Poor on-shelf availability has always been recognised within retailing as a cardinal sin, but with online competitors gaining a greater share of consumer spend, high-street retailers are going to have to sharpen-up their replenishment practices if they are to survive.
According to a survey of nearly 1000 UK consumers, undertaken by consultants, Accenture, poor customer service and out-of-stock products are driving shoppers out of shops and onto the Internet. The research into consumer attitudes found that nearly half (49 per cent) said that stores are frequently out of stock of the products they want and they are quite prepared to move on to another store – increasingly, on the internet.
The survey indicates this is particularly true of shoppers for entertainment equipment and devices (91 per cent) and for furniture (90 per cent).
Almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of respondents said they use the Internet to compare prices and then go to the store with the lowest price, and nearly half (44 per cent) said they go online to determine if a product is in stock before heading off on their shopping trip.
However, it wasn’t that long ago that there was widespread criticism of online retailers’ ‘in-stock’ accuracy on their websites. All too often a trusting online shopper would commit to a purchase only to find to their dismay that the product was not available. This would then leave the consumer with a dilemma: either wait or go through the irritating process of asking for a refund.
There is a far greater potential for upsetting a customer under these circumstances as there is by a shop not having a particular product on the shelf.
What would be interesting to know is how accurate websites are on stock availability these days? Potentially, online retailers have the opportunity to utilize slick IT for automatic updates. For high-street retailers, keeping on-shelf availability high is a little more difficult – but, significantly, it’s becoming absolutely essential.