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How to Win in the Real-Time Holiday Retail Era

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Holiday shopping season is upon us. Consumer expectations of retailers have been transformed by their experiences buying from Amazon and other innovative retailers that are able to provide fast, efficient omnichannel experiences.

Last year, COVID-19 lockdowns that restricted shopping at brick-and-mortar stores sent shoppers online. Americans spent more money online during the 2020 holiday season than previously, with revenues growing 32% year-over-year and exceeding $188.2 billion for the first time, according to Adobe Analytics.

This year promises to be unlike any other we’ve seen before. The last 18 months of digital acceleration have created a comfort level with ecommerce and curbside pickups. In tandem, consumer expectations have grown. Online shoppers expect immediate responses — even a millisecond of delay is too long. Nine out of ten US consumers say they will abandon a retailer’s website if it is too slow (Retail Systems Research (RSR).

Furthermore, a global supply chain crisis and labor shortages are likely to limit the ability to keep stores stocked throughout the fall holiday shopping season and spur increased consumer demand. Recent data shows that people plan to buy more gifts and spend more money than they did in 2020.

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In this rapidly changing environment, retailers need a powerful data platform that can help them adapt and respond with more flexibility and agility than ever before to capture digital and omnichannel shoppers and optimize their inventory. 

Why Being a ‘Real-Time’ Retailer is More Important Than Ever Before

The modern shopper has become accustomed to being able to quickly search for an item and being able to determine within seconds if that item is available for pickup at a local store, or can be delivered within a guaranteed window to either them or a gift recipient. But this “new normal” requires retailers to have access to accurate inventory data — often across multiple channels, both in-store and online. 

The key is investing in real-time inventory. This enables a robust omnichannel retail strategy that delivers a unified, seamless and consistent customer experience across all physical stores, websites and mobile apps. With potentially fewer items available on the shelves this year and shipping timelines longer than ever before, retailers must be able to identify where items are located at a given moment, at the right price.

The six qualities of a real-time retailer include:

  1. The ability to offer an authentic personalized service, based on consistent customer data across all points of contact.
  2. The ability to make the user experience feel responsive by ensuring that basic steps in the customer journey — showing products in stock, searching through previous purchases, reserving items for pickup — are convenient, user-friendly and efficient.
  3. Contemporaneous inventory capabilities, enabling a consistent view of stock availability across every internal and external-facing channel.
  4. Optimized supply chain management to avoid stockouts and overstocking.
  5. A fast, flexible and responsive fulfilment process.
  6. Systems capable of scaling up or down in response to predictable and unpredictable fluctuations in demand.

Embrace the Need for Speed 

Consumers expect immediate gratification. In fact, nine out of 10 shoppers say they will abandon a retailer’s website if it is too slow (Optimize Digital report). However, faster responses for mobile apps and websites is only the beginning. Retailers must improve all stages of the customer journey, including offering lightning quick browsing of the product catalog and blazing fast ecommerce search functionality.

Caching is often the easiest way for online retailers to deliver instant shopping experiences with minimal resources and overhead. Instant indexing of the product catalog and full-text search support allows shoppers to be able to quickly search and filter across hundreds of items to find what they are looking for.

Dazzle Your Customers With Real-Time Data

Retailers can make the user experience feel more responsive by, for example, displaying whether an item is in stock across different physical stores. However, this requires an instantaneous view of inventory that can accurately resolve conflicting updates from multiple regions. Successfully optimizing the digital supply chain also can result in more efficient order fulfillment, cost management and forecasting across the business.

Accurate data ensures that communications with customers related to order status or stock availability are not just timely but also based in fact, and can provide useful insights to drive marketing and promotional activity.

Expect the Unexpected

A real-time retailer’s omnichannel and supply chain systems must also be able to scale up when required to meet increased demand around predictable, major events of the retailer’s year, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday and competitor’s sales as well as special events such as the release of limited edition items. 

These systems must also be able to scale up to meet shoppers’ expectations during unpredictable surges in demand. These might be caused by surprise endorsements from online influencers or by unexpected external events, such as when demand for cycling and hardware products soared during COVID-19 lockdowns, or demand for non-perishable supplies because of unexpected weather conditions.

Given this year’s supply chain and shipping challenges, synchronization of inventory and having immediate access to the latest data is a business imperative. Without synchronous inventory management that works at scale and ensures consistency across your channels, you’ll frustrate customers, reduce brand loyalty and miss out on sales. Delivering real-time retail requires personalized customer-facing processes, present inventory that enables optimized stock management, and scalability and resilience to continue operating in any situation — especially during high-volume seasons. Savvy retailers are hardening their systems now to prepare for the complexities of what could be the largest and most challenging holiday shopping season ever. 


Ashish Sahu is Head of Product and Solution Marketing at Redis. He has broad experience with launching in-memory databases, big data, analytics and AI products at SAP, Cask Data and Google Cloud.

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