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Headless Inventory Management: How Distributed Truth Helps Multi-Channel Retailers Operate Efficiently

    

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Headless commerce has been a hot topic among retail brands. And with the explosive growth of eCommerce this year, even more so.

Headless commerce platforms enable your brand to manage data and experiences independently of the front-end systems that shoppers interact with

When you “go headless”, you’re no longer bound by the operational limitations of any single platform for online or offline commerce, you can create user-facing experiences with the platforms and tools of your choice.

Our solution, Accumula, is headless

In this article, we’re going to introduce the benefits of solving core operational challenges with a headless solution. To do so, we’ll introduce the concept of  “distributed truth” — and we’ll explore how this compares against legacy tools for managing operations in multi-channel retail organizations. 

Note: If you want to learn more about Accumula, and how it can help your retail organization with inventory and order management, you can do so here. Our software has been developed in collaboration with retailers doing upwards of $50 million yearly in sales. 

Headless Inventory Management: What Is It, and How Does It Help?

Now that selling on multiple digital channels is common (online, social, etc.) and competition is fiercer than ever, inventory management and control has become even more critical. Inventory sources have become more varied and complex with more opportunities reliant on them. 100% inventory availability has become essential to maximizing customer acquisition and sales. 

Note: “Headless commerce” and “Headless eCommerce” is often discussed in enterprise circles, due to the complexity and costs of managing it. But as we’ll explain later, by using “distributed truth”, retailers of any size can enjoy similar flexibility without the prohibitive technical and budgetary overheads. 

Headless inventory management works by aggregating inventory data and transactions across your platforms and maintaining a high-quality master inventory record regardless of where, when, or how your inventory moves. Unlike legacy inventory management systems, you do not need to perform inventory management tasks in the headless platform. 

Instead, inventory data is managed intelligently by tracking the inventory movements across your stack. Inventory can be further controlled within the headless platform to protect against oversales and stockouts using mechanisms like safety stock thresholds and unique Available to Ship or Available in Store quantities.

This allows your brand to gain the power and flexibility of a modern, omnichannel inventory model without the painful overhead of migrating to, adopting, and training on a new source of truth. The headless solution takes input from across your business, applies complex business rules, and then distributes inventory data across channels and applications.

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In many cases, this feat can be accomplished using pre-built connectors that open up your choice of front-end commerce channels for online and offline without adding operational complexity, meaning:

  1. You can use a best-in-class eCommerce solution (e.g. Shopify or Magento).
  2. You can use a best-in-class POS system (e.g. Lightspeed or Heartland Retail).
  3. You can utilize an ERP/3PL/WMS for central distribution of inventory (e.g. Oracle Netsuite or RLM).
  4. You can fulfill across channels using 3PL and/or a shipping solution (e.g. ShipStation).
  5. Your inventory will automatically be managed and controlled across these systems without your teams having to learn or even log into another software application. 

And if your needs require you to build your own custom user-facing solution, APIs allow you to interact directly with the headless platform.

Don’t I Need a “Single Source of Truth” for Managing Multi-Channel Commerce?

You may be familiar with the concept of a “single source of truth” where an organization has one platform that they rely on for all data (often an ERP or inventory management system). 

This is often seen as a holy grail of organizational success, or at least it is commonly sold that way. The dream is that everyone in the organization can log into one master platform to create, edit, or view the info necessary to run the business. 

A “source of truth” can be a powerful tool to any organization but it seldom reaches this ideal. The reality is that for many retailers there are some serious pitfalls to watch out for: 

  1. A migration to the new platform is required. This can be expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive to the business.
  2. Each employee needs a login and training on the new platform, adding additional software licenses that can be a drain on budgets.
  3. Workflows must change, sometimes dramatically. The new platform may be great for one department and terrible for another. You could end up with a piece of software that half the company does not fully adopt.
  4. Most of all, some “source of truth” platforms are sometimes “bad listeners” that are limited in what input they can easily accept. This can lead to a source of truth that is inaccurate. 

Accumula takes a different approach.

How Distributed Truth Helps Retailers Go Headless

Accumula uses the concept of “distributed truth” to describe how our software manages inventory (and everything else). 

Accumula accepts input from all of your connected platforms, applies algorithms and complex business rules, then re-distributes the data to your connected platforms. When Accumula is engaged, your employees can see the data they need in every platform in your stack, not just within the one source of truth. This has profound implications for productivity: 

  1. Company resources aren’t exhausted by a big software migration. Platforms are integrated quickly with the flexibility to change in the future.
  2. Employees require fewer apps and less training. They do not have to switch applications and contexts as frequently, giving them more time to focus on what’s important. 
  3. Existing software doesn’t have to be changed.
  4. Deep, pre-built integrations provide easy access to best-of-breed solutions while APIs allow you to integrate the platforms or custom solutions of choice.

