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As a consumer I find it both odd and troubling that many retailers are least organized the closer they get to the end customer. Think about it. Retailers have long had supply chain improvement initiatives in place. In fact, they continue to roll out additional programs in the attempt to elevate the efficiency, timeliness, and accuracy of their interactions with those in their supply chain. They’ve long had warehouse management systems (WMS) in their distribution centers (DCs) to ensure minimum handling and turn-around times for in- and outbound inventory. And, yes, they’ve certainly invested in upgrades to their point of sale (POS) systems to improve the checkout experience—including the ability for consumers to exercise self checkout and save time.



But, when it comes to the management of inventory inbound to and within the store—something that affects retailers’ top and bottom lines and each of us as consumers—many retailers remain largely in the dark ages. In fact, a GMA study reported that, “The majority of out of stock reduction opportunities depend on improved store level inventory accuracy and replenishment procedures”.*1 So, wouldn’t it be nice if retailers would employ within their stores the same level of inventory management sophistication that they use in their distribution centers? What would that world look like? Fortunately, this need not be a theoretical discussion. Retailers are, in fact, implementing WMS functionality across and within their stores—treating them as not just selling vehicles, but repositories of inventory that must be individually and holistically managed. And, they and their customers are much the better for it.

EXAMINING THE ANT FARM

As I interact with retail outlets as a consumer, it’s tough for me not to analyze how well they run their stores. Being in the business of providing business performance improvement solutions, it’s tough not to notice examples where they could reduce cycle times, errors, and inefficiencies while raising service levels and overall customer satisfaction. As a consumer, I often find myself analyzing the effectiveness—or lack thereof—of those retailers I visit. One clear observation that’s struck me—whether I’m in a grocery store, a department store, a discount big box, specialty store, etc.—is that inventory management remains a relatively manual—and poorly executed—function in most stores. And, when you speak privately with many retailers, they will candidly admit that this is the case.

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