Managing a retail business requires alacrity and collaboration during both the rough times and when business is booming. If your category is missing forecast, you must work quickly with your team members to resuscitate the business to prevent inventory stagnancy and ensure that sales forecasts can be met. If your category is achieving forecasted results or even beating sales plans, then you must make quick and decisive actions to capitalize on your business’ positive momentum. In both situations, teams come together to act on the current trend and also make decisions to impact future strategies. Here are some common strategies to implement when business trends are positive.
Pull Forward Inventory
When sales start exceeding plans and unit movement is stronger than expected, it is important to assess the inventory positioning of your business both in the short-term and in the long-term (3-6 month). It would be detrimental to the business if key items face inventory shortages and can be potentially out of stock in the coming weeks or months. When inventory positions are depleted due to unexpected upticks in the business, planners utilize a tactic called “pulling forward receipts.” This strategy is exactly what it sounds like. Planners will work with buyers to identify future receipts that can be moved forward to be saleable sooner than originally planned. This is a band-aid solve to allow for replenished inventory levels and for key items to remain in stock in the current business. Pulling forward inventory requires communication with buyers and vendors. In some cases, receipts cannot be pulled forward immediately for particular items due to factory lead times.
For example, you have a key item dress that is manufactured overseas. For the past two weeks, this dress style has exhibited stronger than planned sales performance due to social media activity surrounding this style. Your inventory levels are lower than ideal and you would like to replenish your stock by pulling forward receipts that you placed to hit in six months. Unfortunately, since this garment is produced internationally, the quickest you can receive this inventory is six weeks. Therefore, you expect to be out of stock in this style for a handful of receipts until your pull forward receipts are received.
What if you launched new items on your eCommerce site and they are selling rapidly within the first week of launch? If you do not have future receipts for these items and would like to support the sales trends you are experiencing, then consider “chasing into new receipts.” This is a common phrase used by retailers and describes the quick turnaround placement of receipts with vendor partners. Typically, the topic of receipt chase arises during Monday business meetings between buyers and planners. In this conversation, buyers will identify high performing styles, vendors, categories, or trends and planners will offer chase recommendations based on available receipt openness and inventory positioning. Buyers may want to chase into receipts to support a low margin trend, while planners will call out this risk and assess the impact of bringing in additional inventory that sits at a less profitable rate.
Planners will take into account current business trends when they create monthly forecasts for their product categories, during the “reforecast” process. Upswings in business can influence forward-looking sales and inventory plans. For example, if the sweaters category has consistently beat its weekly retail sales plans for the past three weeks due to the strong performance of higher ticket styles, a planner may make adjustments to forward-looking sales plans to account for this performance. Adjusting a forecast allows for planners and buyers to plan for sales and inventory accurately. If the expectation is that sales volume will be higher than expected in the coming months, it is important that buyers source into additional receipts to fuel this additional volume.
Remember to celebrate beats and wins in your business, however, work quickly and intelligently with cross-functional team members to ensure you are capitalizing on trends and preventing any inventory shortages.
For more information on the metrics inventory planners need to track, and how to track them, download our Retail Math Guide. For more information on the inventory planning role and how to do it effectively at your retail business, download A Guide to Inventory Planning.