The recent news that Warby Parker and Bonobos would be exploring opening a greater number of physical stores, coupled with Amazon themselves becoming more present in the physical space. Why? These are all eCommerce giants. Retailers who built their brands and businesses by bypassing all the costs and constraints that traditional retail was burdened with. In parallel we are seeing brick and mortar brands such as Sears and Gap, continue to readjust their store footprints. They are looking to shutter more of their stores, hopefully working to a profitable number and type of stores. So what gives?
We are witnessing a balancing. Retail will most likely never be all online or all in person, but it will be a state of constant retail. We, as consumers, will be able to search for, experience, acquire and return products constantly, with fewer and fewer boundaries. There is no more omni channel or eCommerce, but really simply “commerce.” Whether it is social shopping like we see with Facebook or Salesforce, pop up stores, mobile commerce via trucks and vans, buy on line pick up in store, personal shoppers, subscription based shopping and the list of retail options continues to grow – how we shop, how we purchase and acquire “stuff” continues to evolve.
But what is the one underlying aspect we must always be aware of, that our brands have to be conscious of? Their inventory. At the core of this new shift in retail is the constant challenge – how do I make sure I have the right product at the right place and for the right margins? Being able to fulfill orders out of a dedicated distribution center for online sales, is challenging enough. As these retailers start growing their brick and mortar footprint, they will have to adjust their inventory strategy, fulfillment efforts and overall distribution tactics.
An overarching theme this recent news emphasizes is the continued shift in retail. Omni channel is really only a stage in the journey towards always on commerce: ambient commerce. A state of commerce when we are always able to transact and have fulfillment occur in multiple locations. Consumers will not distinguish between how they are accessing the brands, and expect experiences to be similar regardless of how they arrived at the decision making point. This shift in the retail landscape continues to emphasis the importance of have deeper view into the overall network and how inventory flows. Whether traditional or eCommerce retail giants, as consumers demand greater reduction in commerce friction, the network must support an inventory strategy that can keep up.