In the hyper-competitive retail industry simply having a good product or catchy slogan isn’t enough. Retailers must become masters of execution. Every step, from meticulously planning for customer demand to ensuring a smooth supply chain, has become vital to staying competitive. For those who stumble, the consequences can be swift and unforgiving.

Brands that are getting it right can’t afford to rest on their laurels – staying ahead is a multifaceted challenge. How do retail leaders further optimise? How do they prioritise the next move that will deliver the most value? Finally, how do you gauge progress?

Here are some key disciplines that retailers can focus on to improve execution, along with the metrics that matter when building a best-in-class business.

Solving the inventory equation

With artificial intelligence (AI) now lending a hand, retailers can take a more automated and data-driven approach to inventory management. For example, in the warehouse, AI can be used to analyse market and sales trends to inform replenishment strategies and automate ‘First Expired, First Out’ systems, while internet-connected sensors allow for real-time stock visibility, predictive equipment maintenance, and maximised space utilisation. Retail leaders should prioritise metrics like order picking accuracy and order cycle time to provide valuable insights into performance.

Optimising the order journey

Sixty percent of consumers prioritise fast shipping and 53 percent seek flexible delivery options. A next-level order management system ensures consistent efficiency across all channels and throughout the order lifecycle – including returns and exchanges. As faster on-time deliveries with real-time order tracking become the norm, shipping costs drop with location-based fulfilment and routing, and a 360° view empowers continuous process improvement.

It might seem daunting to achieve this retail nirvana, but retailers should focus on reducing fulfilment times and increasing orders processed per resource as a first step.

Forecasting future demand

Many retailers rely on adhoc historical sales data and basic assortment planning for demand strategy. While this gets the job done, the journey to best-in-class forecasting involves a more disciplined process. The next step for retailers to gain a deeper understanding of demand patterns is to introduce regular reviewing of past sales trends, modelling with configurable attributes and automated data imports. Integration with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system unlocks seasonal analysis capabilities, new product launch impact assessment, and even informs supply chain plans.

To expand margins and drive revenue, retailers should measure product line performance, sales channel performance, and effectiveness of cross and up-selling. They should also look at the percentage of products discounted at the end of a season or lifecycle.

Streamline sourcing and supply chain management

With a strong grip on demand planning, retailers can start to build out supply chain processes and manage suppliers more effectively. Best-in-class retailers have mastered complete supply chain transparency and planning with dynamic forecasting and modelling, automated purchase order pricing, buyer scorecarding, and contract management.

Retailers that are getting it right will also see a healthy inventory turnover ratio, which is a measure of how efficiently it can convert inventory purchases into revenue. Seeing improvement in inventory turnover naturally has wider business benefits too, including improved cash flow, reduced interest costs, and even lower warehouse expenses.

Australian-based gourmet chocolatier, Koko Black, is one example of a business that has seen the benefits from focusing on inventory management. Since overhauling its system in response to significant ecommerce growth, its business leaders are now able to track the profitability on every unit sold in real time.

The co-ordinated execution of retail is a complex, data-rich process. But by ruthlessly focusing on priority areas, measuring the right data, and automating processes, retail leaders can put their best foot forward and propel their business forward.

Scott Wiltshire is vice president & general manager for Oracle NetSuite ANZ.