Can Relationship Commerce help solve Walmart’s inventory problems?

Walmart’s move into online commerce was never going to be easy — you try moving 11,000 stores onto the internet — but lately things have gotten strange.

A recent report from The Wall Street Journal details a seemingly absurd state of affairs, “[Walmart] has begun telling online shoppers that some products in its warehouses are ‘out of stock’ after the retailer changed its e-commerce systems to avoid orders deemed too expensive to ship… The test applies to products shoppers buy most, including household cleaners, non-perishable groceries, pet food and cosmetics.”

Walmart maintains that the “out of stock” messaging is part of the company’s increased focus on ground shipping over air — a cost saving measure intended to improve their e-commerce numbers. The company anticipates e-commerce losses will be higher this year than in 2017, Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs told investors in August.

Even if the move is only a temporary glitch, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the company is literally turning down sales because, in part, of inventory management challenges. But the issue runs deeper than simply logistics — it also reveals that Walmart has yet to fully understand, (and operationalize against) their customers’ behaviors, needs, and habits. In other words, improving at Relationship Commerce could actually help them manage inventory better.

If merchants want to avoid the Walmart scenario, they need to develop an ongoing, and carefully managed, set of interactions with their customers that will help them better understand how they shop, not just what they’re shopping for.

If merchants want to avoid the Walmart scenario, they need to develop an ongoing, and carefully managed, set of interactions with their customers that will help them better understand how they shop, not just what they’re shopping for.

And that means more than just an Operations Management Suite. While a good OMS can help retailers understand changing in inventory and try to anticipate future needs, even the most effective OMS install won’t have the kinds of customer data points that retailers need to future-proof their operations. A fully functioning Relationship Commerce program, on the other hand, can combine inventory data with first-hand customer buying habits — which not only makes the experience seamless for buyers, but helps make an OMS more accurate and effective. And it doesn’t take a Wall Street Journal article to understand that better inventory management leads to massive cost savings.

Ultimately an effective Relationship Commerce platform doesn’t just make life easier for customers, it also helps businesses avoid the kind of decisions Walmart is currently faced with: whether they can afford to actually sell a product or not.