Being an ecommerce marketplace seller is not an easy job. You are sandwiched between marketplace regulations and ever-increasing customer expectations for superior buying and fulfilment experience. Thankfully, many of the roadblocks and issues plaguing ecommerce marketplace inventory management can be easily resolved by establishing a solid inventory strategy from day one.
Understanding Marketplace Inventory Management
Inventory Management is the lifeline for marketplace sellers since the success of the business hinges on delivering the right order to the right customer at the right time.
Here are some of the basics of inventory management you should be aware of before starting your journey as an ecommerce marketplace seller :
- Organize Your SKUs – Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) are essentially unique identifiers assigned to each of your product to streamline the ordering and logistics process. SKUs can be customized as per your wish but they are typically categorized based on product, category, popularity etc. The first step in establishing an effective inventory management system is to have a simple and well-structured SKU system in place.
- Focus on Product Types – In order to ensure a seamless workflow and minimize time wastage, you should have a thorough knowledge about the product type you are selling on marketplaces. Here are the major product types that ecommerce marketplace sellers usually deal with :
– Item : An individual product or an item that doesn’t require any special storage or shipping considerations
– Case pack : A group of usually similar items clubbed together. They might require special attention during storage
– Assembly : These are items that require assembling multiple parts scattered across your warehouse before shipping. Based on your sales forecast, you will need to organize them based on individual parts or end products
– Family : Similar products that have variations on colour and size. These will also need to be grouped based on your sales and demand forecast
- Get Serious About Demand Forecasting – Use historical data and other demand forecasting techniques to prevent negative sales impact like stock outs. Also, pay close attention to your sales analytics to understand the rise and fall in demand for your product. Make sure to take into account seasonal variations and other customer behaviours that will impact the sales of your product.
- Have a Backup Plan – Even the most experienced ecommerce sellers will not be able to predict product demand 100% accurately every time. At some point or the other, a random occurrence or event will disrupt even the most the most watertight strategy. Smart sellers should thus always have a backup plan in terms of surplus inventory of bestselling products or a reserve supplier.
- Ensure Data Accuracy – Ultimately, inventory management is a case of numbers and data and even minute discrepancies can have a severe impact on your business. Some of the common but easily avoidable mistakes include adding multiple SKUs into a single slot andcounting case packs as a single item instead of the individual pieces
Get these inventory management basics right and you will set forth your ecommerce marketplace business on a solid footing.
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Exponential advances in technology, the proliferation of digital devices and constant connectivity has given rise to a new legion of consumers who live in the Easyverse™. These Connected Customers expect fast, easy and personalized experiences anywhere, anytime.
The imperative for brands to understand the ‘Connected Customer’
APAC’s digital economy is expected to top $1.2 trillion by 2021. To cash in on this multi-billion dollar opportunity, brands will need to get a deep understanding of the Connected Customer.
Furthermore, the term ‘experience’ has become more important than ever before for brands. In an era of minimal product differentiation and diminishing brand loyalty, customer experience and service will spell the difference between growth and a painful downward spiral into irrelevance.
But, do retailers and brands have what it takes to meet the expectations of the ‘Connected Customer’?
To answer this, we invited business leaders and brand experts Maya Hari (VP, Twitter, APAC) and Johan Vracken (MD, Nielsen, Singapore) to share exclusive insights about priorities, purchase preferences, and expectations of the new age, digital-savvy customer.
Understanding the Connected Customer
According to Nielsen, ecommerce in APAC is growing at a rapid pace with more than 98% of consumers making an online purchase against a global average of 95%.
Here are some more key takeaways and insights on the Connected Customers in APAC according to Johan Vracken (MD, Nielsen, Singapore) :
- On average they spend 6.5 hours online every day and expect brands to create a delightful experience at every turn
- SEA has 350 million online customers
- Online purchase of beauty & personal, packaged grocery, pet food is expected to surge in the next few years
- Connected consumers invest in experiences, spend heavily on travel, events, gaming, and consumer electronics
- Consumers in APAC choose brands based on loyalty programs, subscriptions, fast website and multiple delivery options
- APAC customers have an online purchase evolution that starts from small value products like skin care and eventually moves to premium and bulkier products
Within the Connected Customer universe, Millenials constitute a vital demography due to their numbers (50 per cent of the APAC population will fall in this age bracket by 2020) and their impact on global economy. However, engaging this consumer segment has been a marketing nightmare for brands across the globe.
Maya Hari (VP, Twitter, APAC) shared her insights on how brands can understand and connect with this mysterious demography in a better way
- Patience is in short supply with millennials – the average attention span is around 8 seconds
- 65% of millenials look for deals only at last minute
- One size fits all approach won’t work with the millenials – be it reward programs or brand communications
- Asian millennials are tech savvy, driven by purpose and obsessed with travel and fitness
- Compared to their western counterparts, Asian millenials focus more on quality rather than fancy packages
- 57% of millenials expect brands to stand for a social issue and they like brands that associate with movement
- Asian millennials are no longer in a position to afford housing easily, so 63% are not keen on leaving families
To attract, engage and retain the connected consumer, businesses need to look beyond conventional approaches and rely on digital solutions and cutting-edge technology to address changing consumer needs effectively. However, adopting technology alone is insufficient, the most significant change needed is in the mindset of business leaders.
