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How to Do Multi-Channel Inventory Sync in Retail without Adding Complexity

01/19/2021 | 09:38 PM | 16 Min Read

How to Do Multi-Channel Inventory Sync in Retail without Adding Complexity

Today, customers shop across multiple channels: in-store, on your site using tablets and phones, and on Facebook, Amazon and eBay. This simplicity and choice on the customer side has become second-nature, but it means huge operational challenges on the retailer’s side.

But these challenges aren’t insurmountable.

Here, we've created a comprehensive post that goes into detail on how you can overcome the obstacles of multi-channel inventory synchronization. We'll cover topics such as:

  • Why syncing your inventory data across multiple channels is vital to surviving in the modern retail environment;
  • The main operational challenges that come with multi-channel synchronization;
  • The common ways of implementing multi-channel sync, and why these apparent solutions only create more problems.

Finally, we'll explain how you can manage products and orders across multiple channels without added complexity. We’ll show you how Accumula helps by distributing data automatically throughout your whole tech stack, keeping all inventory information accurate at all times. 

Why It Matters to Get Multi-Channel Synchronization Right 

When it's done right, multi-channel inventory synchronization allows retailers to build strong relationships effortlessly with their customers, by:

  • Showing customers which inventory is in stock and where — in real-time.
  • Increasing product availability and variety.
  • Driving savings via omnichannel discounts.

But that isn't all. Getting multi-channel inventory sync right also allows retailers to:

  • Reduce churn by allowing customers to return purchases both online and in-store, no matter which platform they used to make their order.
  • Inspire impulse, delight-filled purchases by selling across social media channels.
  • Increase choice and cut shipping times by making retail inventory available both from your stores and your warehouses and distributing orders by distance.

But to gain these key advantages, retailers first need to have all of their digital channels aligned in real-time with in-store and warehouse stock levels. They need to make sure — no matter which channel they sell on — that inventory is available and accurate.

For online-only retailers, this can often be done using their eCommerce platform (e.g. Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, BigCommerce) as a base for listing items and selling on digital channels (e.g. social media, Amazon, eBay) — because these solutions tend to integrate with online marketplaces out-of-the-box, or with the help of plugins (e.g. on the Shopify App Store).

But retailers who combine both online and brick-and-mortar stores have it harder.

The Challenges of Multi-Channel Sync for Online/Offline Retailers

Multi Channel Inventory Sync: A man is closing a cardboard box to get it ready for delivery.

Brands that operate with online and brick-and-mortar stores usually have at least three different systems running at all times, for example:

  • One system where online orders are taken and processed, e.g. the eCommerce platform.
  • A second system where they hold their store inventory and process in-store purchases, such as a POS system like Lightspeed or Heartland Retail.
  • A third system where they manage order shipments, such as ShipStation.

And there may also be warehousing systems and third-party logistics (3PL) tools in play, too. 

To be able to deliver a  great customer experience and avoid operational challenges for the retailer, these systems need to maintain the same information across all channels, at all times.

Two common solutions for this problem are: 

  • Manual Intervention: The retailer processes an online order and has someone in their team manually input that order into their in-store inventory tracking system, or vice-versa. This is most common with the smaller retailers.

  • Vertically-Integrated Systems: The retailer uses vertically-integrated software such as Shopify eCommerce with Shopify POS to handle their retail needs. 

But these are less than ideal for retailers who are managing online and offline channels at the same time. Next, we’ll dive into why this is the case.

What’s the Problem with Manual Intervention?

Say you’re a retailer, and 80% of your daily-sales come from in-store purchases. In this case, you might think: “I only get ten online orders a day. That isn’t a lot of work,” and be tempted to update those orders manually on the POS. 

That doesn't work. If a retailer receives say, six online orders, those orders need to be reflected in the POS. And if they get 150 in-store orders, those need to be reflected on the online side too — at least if they expect to have truthful inventory data across all their platforms.

The second problem with manual intervention is: 

Who Is Going to Be Doing All This Manual Inventory Syncing, and When?

One answer is to hire someone, but that is both costly and inefficient. Another answer is to have someone in your existing retail team do it, which is still expensive and takes away from customer service.

And what happens if during the holidays things get too busy and no-one updates the inventory for a few days in a row? The manual workflow breaks down and soon gets out of control. That inventory quickly becomes stale, which in turn leads to over-sales and a dreadful customer experience. So, put simply, manual intervention is not scalable or consistent

Note: Accumula will help you avoid stale inventory and over-sales by integrating your eCommerce, POS, and fulfillment systems. Your staff will be able to handle the hectic busier periods of the year while keeping 100% inventory accuracy across systems at all times. With zero effort. Book a demo today.

The Limitations of Vertically-Integrated Systems

Another way to handle multi-channel inventory sync is by using vertically-integrated systems, such as Shopify's POS or Lightspeed's eCommerce platform.

Both Shopify and Lightspeed are fantastic within their respective wheelhouses (i.e. Shopify for eCommerce, and Lightspeed for POS) — but pairing them with their vertically-integrated alternatives doesn’t work for everyone, and can cause challenges due to functional limitations.

