Nine West Exec: Inventory Visibility Is The ‘Backbone’ Of Omnichannel Success

Omnichannel has been a strategic focus and investment for many retailers over the past three years. While some retailers are currently building and refining their strategies, shoe brand Nine West has been a long-term omnichannel activist and proven success story.

In fact, Nine West kicked off its omnichannel initiatives in 2008, when it began building a ship-from-store strategy. Since then, the brand has acquired a unified view of product inventory and implemented a series of successful initiatives, including a save-the-sale strategy and inventory lookup capabilities for in-store associates.

“One of the first strategies we employed was ship-from-store,” noted Michael Hines, VP of e-Commerce Technology and Mobile Strategy at Jones Apparel Group, parent company of Nine West. At the time, the strategy wasn’t built out of a need to “meet customer needs,” but as a way to improve efficiencies and have stores turn into brand drop-shippers.


But Nine West soon made a startling revelation.

“We didn’t plan on doing much volume at all — maybe 10 or 15 orders a week,” Hines explained in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It ended up being an enormous success and informed our buying decisions for inventory because we’d obviously been choking on demand for quite some time.”

The ship-from-store strategy was developed in partnership with VendorNet, which is now a part of the eBay Enterprise family of companies. Working with VendorNet, Nine West developed a set of business rules to ensure ship-from-store was both operationally and cost-efficient.

“For example, we wanted to be able to ship from the nearest store in order to shorten shipping times and decrease costs,” Hines said. “We also wanted to keep split shipments down to a minimum.”

Ship-from-store ended up being an important tipping point for Nine West’s omnichannel practices, helping to place the brand far ahead of the curve compared to its retail peers. So when consumers started to demand more fluid experiences between the web and store, Nine West was able to focus on creating a central view of inventory, which Hines sees as the “backbone” of any omnichannel initiative.

“In 2012, we started to see consumers wanting to have the web paradigm apply to their in-store experiences,” Hines said. “They expect that when you don’t have something available in the store, you can get it from somewhere else.”

Building On An Omnichannel Foundation

When Nine West started building its save-the-sale and inventory lookup capabilities, it already had an inventory feed connecting its stores and e-Commerce site. This allowed associates to look up available e-Commerce inventory and place orders for delivery in stores. 

“The feed was updated once a day, so we had to work with eBay Enterprise to work safety stock into the feature,” Hines said. “But that leaves a good amount of product on the table that you’re not able to sell on the web.” Eventually, Nine West cut the 24-hour update period to approximately two hours, helping to create a 360-degree view of inventory.

“All omnichannel is is being able to fulfill customers’ needs with the products you have, regardless of where they might be,” Hines said. “So you need to know where everything is at all times.”

Most recently, Nine West rolled out the Retail Associate Platform, an iPad app that allows associates to look up inventory and product information, and create a great buying experience — even if products weren’t available in stores.

But technology is only one piece of a very important puzzle. Retailers also need to provide the training, enablement and incentives associates need to fulfill on a brand’s omnichannel promise.

Hines noted that sales associates are “underpaid and overworked,” and omnichannel is “just another thing for them to do. It’s a difficult environment to manage people in, but it’s something that needs to happen. Associates need to be incentivized to make these omnichannel sales and go the extra mile.”

Diving deeper into the associate engagement issue, Hines advised that current store KPIs don’t reflect omnichannel sales in a way that provides instant gratification to employees.

“Associates don’t get that immediate dopamine rush like when they see sales go through the register or when they look at their KPIs,” Hines said. “It seems like a very small detail but you have to make those omnichannel sales just as appealing as when a customer is walking out with a product.”

In the next phase of its omnichannel strategies, Nine West is developing an iPhone app that seamlessly integrates with e-Commerce and store inventories.

“This allows customers to know what’s available in the store closest to them,” Hines explained. The app is set for a September 2015 release. 

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