Around ten percent of retail sales are lost because an item in the store is out of stock. When this happens, your customers look to your competitors to find the item they want. Combating this problem is not as hard as you might think, and large retailers are using modern technology to ensure they are never out of stock. This is known as the “Endless Aisle”.
Endless aisle can be a challenge for retailers
Implementation of Endless Aisle programs is not easy, and retailers face some serious challenges in deploying the Endless Aisle strategy. There are many terms that abound to describe Endless Aisle. Dropshipping and virtual merchandising are just two of many, but all refer to the retailer’s ability to sell seemingly out-of-stock items to customers from a non-local inventory. Instead of losing the sale, retailers make it possible by using an inventory kept by external suppliers to make the sale, making it appear to the customer that they are the ones who sold the item.
It works because, when the customer orders the item that appears to be out of stock in the retail store, the retailer simply places an order with the external supplier, who then ships the item direct to the customer. The best part of wholesale is that the customer has no idea that you are using an external source, and the supplier is kept completely invisible. It makes it appear to your customers that you have an endless stock of items, and nothing is ever really out of stock.
Dropshippers are the key
The whole process of Endless Aisle is made possible by dropshippers supplying the required items. And more retailers are now using these endless aisle strategies in store to combat the loss of sales that are due to items being out of stock. This also incrementally increases their sales and profits.
Customers look elsewhere when items are out of stock
Consumers are now the ones in the driving seat, and they have high expectations of what they want from retailers. This means that retailers now have to turn to technology to solve the problem of lost sales. When an item is not available, the customer has the option to look elsewhere for the product they want. In a survey of adults faced with out-of-stock items, 17 percent will use their mobile device to make an immediate purchase at a competitor’s site, 37 percent said they would buy the item online when they got home, usually from another online retailer, and 35 percent would just go to another store.
Endless Aisle helps avoid lost sales
Using an Endless Aisle strategy can help the retailer to avoid this kind of situation, allowing them to secure the sale they would otherwise have lost. When you can provide the customer with a seamless experience, it can lead to a better customer experience overall for the consumer. However, making this a reality is not easy for the retailers. There has to be a commitment to invest in the right technology, hardware, and staff, to make it happen.
The capabilities of endless aisle require a full integration of the necessary technology and complete coordination of the processes. Retailers face several challenges when setting up an endless aisle strategy.
Maintaining a centralized inventory level
Keeping an updated inventory in real time is the first challenge retailers face. They need to know when and where the stock is available, or they will not be able to order the item that the customer wants with confidence. The inventory can change constantly across your multiple sales channels, especially if you have an online store, a physical store, and place orders with dropship suppliers. In order to really know how much stock you have to hand, you need to have the systems integrated with each other, so that inventory levels are constantly updated with each sale and you always know what stock is available at any given time.
But it is not enough just to have the inventory readily available. Your staff all need to have easy access to the inventory list, to be able to check on inventory levels at customer request. When they are communicating with the customer, they need to provide the best possible experience, and be able to ensure the customer places the order with them. This means that your inventory levels must be within the customer’s order screen, the cashier’s point-of-sale (POS) screen, and the sales rep’s ERP order system.
Keeping centralized order tracking
In order for the inventory to be updated and tracked in all channels, orders must be managed by a central management system. With cross-channel ordering, individual channel order management is inefficient, and tracking of inventory levels is impossible across all channels. If they do not want the problems that arise when trying to fulfill in-store orders without inventory, retailers need to have a single place to manage and ship all orders, irrespective of sales channel.
How to work with suppliers
Working with the suppliers is one of the biggest challenges retailers face. Three-way matching is required to make sure there are no fraudulent invoices, with a vendor invoice for the order, a purchase order by the retailer, and a receiving report from the retailer. When using a dropshipper, you need to ensure they are invoiced with the correct price for the item, at the expected cost, and can track items that have been dispatched to the customer. This is a lot to manage and track when physical possession of the item is not available. The process needs to be fully developed before considering using a dropshipper to process orders.
Communicate with your customers at all times
Customers always want to know the status of their orders, and keeping them in the loop is an important part of endless aisle strategies. Retailers who do this are providing an excellent customer experience, from the customer’s point of view. Unlike when an item is purchased in store and they leave with it in hand, the customer has to trust the retailer that the item will be delivered as promised. Retailers need to keep their customers informed of the delivery process, and what they can expect. Notifying them of when it is shipped, and providing tracking information, is essential to create that positive customer experience. When shipping information comes from a third-party supplier, it can be hard to track it, and communicate that to the customer. The software you use has to be able to retrieve the dropshippers delivery and tracking information and centralize it for automatic dissemination to the customer seamlessly.
An endless aisle strategy will be the most important thing retailers can do to move forwards in today’s world of omnichannel retail services. It can help to capture those elusive sales that could have been lost, and provide the best customer experience for all your customers, all the time.
Article published in E-commerce