Manhattan focused on real-time inventory visibility

The most successful retailers have complete visibility of real-time in-store inventory enabling them to fulfil orders from the most profitable location, according to the UK boss of supply chain systems provider Manhattan Associates. Achieving this position, he says, is set to be a key focus for many industry players in the coming months.

Craig Sears-Black, managing director of Manhattan's UK and Ireland business, which has secured a number of contracts with large retailers in 2014, says the shift to real-time inventory visibility will shake up retail more than any other current development, boosting the accuracy and efficiency of all businesses that follow this path.

Systems and technology allowing retailers to integrate various channels, giving them an opportunity to fulfil customer orders from anywhere in the supply chain will become a "cornerstone" of industry practice, the senior exec told Essential Retail.

"The tech around managing in-store inventory is going to be the biggest transformational technology over the next 18 months," Sears-Black explained.

"Longer term, RFID will come of age again. Ten years ago there was a lot of work on it and, although it didn't break through, it's inevitable that the technology will have its time and I think that's now starting. When organisations such as Inditex make investments like this, others start to sit up and take notice."

It's been a productive year for Manhattan in the UK and Europe, with some major deals announced with large retailers, including Topshop parent company Arcadia Group, Spanish supermarket Alimerka and France-based fashion brand La Coste. Sir Philip Green, owner of Arcadia, said the partnership will ensure his brands' products "continue to be readily available to our customers throughout the world, no matter how they choose to shop with us – in-store and online".

The company is providing tailored services for each retailer, but the core component of each relationship revolves around the supply chain business's order management system. Indeed, Manhattan was named a leader in order management in market research group Forrester's Wave Omnichannel Order Management, Q3 2014 report, which was published in July.

"For any large high street chain, web sales have gone from around 2% just a few years ago to 20-25% and this pure volume increase has created a need to manage supply chains slightly differently," Sears-Black acknowledged.

"New systems are needed and that's where we come in providing high volume, capable systems with sophisticated multichannel capabilities built in."

Manhattan's area of focus in Europe, according to the managing director, is primarily on the UK, where he argues some of the most advanced and forward-thinking retailers currently operate. The company has recently moved its UK offices from Bracknell to Winnersh Triangle, keeping the business in the heart of the country's tech community.

However, other key markets for Manhattan include France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as Spain, where the company has been working with the likes of department store chain El Cort Ingles for the last two years.

Although some markets are naturally more developed in terms of their retail tech offering than others, all businesses are sharing similar challenges as they look to use the data they have available to them to better serve their customers.

Sears-Black suggests that the retailing community as a whole is gradually gaining an understanding of the direction it must take in order to stay relevant to an increasingly demanding consumer market.

"Retailers used to create their own systems to solve immediate problems, but now there is a reasonably well-understood road-map for getting from pure online retail to fully integrated multichannel retailing," he noted.

Like many technology companies in today's competitive retail market, Manhattan believes it has the tools and solutions that can take retailers on the journey to becoming truly multichannel in their operations.

Manhattan will be exhibiting at RBTE 2015. Visitors to the event, which will take place at London's Olympia between 10-11 March, can meet with Manhattan at Stand 512.

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