Tackling Retail's Inventory Glut

Jason Hosking

CEO & co-founder, HIVERY

Modern retail is grappling with vast, dynamic shifts in demand and supply. The key to leveraging AI-powered retail analytics is to turn this challenge into actionable insights. By harnessing AI, we can optimize inventory management, test assortment strategies, reduce redundancy, and unearth growth opportunities even in low-performing stores. Furthermore, AI allows us to fine-tune merchandising rules, tailor planograms, and swiftly respond to shopper insights, significantly reducing the instance of overstock or out-of-stock scenarios. AI is not just a tool but a game-changer, offering a blueprint for retail resilience and success. Our team has created an infographic to capture this sentiment.

Jason Hosking, CEO & Cofounder, HIVERY

Bryan Dove

CEO, CommerceHub

From the pandemic through today there have been significant shifts and overcorrections in managing inventories. Retailers on our network increasing leverage our network to help solve these challenges. Rethinking inventory strategies to adopt asset-light ecommerce models like drop ship and marketplace empower retailers to scale back on the inventory they purchase and warehouse, but still offer more curated products to their customers. They are also realizing that an extensive commerce network powering an asset-light strategy generates valuable, actionable data that can be used for more predictive consumer demand modeling. This enables retailers to better forecast demand spikes and adapt to changing patterns of consumer behavior faster than they could previously, based on data rather than intuition.

Bryan Dove, CEO, CommerceHub

Josh Tsui

CEO, Floship

Many overstocked warehouses and higher inventory levels are a result of changes in consumer preferences as many retailers are still holding onto items that were popular during the pandemic including household appliances. Retailers are now adopting flexible inventory strategies to better manage the flow of goods to avoid product shortages or excess inventories—ensuring they have merchandise where it needs to be when it needs to be there. We’re seeing retailers adopting an omni-fulfillment approach toward their inventory backlog and in parallel, leveraging their supply chain technology partners to optimize stock levels and make the best use of their available warehouse space to ensure that they have sufficient space to accommodate expanding in-demand product ranges and mitigate the impact of rising warehousing costs.

Josh Tsui, CEO, Floship

Lee Kimball

SVP/General Manager, TrueCommerce

Unforeseen market conditions have had significant impact on traditional supply chain behavior. Retailers are now challenged with high storage and labor costs, wasted inventory, and missed customer expectations. Companies that are involved in vendor managed inventory (VMI), which relies on current data from all trading partners to produce orders, are able to take steps to avoid inventory inflation, while mitigating many of the aforementioned challenges. VMI improves efficiency of supply chain teams enabling them to focus on more strategic initiatives. Since it is a collaboration between retailers and their suppliers, VMI can more accurately forecast demand and prevent overstock, reducing the impact of the volatile market conditions on their supply chain.

Lee Kimball, SVP/General Manager, TrueCommerce

Noah Hoffman

As a global logistics company serving over 7,500 retail customers, one of the main ways we see retailers rethinking their strategy is optimizing smaller orders. While many retailers have worked through their excess inventory from last year, they’re restocking cautiously. For those smaller and more frequent orders, retailers have often relied on their manufacturing or CPG suppliers to arrange for delivery. They’re now realizing how inefficient that is. That approach usually results in paying more than they need to and getting inconsistent service from a patchwork of trucking companies. Instead, they’re achieving economies of scale by consolidating small orders with one logistics provider who has a nationwide network and fulfilment capabilities.

