interior of Outdoor Voices location
Outdoor Voices' NewStore Omnichannel Platform allows for a more personalized, seamless interaction between store associates and customers. — Outdoor Voices

Activewear retailer Outdoor Voices is empowering its store associates to become conduits for omnichannel retailing.

The Austin, Texas-based company, which launched in 2014, has a robust online presence and operates a network of nine stores in several markets around the country. It is known for its stylish apparel designed to go from the gym to the street, as well as an inclusive approach to fitness and exercise, which the company expresses through marketing that shows everyday people engaging in physical activity.

As Outdoor Voices seeks to expand its omnichannel offerings to include more same-day delivery and buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) options, the company needed a system that made both its store and warehouse inventory visible to its store associates so that they could help customers complete orders for any item, whether that item is in stock at that particular store or not.

The move comes as consumers increasingly shop fluidly from their smartphones, desktop computers and in-store, and demand that the buying journey is quick, seamless and friction-free. So retailers must be operationally equipped to serve their growing omnichannel purchasing expectations.

In 2018, for example, 81.4% of internet users worldwide ordered items online for in-store pickup, up nearly 30 percentage points from the year-ago period, according to an iVend Retail report.

Outdoor Voices recently rolled out the NewStore Omnichannel Platform, which brings the online experience into its brick-and-mortar locations via iPhones carried by its store personnel.

The implementation coincides with the rollout of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags —which track inventory throughout the supply chain — on in-store merchandise, and the two technologies together are helping the company optimize its merchandising and assortments. The initiatives are helping create what the company calls its “store of the future,” where retail associates will be able to assist customers in selecting from a full range of fulfillment options as they shop and customers will transition seamlessly from online to in-store shopping.

It just gives us more insight and analytics in terms of how our stores are performing, and into how customers are responding to products in the store.

Kevin Harwood, vice president of technology, Outdoor Voices

“We’re looking to build a full omnichannel platform inside of our stores, and build a system that allows our associates to work very efficiently and not have to move from system to system,” Kevin Harwood, vice president of technology at Outdoor Voices, told CO—. “If there is an item that the customer wants that they don’t have in-stock in the store, the associate has all of the information they need in order to communicate to the customer their other options to get them that item.”

The technology also includes clienteling — personalized, one-on-one customer experience — capabilities that enable associates to view customers’ past transactions so they can make product suggestions or help customers find particular items they may have purchased previously.

What’s more, the NewStore implementation is helping stores process items that are fulfilled from the store level by organizing orders based on the specific delivery type requested by customers. For example, a store might have a combination of customer orders for in-store pickup, next-day delivery and standard, two-day shipping. The NewStore system prioritizes those orders to help associates process them efficiently, all within the iPhone app.

“We intend to bring ‘buy online, pick up in-store’ to the website later this year, and NewStore has other capabilities such as same-day delivery that we are also looking into for specific markets that we are already in,” said Harwood. “It’s a hard problem to go out and solve, and NewStore has been a great partner on that front.”

The NewStore implementation replaces an enterprise resource planning (ERP) technology that was not optimized for the current level of service the retailer is seeking to provide, said Harwood.

“It was certainly a frustration point in terms of using the system,” he said. “Now our associates are able to pick, pack and ship orders in some cases in less than 30 seconds using this application, which is fantastic.” Previously the pick, pack and ship from store process took about 15 minutes.

The NewStore application also includes new capabilities around returns and exchanges, which have improved the in-store customer experience, he said.

 Kevin Harwood headshot
Kevin Harwood, vice president of technology at Outdoor Voices. — Outdoor Voices

Meanwhile, Outdoor Voices is using RFID scanners from Zebra Technologies that plug into associates’ iPhones, allowing the retailer to conduct multiple inventory counts per week in its stores and warehouses with 99% accuracy, Harwood said. This enables Outdoor Voices to make more of its inventory visible in the system, so that associates can quickly determine where items are available and provide fulfillment solutions for customers using NewStore apps.

Outdoor Voices also scans items as they are moved from the back of the house to the sales floor, which helps the retailer monitor what items are selling.

“It just gives us more insight and analytics in terms of how our stores are performing, and into how customers are responding to products in the store,” said Harwood.

The ability to view inventory levels throughout a retailer’s store and warehouse network facilitates omnichannel fulfillment, according to analysts.

“Inventory visibility across the entire company makes it easier to balance supply and demand in real time,” Deloitte said in a recent report.

Offering omnichannel shopping adds inventory complexity, the report explained, because fluctuations in demand can vary not only by product, but also by channel.

If all goes according to plan, the success of the system will be measured in terms of incremental revenues generated through omnichannel sales, Harwood said.

An added benefit of having the system on a mobile app on iPhones is that associates can also use the system off-premises as needed. This will become a critical element of the omnichannel customer experience as the company seeks to extend its reach beyond the four walls into the community at local events, Harwood explained.

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