Back-to-School Bonanza: Leveraging Streaming Analytics for Retail Supply Chain and Customer Experience Management

Annual back-to-school shopping has traditionally been a highly anticipated event for parents and children alike – families pile into the car and head out to load up on clothing, shoes, school supplies, backpacks and more. Once they arrive at the retail establishment, they are greeted with impressive seasonal displays swarmed by kids and their parents frantically grabbing and stocking up on the essentials before they sell-out.

This 2014 back-to-school shopping season, however, is predicted to present significant shifts in both purchasing patterns and consumer expectations. While commenting on the results of a study released on July 30, 2014, Allison Paul, Vice Chairman and Retail and Distribution Practice Leader for Deloitte states, “Consumers are more precise about what they buy, and may no longer feel the need to stock up as they did in the days before the Internet.” And, with respect to shopping channels, the study found that the number of shoppers who prefer to purchase from retailers offering the option to buy online and pick-up in store shot up from 33% to 40% this year.

To successfully address the shifts in how consumers are behaving and what they expect, savvy retailers will leverage streaming analytics to maintain a rock-solid handle on both supply chain and customer experience management. How can retailers leverage streaming analytics to successfully navigate these changes in the retail environment?

It’s No Longer a Limited-Time-Only Shopping Event

There are many factors at play affecting the back-to-school shopping cycle. Whereas historically retailers have set their merchandise in the seasonal aisle and let it run its course to inventory depletion, consumers have become more discretionary and less frantic about stocking up. Why? Because they know that if they missed it in-store they can easily check a competitor’s Website and buy it from them.

How does this affect retail planning? It means that instead of just looking at historical data, placing orders in bulk, and setting and forgetting, retailers will need to perpetually replenish items to not only address the lengthier shopping cycle but also the perceived lack of urgency around purchasing these items. Streaming analytics capabilities empower retailers to monitor and address demand spikes and out-of-stock issues in real time, and execute just-in-time delivery before inventory disruptions negatively affect customers.

Consumers Will Order Online and Pick-Up in Store

Consumers are demonstrating in droves that they prefer to order online and pick-up in store. What’s the draw? This service not only eliminates the hassle of navigating the crowds and abysmal merchandising mess but also provides the opportunity to receive the merchandise on the same day it was ordered.

Delivering on this expectation requires that retailers are fully integrated operationally across their online and brick-and-mortar businesses in real-time. Because consumers expect to place an order online and pick it up in-store within just a few hours, retailers can only deliver on this service if they have up-to-the-minute purview on inventory levels on each and every SKU across all storefronts.

Without streaming analytics capabilities, retailers can’t execute on a quality “order online and pick-up in store” program because of the timeliness required on order fulfillment. Put simply, if someone is ordering pencils, rulers, sneakers, t-shirts and a backpack online and expect to pick it all up at the customer service counter within hours, the inventory has to be in-store – you can’t transfer stock between stores or ship from a distribution center fast enough to address out-of-stock situations.

So, if you don’t know what’s available in-store at the precise moment that a customer orders it online, there’s no way of ensuring that the goods ordered will actually be available when the customer shows up to pick up the order. And if customers show up to pick up their order and key items are missing, they’re going to be rightfully unhappy – fail them once and they’ll never trust the service again.

Streaming analytics capabilities for are the key to successfully executing these cross-channel purchasing programs that customers clearly want, and executing poorly is worse than not offering the service at all.

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