Noah Hoffman, VP, North American Surface Transportation, C.H. Robinson

Yosh Eisbart

Retailers are undergoing significant transformation in their inventory strategies, capitalizing on warehousing innovation to gain a competitive advantage. Drawing from Fulfilld’s interactions with clients and on-ground observations, we’ve witnessed the markets reshaping retail supply chains via disruptive technology driving warehousing efficiency gain thru the integration of genetic AI, digital twin, and enhanced user experience. Genetic AI algorithms are now enabling retailers to optimize inventory levels by analyzing vast datasets and identifying demand patterns. This results in improved efficiency and reduced costs. Digital twin technology has also emerged as a valuable tool, allowing retailers to create virtual replicas of their warehouses and simulate “what-if” scenarios such as adding more workers, directing warehousing worker flow, and simulating automation. By optimizing layouts, workflows, and resource allocation, retailers can realize enhanced space utilization (slotting) and operational efficiency (reducing wasted footsteps). Finally, another opportunity seen is improving the user experience. Intuitive mobile warehouse worker interfaces, real-time data visualization, and step-by-step warehouse worker path mapping have the ability to empower warehouse staff to make informed decisions swiftly. By streamlining processes and reducing errors, retailers can meet customer demands more effectively reducing labor cost and driving profitability.

Yosh Eisbart, CEO and Co-Founder, Fulfilld

Rob Schuurman

Retailers are adapting to shifts in consumer preferences and supply chain disruptions by rethinking inventory strategies. This involves diversifying sources, adopting local sourcing, utilizing data analytics for demand forecasting, integrating online and offline channels, and reducing inventory levels. We believe RFID technology has emerged as a game-changer, as it has the power to unlock an increase in sales and rapidly improve efficiency and reduce cost by automating processes. RFID technology aids in real-time inventory tracking, improving accuracy, enhancing customer experience through better stock visibility, preventing losses from theft, reduce waste, and facilitating data collection for insightful analysis. These measures enable retailers to maintain optimal inventory levels while staying agile and responsive to changing market conditions.

Rob Schuurman, Chief Commercial Officer, Nedap

Drew Wilkerson

Retail and e-commerce inventories are in a significantly better position than they were 12 months ago, but we are watching consumer demand closely to see how peak season will play out. The rate of change of the volume growth within RXO’s retail and e-commerce customer set improved from the fourth quarter of 2022 to the first quarter of 2023. We know that the back-to-school season is going to be pivotal for this sector, and retailers are going to need to ensure there is new product available for back-to-school and the peak season in the fourth quarter.

Drew Wilkerson, CEO, RXO

Nicolas Chee

Retailers sitting on excessive unsold inventory highlights the need for them to adapt their inventory strategies to the changing demand and supply dynamics. Through my interactions with clients and industry observations, I have witnessed retailers rethinking their inventory strategies to their advantage. They are leveraging automation solutions, such as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), to enhance inventory management, optimize order fulfillment, and reduce carrying costs. By implementing AMRs, retailers achieve faster and more accurate order processing, improve visibility into inventory levels, and minimize stockouts or overstocks. These advancements enable retailers to streamline their supply chains, respond to shifts in demand, and improve their bottom line.

Nicolas Chee, CEO & Founder, ForwardX Robotics

John Sharkey

What we’re seeing is a hangover from lead time disruptions during COVID that exposed weaknesses in many companies. Longer lead times mean more forecast error exposure and if you’re forecasting 9 months out, you’re guessing. This leads to a classic bullwhip effect with shortages of hot products and overstocks of others. Where we’ve had success with our clients is focusing on end consumer demand to eliminate latency and implementing supply strategies with conservative bets on low cost/offshore options and quick response but more expensive local supply options to fill in gaps. It's harder than it sounds but it's not rocket science.

John Sharkey, CEO, Spinnaker SCA

Michael Mathias

The retail inventory glut affects the entire supply chain - our wholesale clients are dealing with full warehouses and their production partners overseas are aggressively trying to move goods. When the retailer slows down, it sends a painful whiplash effect across the rest of the chain.

Many wholesalers are just trying to ride out the year. Once retailers clear their backlog, their orders will continue to be more conservative, out of fear of repeating pandemic-related overordering. The supply chain pendulum imbalance is temporary; lack of confidence will take longer to fix.

We’re seeing wholesalers looking at nearshore sourcing options to reduce traditional six-month lead times and retailers seeking partners to help manage inventory risks - holding stock or shortening lead times to give retailers time to evaluate inventory needs. This is advantageous for well-capitalized vendors (who can carry the risk), but challenging for smaller, less capitalized vendors.

Michael Mathias, CEO, Whereoware


Tackling Retail's Inventory Glut