If you choose to use Lightspeed POS integrated with Lightspeed eCom, you’ll see that eCom shows a lot of promise, but limitations around the number of SKUs, design templates, and its support for multiple inventories may block you from delivering the experience you’re hoping for. 

Similarly, using Shopify’s eCommerce solution with Shopify POS doesn’t suit everyone — and retailers often need several extension apps to get solid inventory management functionality. By adding these apps into the mix, your team needs to be trained on yet more third-party tools, and you’re hamstrung by that developer’s speed of innovation (or lack thereof).

Again, both come with advantages and drawbacks, but our view is that retailers with an online and offline presence (and with multiple stores) should be using the very best solutions for each part of their business. But for this to work, you need systems that talk to each other.

The Answer: Continuous Synchronization Across Channels

Multi Channel Inventory Sync: A photo shows a beautiful boutique with plants, handmade cards, candles, and miscellaneous goods for your home.

As a retailer, the last thing you want is to wait until the end of the day when a customer has placed a BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) order — before realizing that the item is out of stock in the location they're picking it up from. If they drive all the way to the store and their order isn’t ready due to an inventory issue, they most-likely won’t want to give you business again in the future.

In other words, the only way to meet the demands of multi-channel commerce is through continuous synchronization between systems. There are two solutions that can help:

  1. A single/central source of truth system, or
  2. A distributed truth system.

Generally, “single-source of truth” systems integrate your webstore solution and your brick-and-mortar POS using one central management platform where you perform all your tasks: publish new products, process orders or returns, and keep track of customer data. 

This means your staff need to be trained to use a new, customized, tool. And if you have one person who knows how to manage it all, that’s a huge danger in an industry with a high staff turnover. Retraining people from scratch or suffering downtime are both big headaches. 

In contrast, a distributed truth system (such as Accumula), acts as an in-real-time bridge between your eCommerce business and your in-store POS solution — no matter which platform you choose to work in at any given time. 

In other words, it allows you to: 

  • Avoid wasting time doing things manually.
  • Bypass the issues and limitations that come with vertically integrated systems.
  • Avoid wasting time and harming profits by having to constantly re-train or hire new staff.

How Distributed Truth Gives You Effortless Multi-Channel Sync

A distributed truth solution, such as Accumula, works night and day behind-the-scenes to give you truth across the different eCommerce and in-store systems used within your retail business. 

By using Accumula, your in-store retail associates only need to work in your POS, and your online teams can work in your preferred eCommerce platform. And those responsible for preparing and shipping orders can work in whichever system they want. Nobody has to be trained to use a piece of software they’re not familiar with. Period. 

How Accumula Helps You Synchronize Inventory Across Multiple Channels

With Accumula, multi-channel inventory sync is effortless. Simply add a tag to your products in your POS, and data about that product will be distributed across all systems through automation. Accumula works in the background to connect your different solutions in real-time, without you even noticing it’s happening.

This, for example, allows you to control which products you merchandise within your online store (e. g. Shopify/Magento) — by simply adding a tag to the product. 

When you use Accumula to automate and streamline channel syncing in real-time, you also unlock the following benefits:

  • Surface hidden inventory and turn your brick-and-mortar locations into fulfillment centers overnight. This allows you to optimize and maximize online inventory availability, which in turn leads to a great customer experience.

  • Provide a seamless BOPIS experience for your customers. This would normally require an expensive combination of an order management system (OMS) and an inventory management software (IMS), working together with your fulfillment services.

  • Avoid overselling and poor customer experience due to inaccurate inventory. This allows your retail and fulfillment staff to easily handle the more hectic periods of the year without having to worry about updating inventory availability across sales channels. 

  • Give online refunds for in-store purchases, and vice-versa. Minimizing risk for the customer and offering the same flexibility as the enterprise-size stores.

  • Reduce expenses (and human error) by not having to train employees to use more than one system. Reduce to zero the risk of losing your one employee that knows how to connect all your different platforms together.

  • Have all your relevant orders pop-up in the right place, in real-time. Accumula alerts your in-store or fulfillment staff when a new pick-up or shipping order comes in so they can prepare it and print shipping labels, without them having to log into different software, or manually intervene.

  • Add safety buffers to your inventory values, which removes the risk of overselling when handling orders across multiple sales channels. 

In short, Accumula removes all friction in the multi-channel sync by connecting your chosen POS, eCommerce, and fulfillment solutions

This allows your retail team to work on managing orders effectively, instead of getting distracted by an unfamiliar platform, or having to do any sort of manual intervention.

Implementing Multi-Channel Inventory Sync

Multi-channel selling is extremely dynamic, and customer expectations are now higher than ever. At Accumula, we believe the only way to meet those expectations is by using the best-in-class solutions for the jobs they were built to do. By using a simple integration, and letting these systems work in concert, you can make sure all inventory is surfaced, and that all data is true, accurate, and up-to-date — whether you’re working in the POS or eCommerce tool. 

Book a demo today, and you’ll see why Accumula is the best choice for multi-channel inventory synchronization — whether you're a small, mid-market, or enterprise-sized retailer. 

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