In response to the negative impacts a push environment may have on the supply chain, many retailers and suppliers have adopted a pull strategy for replenishment over the last 10 years. In this environment, the flow of goods is dictated by consumer demand. Instead of pushing product to store shelves and hoping consumers will buy it, businesses allow their inventory levels to be controlled by actual consumption using consumer-demand data. This replenishment strategy is especially important when it comes to products for which consumers have a lot of choices.
While there are many advantages to the pull approach – higher service levels, lower carrying costs, decreased inventory levels and fewer markdowns – there are some drawbacks. Chiefly, companies that rely solely on pull replenishment are susceptible to forecast inaccuracies if inventory planning is done incorrectly. A forecast is simply a guess since consumer-buying behaviors are not always predictable. Basing a forecast entirely on what products sell or are invoiced for may result in a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the company only plans and replenishes based on past performance. In order for pull planning to be successful, it must be based on true demand. That alone can present a major challenge for today’s companies. By pulling inventory into its network, retailers and suppliers can only carry inventory based on what they believe their consumers will want to purchase.
Companies employing a pull-only replenishment approach may also fail to have the right products in the right place at the right time. This happens if there are rules in place that could potentially drive sales outside of a company’s typical picture of consumer demand. All too often, retailers that rely solely on demand-based replenishment hold inventory in their distribution centers instead of sending it to their stores – as such, consumers may not find the styles or sizes they want on the store shelf, forcing them to place orders with the store to receive the goods they want. This can irritate those who seek instant gratification when shopping.