How Retailers Can Improve Inventory Management in Real Time
Among other things, SymphonyAI is a SaaS company that enables retailers and convenience stores to see through the eyes of the customer regarding in-store products on shelves and improve inventory management. Using image capture from employee mobile devices, whether mobile phones, tablets, shelf cameras, ceiling cameras, or robots, both retailers and CPG companies use SymphonyAI’s proprietary technology app to make sense of those images.
That data becomes actionable in improving the store planogram (a map of sorts that indicates the placement of retail products on shelves for maximum sales). The technology also controls pricing compliance, shelf availability, or inventory that is decreasing or out of stock in real-time. The company works with four out of the five largest retailers in the United States and with three major retailers in EMEA. At present, its technology is in 10,000 stores and is on track to be in 50,000 stores by year’s end. The in-store technology is also privacy compliant, said Barbra Chase, Vice President of Global Sales, Store Intelligence, ReTech/SymphonyAI Retail CPG. (SymphonyAI acquired ReTech in 2021.)
Capturing these images is useless if the data yielded is not actionable to drive sales, and part of what SymphonyAI creates for retailers is a prioritized work list. “Grocery operations, quite honestly, I think it’s overwhelming,” Chase said. “They have typically 25 to 40,000 SKUs (stock-keeping units). Walmart will have over 100,000 SKUs at any one point in time.”
SymphonyAI is helping retailers address challenges in consumer demand and labor in ways that weren’t possible a few years ago.
Retailers and their CPG suppliers must make sure all those products are in the proper position in the store and carry the correct price. “It’s really mind-blowing,” Chase said of the volume that needs to be tracked. “For 40 years, retailers and convenience stores have taken data from their inventory systems and from their point-of-sale systems.” By using AI and computer vision, store employees are notified instantly of any product gaps on shelves, and they can immediately re-stock.
SymphonyAI’s Store Intelligence tool also ensures the accuracy of in-store promotion efforts. For example, based on what is known about the demographic profile of a certain store, if a banner or product isn’t in the correct position to appeal to that shopper group at a certain price point, a promotion is about as useful as an old newspaper, Chase said. Stores can use the AI-powered app to know when to restock shelves based on the store location’s own key performance indicators as they relate to the velocity of items sold, private or owned brands, or profitability.
“Customers’ demands right now are incredible, and they continue to increase,” she added. “We’re like the Calvary, helping these physical stores become far better at operations.”
In terms of results, Chase said the company has been able to cumulatively increase on-shelf availability (OSA) by 11% for its clients. “We’ve improved planogram compliance by up to 23%, increased sales by up to 5%, and optimized labor by up to 60%. Those numbers are really jaw-dropping.”
The technology and analytics are also applicable to online inventory, Chase said. The continued growth of e-commerce and the creation of fulfillment centers is another layer of complexity in inventory. She cited data showing that ecommerce providers are experiencing a 2% or less refund or substitution rate for restaurant delivery but an average of 25% substitution and refunds for grocery or convenience store delivery. “Twenty-five percent doesn’t make anybody happy,” she stated. “So you’re going to lose customers, you’re going to lose sales. it’s just all bad.”
To retailers, Chase advised, “If you’re waiting until tomorrow to explore this [technology], you’re too late.”