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The Key to COVID-19 Recovery: Managing and Selling Excess Inventory Through E-Commerce

According to Adobe, U.S. ecommerce sales increased by 49 percent in April this year, compared to early March when shelter-in-place restrictions went into effect. However, as a result of COVID-19, online apparel retailers are dealing with an assortment of inventory challenges.

One common issue retailers are experiencing is that certain inventory is beginning to pile up due to both fulfillment delays and consumers adopting cautious purchasing behaviors in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. And unfortunately, most of these issues are beyond a retailer’s control.

While many are responding to this issue by offering discounts such as BOGO, or even saving their spring collection inventory for next year, retailers can easily modify an ecommerce site to adapt and respond to any fluctuation in stock levels, and find solutions to keep inventory moving during this time.

Highlight products with boost rules

Make it easier for shoppers to find the products they are most likely to buy by using boosting rules. Boosting rules create a dynamic order for products in a feed based on how shopper data matches against pre-set rules. Leveraging site data in this way allows retailers to align product results to customer spending and promote historic best-sellers that resonate with audiences.

For example, as consumers continue to work from home and search for appropriate clothing, why not put loungewear front and center instead of business attire? Many retailers have created dedicated “working from home” categories, promoting a range of apparel. In addition to being featured on the dedicated landing page, products that meet boosting rules can continue to be highlighted throughout category pages on the site, driving shoppers to these items and increasing customer satisfaction.

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Cross-sell and upsell with bundling

For products that are selling well, consider how they might be paired with slower-moving stock. Grouping inventory in this strategic way can make it more manageable for a retailer to clear out items that are less likely to sell on their own. What’s more, according to McKinsey, personalized product recommendations are estimated to account for more than 35 percent of purchases on Amazon.

In practice, a company might bundle a pajama set with matching house slippers in the form of a discounted self-care package. In a similar vein, retailers should ensure that products frequently paired together are shown as recommended items. If a shopper is looking at patterned athletic leggings, making them aware that there is a matching tank top will improve the chance of cross-selling.

Historically, for shoppers who only visit a site with one specific product in mind, cross-selling and upselling is a great strategy for informing shoppers of related items, making them more likely to add these items to their basket.

Introduce rule-based merchandising

Using rule-based merchandising can boost low-stock or on-sale products and automatically rotate what’s being promoted to keep a site fresh. Retailers can easily set criteria for when products should move up and down results pages. For example, when one product starts selling well, decide whether it should be boosted to the top of results, or if slower sellers should be prioritized.

Flash sales are another option, allowing the retailer to trial deep discounts for limited-time periods and move stock quickly. What’s more, taking an automated, rule-based approach saves time that would otherwise be spent manually choosing which products to promote, and allows the retailer to focus on more pressing issues.

Keeping inventory moving today is more important than ever

For retailers struggling to shift stock, it’s important to review e-commerce merchandising strategies to see how clever adjustments can improve conversions. Creating banners and badges to highlight products that are high in stock and ready to ship instantly signals to customers that the brand is open for business and encourages them to browse. What’s more, excess inventory shouldn’t stagnate on page two of search results.

Any on-site tactics should be further supported by advertising and marketing campaigns to make the shopper aware of new offerings. Featuring products in general pay-per-click ads or influencer marketing can help push sales and make promotional efforts comprehensive. By driving customers to an online store where products are boosted, bundled, highlighted and promoted, retailers can keep sales moving until product levels even out.

James Bathgate is vice president of implementations for Searchspring, a provider of intelligent site search and merchandising solutions for a new generation of online retailers. More than anything, he’s a problem solver. Whether that’s figuring out the best way to attack a problem with code, creating a process to optimize efficiency, or sitting down with a customer and talking through an issue with them, he loves solving problems.