To learn how to lead a digital-first organization, read the next part in our #Ready Insights series – The New Gen Leader
For most of human history, people have been good at predicting future technologies and innovations for say, 100 years ahead.
Today, predicting things even just 5 years down the line is usually an attempt at futility.
Thousands of existing technologies and industries are blending and merging in millions of ways in a singularity that looks all set to explode into a big bang of endless possibilities. However, even amidst rapidly changing variables, there are constants that have stood the test of time.
In a simple sense, technological advances merely served as a substrate for achieving what we humans loved so dearly from times of yore: expend minimal energy and save time. In fact, if you trace any invention or innovation down the rabbit hole to its moment of inception, it most likely would have been sparked by a single factor: convenience.
If you’re a retailer who is caught between agile, well-funded competitors and rapidly changing consumer behaviour, fret not as this single entity might be the perfect leading light beacon for a safe and successful voyage into the future.
So, without further ado, here are the top trends that will rule the future of ecommerce.
The blurring of digital and the real world
The question of whether we are living in a computer simulation is a long-standing one amongst astrophysicists and philosophers. Well, the question will seem more pertinent in the future thanks to AR companies like Next/Now, INDE and Groove Jones which are working feverishly to bring to life screenless digital projections and holograms on to the real world; rendering reality almost indistinguishable from the digital.
These technologies will have a massive impact and use-cases in ecommerce and retail landscape by easing purchase frictions by empowering consumers to negate the guess-work. A case in point is the ability to project life-like furniture in your living room to check if it matches the decor.
Intelligent digital assistants will become widespread
While the current set of AI assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana are impressive, the next generation of digital assistants is expected to be capable of almost human-like cognition. We are talking ‘HAL 9000’ from 2001 Space Odyssey and Samantha from ‘Her’ levels of cognitive and reasoning capabilities. Will they become the conduit for AI to go into overlord mode and enslave humanity? Elon Musk seems to think so but we’re not very sure. But they definitely will have huge ramifications in the ecommerce and retail space.
Macy ’s and a few other brands have already started piloting AI-based assistants in its stores. While its current capabilities are limited to guiding customers to the right section and offering product information, the day won’t be far when these assistants are capable of offering personalized fashion tips based on the occasion, local weather conditions, facial and body contour, and latest trends.
The shift from 2D view to 3D view of customer
As consumers start engaging with newer technologies like wearables, connected cars and IoT-enabled appliances, the amount of customer data available to brands will skyrocket in the next 10 years. This will accelerate the movement from the current 2D view of the customer to a 360-degree accurate view. When coupled with AI and ML innovations, these datasets will be able to predict consumer behaviour to almost 100% accuracy. The winners will leverage this data pool to build a persona for engaging with their customers in a contextually relevant and personalized way at every step in the shopping journey.
The pretzel-shaped shopping journey
The traditional linear purchase journey is already on its leg and in the next 5 years, brands can expect it to be totally phased out. Thanks to the proliferation of wearables and connected devices like cars, appliances and smart TVs , the consumers of the future will engage with brands across multiple platforms and devices in a pretzel-like twisted, crisscrossing loop. For retailers, the key here is to maintain a connected, unbroken, omnichannel journey and be ready for channel disconnects and reconnects anywhere, anytime.
Predictive analytics and curated shopping experiences
The barrage of data and the rise of complex AI systems will allow brands to develop accurate predictive models for recommendations and R&D for new development. This will give create the next step in curated shopping and subscription services to create personalized experiences to fit the exact needs of an individual customer. Predictive analytics is expected to have widespread retail use-cases like loyalty programs, customer engagement, in-store experience and fulfilment. For example, retail brands can devise a predictive model that will generate a customized discount code for customers who are at the risk of switching to a competitor.
Fulfilment will become a major differentiator
With the rising demand for same-day delivery, outdated supply-chain processes will no longer viable. The on-demand economy will force technology giants, logistic firms and retailers to combine forces to devise innovative delivery modes. Expect drones, driverless/autonomous vehicles, wearable and mobile technology and robots to be the most disruptive technologies. Alibaba, Amazon, UPS and Walmart are already experimenting with fully automated warehouses manned by an army of robots and drone delivery. In fact, drone traffic has reached significant levels in Japan that Rakuten Air Map has launched an unmanned traffic management platform in the country. Brands are also likely to engage futuristic transportation modes like hyperloops and autonomous travel pods to further optimize their logistics network.
Hyperpersonalization will be the new norm
We are already witnessing personalization in many forms, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what is about to come. Consumers can expect a seamless, dynamic and real-time shifting world of content created around them by intelligent algorithms that know them better than they know themselves. Shoppers will have instant access to delivery dates, lowest shipping cost, and the best discount codes for multiple retailers within seconds. An agile ecommerce platform powered by AI and ML technologies will be critical in determining the success of your hypersonalization efforts. The winner may come down to brands that know the consumer the best, their product and delivery preferences, the likelihood of return shipments, and the packaging itself.
Omnichannel will evolve into the Omniverse
Omnichannel commerce is expected to become even more connected and seamless in a way that the individual blocks merge and finally fade into each other to create a unified real-time universe. This concurrent experience will involve consumers engaging with brands across digital and offline channels all at the same time. For instance, a customer walking into a retail store will be simultaneously comparing prices through his wearable smartglass.