But how does “distributed truth” work in practice?  Let’s look at an example.

With Accumula, if a customer buys online via Shopify to pick up in store (BOPIS), that inventory is deducted immediately and distributed for in-store fulfillment.  Then, the same transaction is created in the store’s POS system and associated with the correct customer. This ensures the purchase history is complete, and the in-store team knows there is a pickup order to be fulfilled. 

If you also sell wholesale, the process is largely the same. Wholesale orders are recognized as such, allowing Accumula to value and distribute those orders differently across your inventory sources  and through the rest of your technology stack. 

How Retailers Benefit from Using Accumula for Headless Inventory Management

Headless inventory management: A photo inside an upscale boutique.

Retailers should be using the best tools for each part of their business. Despite many platforms promising to be “the answer,” no single platform can handle all use cases needed to satisfy your stakeholders. Completely verticalized solutions often fall critically short in one channel or another, their limitations only discovered after migrating. 

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software often requires such dramatic customization that it slows innovation and, ironically, adds risk to the business.

So, if you’ve realized that using a combination of best-of-breed systems is key to delivering value to your customers, you need those systems to communicate effectively. That’s where Accumula comes in, using intelligent automation to distribute truth between all corners of your tech stack, without adding operational overhead.

Retailers who use Accumula tend to experience benefits in two key areas:

  1. Efficient operations, by being able to manage workflows more effectively, and;
  2. Driving more sales, by improving the customer experience and product availability.

Let’s take a deep dive into these areas, and explore 5 main benefits for each.

5 Operational Benefits of Using Accumula in Retail:

  • You can choose the best eCommerce solution and the best in-store POS for your needs, without worrying about whether they’ll play nice with each other. When a sale happens, everyone who needs to know will be notified, and inventory is automatically reconciled.

  • Your teams can work in their preferred tool, whether they’re stocking shelves, merchandising, publishing products, processing shipments, or preparing pickup orders.

    Note: This cuts down on the time-consuming pain (and cost) of training staff on unfamiliar systems.

  • You don’t have to provide dozens — or hundreds — of individual logins to a separate system, and you don’t suffer the risk of opening up access to the whole workforce.

  • You have flexibility to change as you grow without wholesale migrations, because you can try out new systems (for example a different eCommerce platform) and not have to do a massive data migration for inventory or product data. 

  • You can develop a standardized approach to managing orders, inventory, and product information — which guarantees consistency of data quality across your organization (and also guarantees a flawless customer experience).

And Now, 5 Ways Accumula Helps You Drive More Sales:

  • You can surface inventory from across the organization, and open up new sales channels.

  • You’ll prevent bad customer experiences, by making sure items are exactly where they’re supposed to be when customers want to buy or pick up. This helps you meet the expectations of customers with muscle-memory from shopping at enterprise retailers.

    Note: Target fulfilled 95% of all sales from stores and increased pickup orders by 500%. New habits and new expectations are being formed. These are the new expectations that smb and mid-market retailers have to meet.

  • You will reduce delivery times and improve local availability by turning your stores into fulfillment centers (without adding extra work for your staff). 

  • You can offer more fulfillment options to customers, reducing shopping cart abandonment because customers can find an option that suits them. And if something isn’t available for convenient pickup, you can offer free shipping as an alternative.

    Note: You can also offer super convenient returns options, for example buy online, return in store (BORIS), without disrupting your internal workflows.

  • You can provide clearer visibility on which inventory is where (for customers and staff), and make this information available online. And you can set a buffer using Accumula, to make sure you don’t oversell certain items due to shrinkage or breakage. 

Headless Inventory Management: Helping Retailers of All Sizes Deliver Enterprise-Grade Experiences to Customers

Until now, managing inventory across warehouse and store locations and online/offline channels has been limited to enterprise retailers with massive budgets. Mid-market and smb retailers too often suffer through a dreaded scenario: customers get let down by inaccurate or outdated inventory, either pre or post purchase, and the customer is lost. 

Accumula makes this kind of inventory control accessible to retailers of any size, without a heavy lift. With  the benefit of real-time distributed truth, your brand can gain flexibility, operational consistency, and data visibility. And most importantly, you will be able to maximize your opportunities for customer acquisition and retention

If you’d like to learn more about how Accumula’s distributed truth unlocks operational and profit-driving opportunities for your retail business, book a free demo today.

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