Consistent product availability is the essence of a positive shopping experience and the backbone to ensure a secure income stream and loyal customers. Fail to provide the right products at the right time and price, and you can lose business to your direct competitors. That's because as products become unavailable, you can expect a drop in the overall shopping experience.
What’s more, as you lose more business, your reputation suffers. If you can't or don't stock a product range that meets the needs of shoppers, how can you expect them to return? The short answer is that they won't.
About the Contributors
Justine Brown joined DotActiv in mid-2019, creating data-driven planograms for Makro, a wholesaler chain and subsidiary of Massmart that has international ties to Walmart. She currently works on the Makro Food and Liquor account.
Kelly Cordeiro has been with DotActiv since 2017 and has had experience running many accounts, including Cerebos, Danone, Premier FMCG, Shield Chemicals, and Pick n Pay.
Matthew Beadsworth joined DotActiv in 2004 and has had extensive experience working on multiple accounts. That includes work as a space planner on various ad-hoc accounts as well as Food Lover’s Market. He currently oversees the Food Lover’s Market account.
Runet Kritzinger has been with DotActiv since 2015. She currently manages the Makro Food and Liquor account. She has a BSc Consumer Science degree in Business Management.
What is product availability?
Before we get into how you can use product availability to improve the customer experience, it's first worth unpacking what it is.
Product availability is the essence of an excellent shopping experience, as we already noted above. Interchangeably used with stock availability, it motivates your customers to make regular purchases at your store since you have the correct amount of stock and ranges available.
That's if you're a retailer.
From a supplier perspective, it refers to the amount of stock you can provide and how well your brand fulfils the needs of shoppers in the retail clients' stores. The result is that you can motivate a retailer's customers to become loyal to you and only buy your products, no matter where they shop.
As for why you must look after product availability as a retailer, that's simple.
Firstly, it ensures that you bring in constant sales. Customers generally prefer to complete all of their purchases in one store if possible. In fact, research conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business found that it was beneficial to customers, with one primary finding being that it was more cost-effective.
Besides the lower cost of shopping at one store, as found in the above research, it helps that you can meet all of your shopper’s wants and needs in one store. That means less hassle for them. It's also more convenient.
Now consider if you stock a range of products that don't meet the needs of shoppers. Or if you regularly run out of stock. We'll touch on this and other consequences of low product availability in the next section. For now, it's worth pointing out that it affects your business as much as it impacts the shopping experience.
As a retailer, you must fulfil any demand you create by stocking the right products in the right quantities. When a potential customer walks into your store, they expect full shelves with a good variety of products for purchase. By doing that consistently, not only do you keep customers happy, but you can also create long-term customer loyalty.
What are the consequences of low product availability?
1. It can lead to stockouts
One of the first consequences of low product availability is one that we have already mentioned briefly: stockouts and empty shelves.
To avoid that, you must ensure that you align any demand with the product ranges and the stock availability of the said ranges. If demand rises for certain lines, so should the stock availability for that product. If you fail to provide sufficient stock, especially with more seasonal products, you can and will lose customers.
You can turn to category management and forecasting to help understand the rise and decline in demand for your products.
2. You can frustrate and anger your customers
Low product availability also leads to frustrated and angry customers and creates a very negative shopping experience. This can result in customers not returning to your store out of fear of having another negative shopping experience.
Not having the right products or stock thereof means that your shelves will be empty and customers cannot fulfil their needs. This forces customers to either buy a substitute product (if they are loyal shoppers) or go to another store to buy what they need.
This will inevitably lead to a negative store perception. It can also influence customers not to support you as you become known for not looking after their needs. Do that often enough, and the reputation will stick.
3. You can end up losing out on sales
Your store sales will plummet if the desired product ranges and stock are not available to buy.
As mentioned above, if you run out of stock and cannot meet customer needs, you'll create a negative connotation. This will, in turn, have a negative impact on your sales since fewer customers will support you due to previous experiences or word of mouth from their peers.
One of your main goals is to keep customers in your store for longer periods. Doing so allows you to expose shoppers to more of your merchandise, which can lead to an increase in their basket value.
How can you expect to keep shoppers in your store for long periods if you do not provide them with the products they want in the quantities that they want them? The flipside to the situation is that you can also lose substantial amounts of money and profit if you have incorrect product forecasting.
