The role of the merchandiser in the retail industry is rapidly changing as a result of evolving customer preferences and pandemic after-shocks. Recent surveys show that merchandisers are more focused than ever before on two key KPIs: profit margins and speed to market.
Agile inventory has always been key to avoiding markdowns and waste, but this agility has been made particularly challenging by the pandemic, which has forced retailers to close stores and forced customers to think more carefully about how they spend their money.
Where do Pre-Orders Come In?
Forward-thinking retailers have adopted pre-orders as a means of determining customer interest in unreleased products. Pre-orders provide merchants with the speed to market they need, as well as advanced funds and assured sales to improve profit margins. As an added bonus, pre-orders allow retailers to determine how much stock they should order based on demonstrated interest early on, which drastically reduces product wastage (a win for sustainability and retailers’ bottom line).
Although pre-orders are undoubtedly a win-win, both for retailers and consumers, many brands run into a number of challenges in rolling this program out. Indeed, many retailers put off launching pre-orders because they don’t have the technology necessary to manage product deliveries in an efficient way. Order management systems are key to enabling customers not only to access pre-orders and deliver those orders to customers, but to ensure real-time visibility into inventory. After all, there’s absolutely nothing worse than pre-ordering a product only to receive an email from the retailer saying they are unable to fulfill it.
In this blog, we discuss the main challenges associated with the pre-order process and how an order management system addresses them.
Communicating Expected Delivery Dates
Communicating expected delivery dates for pre-orders is incredibly important for the customer experience. Currently, retailers receive advanced shipment notifications from their manufacturers and that data is stored within their ERP, however, taking that data from the ERP, calculating lead time, and then communicating that data to the customers takes a lot of work. To make matters more complicated, pre-order inventory can be received in multiple shipments, so each pre-order batch can have a different expected delivery date. Retailers absolutely need an easy way to calculate the expected date as well as a quick way to communicate any changes to the customer. This challenge is caused by legacy retail systems that lack visibility into future inventory and thus prevent retailers from promising that inventory in an efficient way.
One of the main challenges retailers face when offering pre-orders is a discrepancy between the amount of inventory available and the number of orders placed. Unless retailers have the right technology in place, their eCommerce platform is not going to correctly display the number of pre-orders still available to purchase, meaning they may take orders they are unable to fulfill. To avoid this situation, the merchandiser would need to manually check each new order to verify that it can be satisfied. If not, the retailer must contact the customer to cancel their order. Once again, this challenge is caused by the lack of transparency and visibility into future inventory.
Balancing Inventory Allocation between Stores and Pre-Orders
Until the inventory is received, open pre-orders are waiting to be fulfilled. If the retailer has an in-store presence in addition to an online one, merchandisers also want to allocate some of the inventory to stores so customers can experience the product in person. Legacy order management systems will allocate all available inventory to pre-orders, leaving nothing for the stores, a process that simply doesn’t work for an omnichannel brand.
HotWax Commerce’s Order Management addresses the challenges above and more. The HotWax OMS allows merchandisers to upload purchase orders into the system to record future inventory data. Through a pre-integration with Shopify, the OMS is then able to seamlessly communicate this information so that Shopify does not accept orders it cannot fulfill.
Furthermore, the HotWax Commerce OMS allows merchandisers to upload Advance Shipment Notification Data regarding delivery dates, which in turn can be pushed to Shopify and displayed on the product detail pages. This way, customers are aware of exactly when they can expect their shipment to arrive. In the case of multiple shipments, the expected delivery date will change based on shipment quantities. The OMS maintains a queue of orders and automates all communications with the customer so that they are made instantly aware of any changes.
Finally, HotWax’s technology allows merchandisers to specify the quantity of inventory they want to release for pre-orders that are in queue and reserve for stores. Once the optimal allocations are determined, the OMS routes the orders to the appropriate location (fulfillment centers or stores) and once the orders are fulfilled, the OMS will automatically mark the orders as completed in Shopify.
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During this pandemic and beyond, pre-orders provide an opportunity for retailers to determine customer demand, increase profit margins, improve speed to market, and reduce product waste. The HotWax Commerce Order Management Platform automates the entire pre-order process and provides merchandisers with the fluidity they crave.
Request a consultation with the HotWax Commerce team to learn more about our plug-and-play solution as you consider eCommerce vendors.