Minus the chore of finding a good parking spot and lugging around multiple shopping bags, online retailers are trying to replicate in-store experiences for their customers in the digital world. And other than a few snags, they’re getting much better at it.

One of the snags tripping up many retailers, however, is the big task of inventory management. More often than shoppers would like, an item is placed into an online shopping cart – maybe even purchased – before finding out later that it is no longer in stock. On Cyber Monday 2013, for example, frustrations mounted for bargain hunters as a bulk of items still on display turned out to be unavailable for purchase.

The rub here is that with the robust technologies available to retailers, online shoppers shouldn’t have to find out at checkout that an item is out of stock. Real-time inventory features exist on many eCommerce platforms to avoid these situations; retailers just have to take advantage of them. When they do, their online stores would only represent the items that are in stock – letting shoppers see online merchandise availability as they would on a physical store’s rack.

This inventory-tracking capability eliminates the problem of learning too late that an item is out-of-stock while at the same time enhancing the user experience. Depending on the retailers’ preferences, there are many ways to configure inventory management when products are out-of-stock:

  1. Remove display of item until inventory is restocked
  2. Retain the item in display, but suspend fulfillment (with customer notification) until inventory is restocked
  3. Retain the item in display, but offer alerts to shoppers when the inventory is replenished and is available for purchase again

To handle inventory more effectively, businesses are getting on board with the idea of omni-channel retailing and are integrating and connecting their sales channels with their back-office operations. The more that retailers integrate, the easier inventory management becomes. And the easier inventory management becomes, the easier it is to offer more omni-channel features to further blur the lines between online and in-store experiences – completing the happy circle of retail life.

So beyond the issue of out-stock items, when omni-channel is at the core of a retailer’s operations, a customer’s options are greatly expanded. They can order items online and instantly learn the exact shipping date without worrying that some items might not arrive. Or, if it suits them better, customers can check a store’s website for product availability, then drive to their local store for pickup to save on shipping costs.

Lucky for customers and sellers, getting systems to collaborate has become simpler and more transparent as the IT industry continues to move toward open-standards-based architectures. Systems and software designed with open standards can interoperate with other systems regardless of operating systems or hardware platforms, taking the complexity and high cost out of IT and putting IT to work to manage the business with more consistency and continuity than ever before.

To give customers an online shopping experience that’s just as good – or even better – than shopping in-store, get in touch with the team at NetSphere Strategies, which has experience integrating sales channels with back-office operations. To learn more about the pillars of omni-channel retailing, download the list below.