Relay - Quick Start Guide

Custom-fit Your Endless Aisle with Relay

A Running Enthusiast avatar
Written by A Running Enthusiast
Updated over a week ago

Relay enables retailers to extend the product selection in their eCommerce store to include additional items that brands (like Brooks, Altra, On Running, etc.) have available in their B2B warehouse(s), even products and product variants that the retailer doesn’t have on hand.

This video illustrates the retailer's Relay experience in detail:

The Relay Process

In the eCommerce store shopping experience, products from the retailer's on-hand inventory are combined with "virtual" products and variants from Relay to provide shoppers with a seamless combination of all product options, regardless of whether a selection is on-hand at the retail store, available "virtually" from the brand, or both.

If a shopper purchases a Relay item, the retailer receives a special notification, then orders that item on behalf of the shopper directly from the brand using their existing retailer/brand relationship, systems, and processes to arrange for the product to be delivered to the store or drop-shipped to their shopper directly.

How Relay Works

Simply put, Relay gives retailers the ability to complement their on hand inventory with available warehouse inventory (often referred to by the shorthand "B2B inventory") from top brands on their eCommerce site.

The online shopper's buying experience is the same whether the product they purchase is on hand at the retail store or "virtual" in the brand's warehouse. All payments are processed at the moment of sale and take place between the shopper and the retailer. When a retailer receives notification of a sale from their Run Free Project eCommerce site, they simply log in as administrators to review the order.

If the order includes on hand inventory, the retailer picks the inventory and notifies the customer based on the customer's shipping preference.

If the order includes Relay items, the retailer "swivel-chairs" to the brand's B2B site and places a drop-ship order with the brand directly using their existing brand/retailer relationship.

It is important to note that the process a retailer follows with a brand will vary by brand, as will any constraints that may be in place around drop-shipping. This arrangement is handled directly between the retailer and brand as they see fit.

The Run Free Project's Role

The Run Free Project does not broker any monetary transactions between retailers and brands nor do we collect any commissions or fees from Relay sales.

Our role is ensuring that retailers and their customers are presented with accurate inventory data from the brands. Our platform is also responsible for merging data between the brand feeds that contain Relay inventory and the retailer's POS inventory in such a way as to automate the customer-facing, combined presentation of product availability. This is a four-step process:

  1. Each Relay partner brand sends an inventory feed to the Run Free Project on a recurring basis (typically nightly).

  2. Each retailer's POS cycles feeds of their on hand inventory to the Run Free Project platform in real-time.

  3. The Run Free Project platform ingests and processes both data feeds. When the day's Relay inventory feed is processed, the platform adjusts product availability based on availability indicated in the feed. If fewer than qty 20 of a particular item are available in the brand's inventory feed, that UPC is marked as "out of stock" for the day. Each time a new feed is sent from the brand (daily in most cases), it is processed, and availability is automatically updated by the Run Free platform.

  4. The retailer is able to list or combine their on hand inventory with Relay virtual inventory on a per SKU basis and set the source preferences (e.g. on hand sells first then Relay). When a retailer toggles SKUs on, they show as available for sale to shoppers and present a seamless purchasing experience regardless of inventory source (Relay vs. on hand).

A Note on Relay Product Pricing

When we designed Relay, our intent was to include MAP pricing as appropriate for the products under its umbrella. However, in testing, the MAP pricing data from brands was inaccurate with enough consistency that the endeavor had to be abandoned entirely.

Instead, the Run Free Project lists MSRP pricing for all Relay products. Once a product appears in your Run Free admin portal, pricing updates become your responsibility. We do not restrict your ability to edit product details, even for Relay products, nor will we overwrite any such data outside of inventory counts.

If/when the brands provide consistently accurate MAP pricing, we will reconsider building MAP pricing updates into the Run Free platform. We are optimistic that the standards being defined as part of the Running Industry Association's (RIA) Product Data Collaborative (PDC) will provide a scaffolding that encourages more accurate and consistent product information from brands. Industry-wide data standards will be transformative for all of us and will enable even greater automation such as trustworthy automated MAP pricing updates for eCommerce.

Why Do I Sometimes See a B2B & Relay Inventory Mismatch?

It's not uncommon to see small differences in product availability between the retailer's B2B account and Relay within the Run Free platform. When reviewing Relay inventory availability in general, there are three overarching considerations to take into account.

First, while the intent is for the brands to provide Run Free Project with inventory feeds that mirror their B2B portal's product availability, the inventory feeds they send to us don't always match perfectly. It turns out that we're not actually referencing data from the brand's B2B portals themselves, the data comes to Run Free in the form of a big spreadsheet (commonly referred to as an 846 feed). As a result, it is possible to find a product with availability in the brand's B2B portal that isn't included in the inventory feed they send us.

For example, in the past, New Balance elected to withhold some of its most high-volume sellers from their inventory feeds (such as the 1080 and 880). Therefore, although those styles were available in the New Balance B2B portal, they weren't available in Relay because New Balance purposefully withheld them from the feed they sent to us. In another example, Saucony only updated inventory feeds with newly-released products on the 6th of each month following its release. This resulted in a delay in newly-released Saucony product availability in Relay. As you can imagine, each brand has specific quirks that may impact the comparative equivalence between the retailer B2B availability and Relay.

The second thing to keep in mind is that since we get feeds from the brands only once a day, we have to hedge product availability in a way that decreases the likelihood of the brand running out of stock of any given item during the 24 hour window between feed updates. We do that by establishing a minimum stock threshold. In most cases, that threshold is 20. So, if the brand has 20 or fewer of a specific item in the feed they send us, it will show as N/A in your Run Free platform portal. If we didn't build in this buffer, the incidence of Relay orders for products that were sold out would be incredibly high.

As such, you will see small differences between the "right now" of a brand's B2B portal and their product availability in Relay. For example, the Altra Men's Outroad 2 in Black/Red (AL0A82C3061) shows as RELAY N/A in Run Free:

However, as shown below in the snippet from product feed they sent to Run Free the previous night, there was availability across multiple sizes. Since, none of the product options available in their feed exceeded the 20 minimum threshold, they were marked as unavailable, which shows as RELAY N/A in the quantity column of the product section of your Run Free platform admin portal.

To illustrate further, since the product feed is effectively a snapshot of brand inventory at a specific moment in time, it's perfectly reasonable for that inventory to change as the day unfolds. See below for a screen grab from Altra's B2B portal at the time of this writing, roughly 12 hours after the arrival of their Relay inventory feed data pictured earlier in this section.

The third consideration to account for is that all data that comes from the brands must be curated by the Run Free Project Relay team, who ensures every product's images, descriptions, and pricing is accurate and in the proper format before enabling them to be seen by retailers. In some cases, the Relay team may have a backlog of products to curate, which could create a delay in its appearance in Relay.

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