After all, it's not enough to have full shelves. You'll just as likely lose money if you stock the wrong products. It will lead to a loss on return of investment since you will sit with a lot of dead stock that customers don’t want to buy.
4. It impacts the relationship between a retailer and supplier
While low product availability can have a detrimental effect on you as a retailer, it can have just as much of an impact on you if you are a supplier. We've mentioned that above.
And then there is the impact it has on retailer-supplier relationships.
For example, as a supplier, you can lose sales when you fail to provide an adequate product range. It also motivates customers to try a different brand instead, which can, in turn, cause your retail client to lose sales and motivate a customer to reach for the new brand on the next shopping trip.
What's more, your retail clients will also lose faith in you as a supplier because they can't rely on you to provide the stock they require to meet the needs of their customers. It forces their hand, and they'll need to look for other suppliers. And what relationship you might have had with them could be irreparable. But you can't blame them.
Another scenario that can be detrimental to the retailer-supplier relationship is if you fail to provide stock to your retail client. A justified response could be your retail client taking away shelf or floor space reserved for your product and allocating it to another brand that has a bigger range. But again, you can't blame them.
If you have undertaken category management, it can be just as devastating if you have a poor relationship with your retail client. If you are not sure that you’d be able to provide enough stock of a product, why would your retail client want to implement any planograms that you build?
How can you use product availability to improve the customer experience?
1. You can ensure you always have the correct range in stores
As a retailer, having the correct product range in-store means the difference between having a happy or a frustrated customer. Fortunately, there are many tactics and strategies that you can use to ensure the former.
One way is by analysing your target market. You can achieve that by implementing data-driven assortment planning software. Using this software, you can achieve your target range by analysing the demographic group that you want to target. And then and by implementing clustering to group similar store sizes that have similar target audiences.
Another way to ensure you have the correct range is by analysing historical market data retrieved from your points of sales. This will help you identify your top-selling products and to practice accurate forecasting. Doing so ensures that you can always have the correct amount of stock available for your fast-moving products. Safety stock is a safe way to ensure that there will always be enough stock available in-store for fluctuating customer demands.
By implementing these measures, you can be sure that you will always be able to provide products to your customers and prevent any unnecessary stockout.
As for how stocking the right products allows you to improve the customer experience? That’s simple. As mentioned, it satisfies the needs of your customers, which leads to a positive customer experience. It also motivates them to return to your store in the future.
By creating consistency throughout your different store locations and stocking the products most wanted by customers, you can only expect to improve the overall shopping experience. Continue doing that and you could also become the store of choice for shoppers.
2. You can use it to improve the layout of your store
There are two different aspects to the layout of your store. The first concerns micro space planning or planograms. The second is macro space planning or floor planning.
Let's start with planograms.
You can use them to improve your shelf layout by using data-driven merchandising principles. It improves the visual appeal of your gondolas and creates a structured layout that shoppers can follow easily.
By implementing planograms, you can also better control and evenly space out the replenishment rate of your gondolas by grouping products that fit together. You can also create ‘hot spots’ in store (which consists of fast-moving lines) to attract your customers to a certain aisle to drive sales and better stock turnover.
The layout and visual appeal will add to the shopping experience and will increase basket sales since your customers are likely to buy when they find themselves in an environment they like and where they feel comfortable.
A planogram is a great visual merchandising tool that helps reduce clutter on the shelf and promotes better stock control. Planograms ensure that you follow the correct merchandising principles which improve the overall experience and motivates shoppers to spend more.
Meanwhile, from a floor planning perspective, you can also use data to set up a layout that allows for an effortless shopping experience.
With data-driven floor plans, you can ensure that there is no congestion in ‘hot spots’ and the store traffic flows easily from one aisle to the other. This also contributes to customers spending more money since they can find all their required products very easily.
More than that, floor planning can help you to determine whether you have allocated the correct amount of floor space to a category. This analysis can help you determine whether a product range for a category should be larger or smaller so that you can optimise your available selling space according to your objectives.
Consistent product availability is the essence that makes your retail business successful since it provides the structure for you to merchandise and attracts your target market by providing the products they require to fulfil their needs.