With manual transactions, a customer typically looks through a catalog, fills out a paper order form and gives the paper form to a store associate who places the order. From there, retailers’ logistics vary. The store associate might add the customer’s special order to the store’s weekly fulfillment. When the inventory arrives, a store associate attaches the paper order form to the product reserved for the customer to pick up.
Nothing else besides that piece of paper identifies the product as the customer’s special order or relays that it is ready for pickup. Special orders are not usually part of a store’s supply chain system. But now, with the updated capabilities of retail management systems, stores can improve their special-order process with automation.
Stores can use retail POS software to issue and track special orders with an eye on customer buying trends.
For example, if you get 30 special orders of items from a specific vendor that you have a regular buying cycle with, you could issue one purchase order but assign different delivery locations in the store for special orders and for the inventory meant to fulfill demand planning.
Most of the time, retailers treat special orders as replenishing an out-of-stock item that a customer is going to pick up. It’s treated as if it is sold right off the shelf.
However, a retailer should treat a special order differently and let the retail POS software keep track of what inventory is available for sale in the store, versus what inventory is reserved to fulfill special orders. Plus, with the full lifecycle of a special order transaction being tracked by the software, over time, you may be able to tap into information that helps you improve your special-order process, cut supply chain expenses or increase customer satisfaction.
Using a retail management system for special orders should give you visibility as to the status of each special order that is outstanding.
For example, a store receives a special order for nursing scrubs with embroidery. The store has the scrubs in stock, but the embroidery service is not available at every store. The order must transfer to a central location for embroidery or be sent out to an embroidery shop down the street. That’s another process that a retail management system should be able to streamline and track.
When the process is not tracked by a central retail management system, a retailer can get conflicting information. The store from which the special order was issued could be in the process of doing an physical count, realize that they are short of several scrubs, and then make an inventory adjustment for the assumed loss. In reality, the missing items could be the items that were sent out for embroidery. To put it simply, a manual system for special orders could result in errors, which may cause lower customer satisfaction or costly mistakes from not knowing where your inventory is.
When the scrubs with embroidery come back to the local store, the retailer should have a mechanism for notifying the customer that the special order is available for pickup. When the customer comes into the store, a store associate can ring up the special order on a retail POS system, marking that it was delivered. Now the system knows the special order was processed and completed.
Retailers sometime offer other inventory fulfillment services that are a variation of a special-order process. Take layaway, for example. Layaway requires a retail location to hold a product in-store while the customer makes payments toward the purchase. This means the store requires a way to track the payments, know which customer is making the payments and record when the product is paid in full.
Sometimes retailers require other types of payment for special orders, such as pay in full, pay half upfront or arrange a payment plan before an order is placed. Effectively managing those details — such as knowing how much the customer put down in advance, how much is still owed or what billing arrangements were made — requires an automated retail management system rather than a paper trail.
These are just a handful of ways an automated retail management system can improve your special-order process and, in turn, your supply chain.