Do Endless Aisles Mean Endless Happiness for Shoppers?
I was recently in one of my favorite stores. (It is definitely a short list). After searching the aisles, I found a display with the exact item — a grill accessory — I wanted. Score! Oh, wait. Not so fast. Murphy’s Law in full effect, of course it was out of stock.
The retailer did have it in inventory in some remote warehouse. The salesman chirped, we can ship it to you for free! You can expect delivery in a week or so!
While free shipping is great and in-store ordering is convenient, neither were useful to me since I was shopping on Wednesday night and needed the item for a cookout on Sunday. So, while I was still in the store I grabbed my phone, shopped some competitor sites, found what I was looking for and had it guaranteed on my doorstep by the start of the weekend.
I am part of the 17% of shoppers that Forrester Research says use their “mobile device to make an immediate purchase at a competitor’s site.”
And the 37% who would buy the item from an online retailer when they get home.
And the 35% who would go to a different store to buy it.
In fact, Forrester reveals that “about 10% of retail store sales are lost due to items being out of stock. Customers will look to a store’s competitors, online, or other stores to find the item they want.”
How can retailers compete in today’s world of instant gratification? Enter the concept of “endless aisle.”
Endless Aisle Means Your Product is Never Out of Stock
With endless aisle, retailers can meet customers’ need for items that are out-of-stock in-store and not kept in local inventory. Essentially, endless aisle lets retailers offer an infinite number of SKUs by blending physical and virtual products in a comprehensive merchandising strategy.
How is this achieved? Typically, by partnering with a fulfillment supplier. This way, shoppers get the best of both worlds: the opportunity to see and feel merchandise while still receiving quick delivery. No more waiting for weeks.
In today’s “three clicks and you have it” world, endless aisle makes it possible to create a great customer experience at a retail store.
But an endless aisle strategy comes with challenges. Customer expectations are at an all-time high when it comes to accessibility to information and the specific products they covet. Adopting an endless aisle strategy requires careful integration of your POS and fulfillment technologies. And, it demands that your processes and people are all aligned behind the initiative.
If you’re a retailer looking for ways to remain competitive in today’s online-centric world, here are a few things to consider when adopting an endless aisle strategy:
You need to make the investment in technology to ensure you have real-time insight on your inventory. Access to that information ensures you can find what a customer is looking for and set expectations as to when they can get it in their hands. Again, it’s all about creating a customer experience so great that shoppers don’t feel compelled to seek out another source.
You need to ensure your store staff is aligned with the initiative and understand the end-game: delighting the customer at every level. It is crucial your sales reps understand not only why it is critical to prevent sales from being lost to competitors, but how delivering an experience to a customer that goes above and beyond -- an experience that creates loyalty, repeat business and referrals -- is essential to the success of your business.
One more factor to consider is how you apply a technology solution to the customer-facing component of endless aisles. It stands to reason that inventory tracking needs to be real time, but what approach do you take on the customer side? Do you equip all of your sales reps with transaction-capable iPads to ensure every customer is given the proper attention (assuming you sale team is aligned)? Do you provide freestanding self-serve touchscreen kiosks that allow customers to shop and make sales transactions without assistance? (Many consumers are so used to shopping online that they prefer to complete the experience by themselves.) Do you offer a mix of those strategies?
Don’t Lose Out to Competitors
Retailers are increasingly recognizing that endless aisles are here to stay and that this transformation is key to their long-term survival. You know your customers best and can determine which technology solutions work best for your business. When choosing among your options, ask yourself whether you’re leaving your customers no choice but to be one of the 17%, or the 37% or the 35% of consumers who move onto competitors if left unsatisfied — or whether you’re creating the opportunity to gain a customer for life?
ViewPoint knows a thing or two about endless aisle strategy and offers solutions to help retailers remain competitive. If you’d like to learn more give me a call at 800.704.6819.