Stores need to post their inventories on the web

Say I’m in the mood for Jarritos Mandarina and Maui Onion-flavored Blue Diamond almonds. Is there a store near me that carries both of them?

Or say I want some Levi 501s. Should I drive all the way to the mall to find out if they have my size? (I certainly don’t want to call and be put on hold for 10 minutes by a minimum-wage douchenozzle.)

This information oughta be at hand, searchable, by location. So I don’t have to sit here with Fanta, spanish peanuts, and ill-fitting pants.

Hey, Google, GET ON IT!

Memo to Google: I am available to be hired at the VP level. I have good people skills. I won’t call any other managers ‘douchenozzle’ (to their face), because I’m a team player.

I work retail and we have a computerized inventory system. We collectlively loathe it. Why? Because it is innacurate. It is the same , age old computer problem - Garbage in, Garbage out.

Let’s say you want a left handed monkey adaptor. In front of you, I pull up the inventory information, and it shows we have 7 in stock.

Do we actually have 7 in stock? Your guess is as good as mine.

Things that go wrong_

  1. Bad physical count at last inventory - some one mistook the right handed monkey adaptors for the left handed ones, and entered a bad number.
  2. Someone returned a Left handed monkey adaptor that was so badly stained with mint jelly that it had to be discarded. But it means the inventory gets one aded.
  3. there are 6 left handed monkey adaptors “on hold” for pick up. Since they haven’t gone through the till yet, they show as still in inventory
  4. Recieving error. When items are recieved at our warehouse, they are automatically added to our inventory. If our shipper/reciever doesn’t catch the error (happens quite a lot when you are recieving 9 semis of assorted goods a week), they get added to the inventory with out actually existing.
  5. Stuff gets lost in our ware house. A box gets put in front of the Left handed monkey adaptors, and no one can find them.
  6. they get broken, loose parts or are otherwise in an unsalable condition while in storage/display at our store. but do not get removed from our inventoryu.
  7. They get stolen (The market for"hot" left handed monkey adaptors is quite lucrative - check your’s to see if the serial number is filed off). Since we don’t alkways know when an item is stolen, it doesn’t get removed from the inventory system.

There are probably dozens of other ways computerized inventory systems can go wonky. I have worked retail at several places which used these types of systems screw up. I also know people who work in other retail situations and their compliants/observations echo my own.

That’s one reason that stores don’t like to make those numbers public - because they are generally wrong. If you do phone a store and ask if they have left handed monkey adaptors in stock, ask them (nicely please) to do a physical check before you drive 600 miles through the frozen wastes, to avoid disapointment.

FML’s Left handed Monkey Adaptor Shack - Serving The Grerater Uzbekistan Area for just over 50 weeks!

Yeah, the whole problem with an online inventory in the brick/mortar world is that you can’t trust it. There are too many chances that the data is out of date. What if the store you pick shows 1 or 2 units left, and the last update was 6 hours ago? Even if an object gets scanned with every movement in the store and then again at checkout, once the inventory drops to a certain point, all you need is an everyday screw-up to find the shelf empty.

Not to mention that they’re hoping you come in and don’t find any left-handed monkey adaptors, but, hey, you need batteries, and wouldn’t you like to subscribe to Entertainment Weekly?

Full Metal Lotus, I feel your pain, but most of the problems you mention with tjhe database are really poor programming. Examples:

If the program can’t distinguish between items on hold and items shipped or actually received, you need a better program. If something gets added to the inventory without actually being present, the program has a semi-sized hole in its logic.

Also, some of the problems you describe, like the box of left-handed monkey parts in the wrong place, may be solved in the near future with more common use of RFID tags or other inventory tracking devices. These can serve as crude locators and will help to reduce such errors. They might also help avoid “shrinkage” which right now is one of the most common causes of database errors in otherwise well-designed systems.

So the concept of online inventory is good, but the system needs to be good to be useful.

Musicat (love the name BTW)

I agree…

For the most part.

Setting up a new, improved inventory managment system costs costs costs.
The learning curve and transition costs are signifigant… (for Home Depot it was $350 million). And - the new system did not actually fix the problems.

as to distinguishing between held items and available items it means you are adding at least two steps and probably four to the transaction process. Our staff typically rushes from start to finish. They will bel simply delighted to see that a hold now takes 3-5 minutes longer. Secondly, a phone hold customer is typically phoning long distance, or is under other time pressures. I am sure that they will be delighted while the extra 3-5 minutes of being on hold allows them to sit and stare into space.

I too await the day RFIDs come into serious action, but during the transition (up to a decade at current estimates) some of our suppliers will be able to use them, and others won’t. Bet that adds a ton of effieciency.

I appreciate your optimism, and hope that my comments do not come accross as “too snarky” - they were not meant to sound that way.


Full Metal Lotus hit the nail on the head.

Our computerised stock level information ranges from “accurate” to “works of complete fiction”.

As a general rule, we deduct 1 unit from whatever the computer says is supposed to be there (to account for theft/loss/damage/other things as outlined by FML), and if there’s any less than 2 in stock, we’ll physically go and look for the item before confirming whether or not we have any to a customer…

OK, forget a dynamic real-time inventory being available. I’ll have to go to the mall to find out if they have my size of Levi’s.

But how about a list of what items the store carries in general? I want to know if Safeway sells Starburst jellybeans. Surely this is a useful feature of the internet that must be coming soon…

This is called a catalog. Bigger stores like Wal*Mart, Target and Best Buy do have them online. Why not more stores? I dunno; I agree it would be useful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a store looking for a particular thing only to be surprised that they didn’t carry it.

Package tracking is improving and will continue to become more automated. Bar codes were the first step, RFIDs the next, GPS might follow. Imagine what time it would take for a clerk to manually enter the serial number of every single package that came across the loading dock, then enter it again when it moved to storage, then again when it moved out to somewhere else. Not practical. But if the serial number can easily be captured as it passes by a reader, or if a reader can be held up to a palette and it can grab all numbers at once, detailed tracking becomes practical.

Look at how UPS and Fedex do it now. Each package is tracked at major transition points in the system, and a shipper or recipient can observe this online. This is possible only because of the automation.

Personally, I wish UPs & Fedex would track packages with a little more detail, and I think that’s what you want, too. If I find my package was last seen “out for delivery” but doesn’t arrive for 2 days, the system has some holes. The “granularity” needs to be reduced.

Perhaps GPS tracking of the trucks or planes in between assembly points would be a good idea, and it’s certainly technically feasible. It would be hard to lose a package if its GPS location was known within a few feet.