or SMS.

And that’s continuing this year. Gartner predicts that businesses utilizing smart personalization engines to identify consumer intent will increase profits by up to 15% by 2020.

And we’re only one year away from that prediction.

The more advanced your personalization model is, the better for revenue. As a matter of fact, Amazon drives 35% of its sales through sophisticated personalization. They are known for personalization and they never disappoint.

ASOS, for example, deploys an AI that provides the right sizes for their customers. The software tracks the goods returned vs. kept by shoppers before and recommends products that would usually size each customer.

Another example comes from Nordstrom, which recommends product sizes based on a customer’s buying behavior. As you can see in the screenshot below, Nordstrom pre-selected the size “Small” on the product page, because the shopper often chooses that size.

We’ll likely see more retailers introduce personalization to their inventory initiatives. And since consumers are increasingly rewarding brands that engage them through in-depth personalization, this is a trend you’ll see more of in 2019 and even beyond.

8. Pick-to-light systems

Shoppers are increasingly drifting towards faster delivery.

This is where pick-to-light comes in handy.

A pick-to-light system, as its name implies, uses a lighting method to make inventory management easier. As operators pick items in a bin in your warehouse, they switch off a certain light that directs other store operators in the right direction.

This helps operators find products in a warehouse or an inventory quickly and facilitates faster deliveries to customers.

Pick-to-light is a technological advancement developed a few years ago and is starting to gain momentum. As of this month (February 2019), Google Trends’ rating for “Pick-to-light” is 84 out of 100.

An 84 out of 100 in Google Trends means the term is trending; inventory managers and store operators are searching and learning more about it.

Further Reading

Enjoyed this post? For more tips, check out Vend’s Complete Guide to Retail Inventory Management. This handy resource offers advice and action steps to help you:

  • Set up your products and inventory system correctly
  • Get the right people and processes in place so you can stay on top of stock
  • Figure out which of issues are causing shrink in your business so you can prevent them

    Learn More

Conclusion

Many of the trends above come from tech advancements. The better technology gets, the better inventory management becomes.

You need to pay attention to these trends — even though some seem like they’re out of a sci-fi movie. All in all, the trends explored above drive home a major point: inventory management in 2019 has improved and your store needs to adjust accordingly.

Your adjustments and corrections to these trends might be different from that of another store. You’ll have to implement them according to your inventory and keep testing until you find a good fit.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.