Devlyn Optical had to get a master list of its inventory to achieve a successful ship-from-store omnichannel strategy.

Selling eyeglasses is logistically intensive, says Andrew Devlyn, director of innovation at Devlyn Optical.

The retailer conducts eye exams, sells frames, sends the frames to a lab to get fitted with lenses and then ships the frames to the customer or to a store for pickup. Devlyn Optical sells mainly in Mexico, but also has stores in the U.S., Guatemala and El Salvador.

Devlyn Optical operates 1,200 physical stores and has a sizable inventory catalog: The retailer has 75,000 frames and about 130,000 SKUs when counting frames in different colors, contact lenses and sunglass frames.

The problem, however, is that each store has about 800-1,200 SKUs per store, and only one or two units of inventory per SKU.

“If you didn’t have it, you couldn’t sell it,” Devlyn says.

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The retailer knew it needed to make its stores more productive in generating sales, Devlyn says. It wanted to ensure that if a shopper couldn’t find a product in the store, the retailer could still showcase its deep product catalog and hopefully close the sale online, he says.

In order to do this, Devlyn Optical had to do two things: Achieve one master list of inventory and have buy-in from its 3,700 stores associates.

The retailer deployed the Magento order management plugin into its Magento e-commerce platform to keep track of inventory in its stores, one warehouse and 70 labs. The labs are were the retailer fits the prescription lenses to the frames. The labs also keep a small supply of the most popular frames. The labs receive frames and ship them back to stores or directly to customers, essentially making the labs double as mini warehouses.

Devlyn Optical’s associates can be the first promoters of DevlynOptical.com since they are working with shoppers who are trying on glasses. However, part of their salary is a commission based on the number of sales attributed to them. Devlyn Optical struggles with this as many associates do not want to encourage shoppers to shop online because they fear they’ll lose on their commission, Devlyn says.

As a part of this inventory management system rollout, the retailer equipped many of its store associates with tablets. An associate can login and view inventory across all stores, show product to a shopper and place an order. In this format, the sale attributes to that associate. Some of the smaller optical stores Devlyn operates in big-box stores don’t have tablets, in which case associates use a computer or a smartphone to look at the master list of inventory.

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While this helps attribute online orders to associates, its still a learning process “to break the fear” of losing sales, Devlyn says.

When an associate makes an order from the store or a shopper makes an order online, the order management system decides which store, lab or warehouse will fulfill the order based on the distance the product has to travel in total from the store to the lab to the shopper.

It took about six months for Devlyn Optical to unify its inventory and enable online ordering through stores.

Omnichannel sales grew from “almost nothing” to about 3-4% of revenue in 2017, and the retailer expects this to double to about 6-7% of sales by the end of 2018.

Devlyn Optical considers an “omnichannel sale” a sale that starts in the store and the store associate places the order to ship to the customer or to the store. It also considers an order placed online by a customer who received an eye exam at a store an omnichannel sale. In Mexico, it is common for consumers to get their exam at the eyeglass store as opposed to visiting an eye doctor, Devlyn says.

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The cost for the Magento order management plugin software is annual, although Devlyn declined to reveal specifics. “The value is unparalleled,” Devlyn says. “We got the investment back in months based on the revenue going through it.”

Devlyn Optical has a few checks and balances in place to ensure store inventory remains accurate. District managers visit stores quarterly to check the store inventory against the digital system, and managers are asked to check a random assortment of 10 SKUs each week.

Managers also can note in the system if inventory was not there or damaged. This is especially helpful for fulfilling orders from another store, Devlyn says. For example, if a shopper is in the store and notices a small scratch on the frame, she may ask for a discount or a new, undamaged frame. Face to face, an associate can offer a discount. However, if an associate from a different store sells that frame to a shopper, the shopper might be upset if she receives the scratched frame. Now, managers can note on each SKU if there is damage, and to what level, so an associate in a different location can be upfront with shoppers about the condition of the product and offer a discount if necessary.

Next, the retailer wants to incorporate data the order management system tracks about products. For example, if a frame sells well in one store but not in another store, the system could suggest to rotate that frame out and suggest new products for the store. The retailer also wants to incorporate visual search technology into its tablet software so associates can look up products faster.

Devlyn Optical’s e-commerce sales, which are sales directly off of its website with no assistance from a store, are a little bit more than 1% of sales, he says, noting that most consumers come into the store to get their prescription. Online sales are mostly of contact lenses and sunglasses, he says. While this may seem low, in general e-commerce sales in Mexico are “pretty behind from the U.S.,” Devlyn says, and represented around 2.3% of retail sales in 2017, compared with 13.0% of total retail sales in the U.S., according to Internet Retailer estimates.

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