What’s more frustrating as a customer than when you see the words “out of stock”? When your customers can’t buy the items they want, they’ll buy from your competitor who does. It’s a missed opportunity for a sale. It’s a bad customer experience.
Having readily available inventory that can be shipped to customers is a major competitive advantage in retail. Customers that can rely on you to have the items they need will buy from you again and again. They won’t need to turn to your competitor. They’ll trust you to have it. That makes them a loyal customer.
How do you ensure your inventory is always available to customers? The “endless aisle” makes it possible. In this post, we’ll discuss what it is, why it’s important to customer experiences, and the requirements you need for it.
What is Endless Aisle?
Endless aisle is the ability to sell items to customers that are not available in-store and not kept in local inventory. The sale is made possible through the direct integration of your inventory with external suppliers. But, to the customer, the product appears as if it was kept in local inventory.
The customer orders the item from you, but the item is then directly shipped to the customer via the supplier. This strategy is called “drop shipping”, and it’s a requirement for creating an endless aisle.
This gives customers the sense of aisles full of product selections that go on forever (endless aisle). You won’t have to miss another sale because the item was “out-of-stock” or not available in-store. You can expand your product catalog without having to take on more inventory.
The Drop Ship Process
Drop ship eliminates the need for you to carry product inventory. When a buyer places an order for an item, the order is sent directly to the supplier, which can be a manufacturer or a wholesaler. That supplier then is responsible for shipping the item to the buyer.
The best part: the supplier is completely invisible to the buyer during the process. Your profit from the transaction is the difference between the wholesale (what the supplier charges you) and retail price (what you charge the customer).
Some companies even use drop ship as their main fulfillment mode. They carry no inventory at all. Others use drop shipping in certain scenarios like for abnormally large orders, large items with high shipping costs, private labeled items, or selling on online marketplaces.
However, implementing drop ship isn’t as simple as flipping the “on” switch in your eCommerce software. Make sure you know how to avoid the common problems of drop ship.
Business Impact of Endless Aisle in Retail
Having an endless aisle can be a major competitive advantage for your business. It’s a big reason why Amazon and Walmart (among others) are so successful. By offering a large assortment of product selections from tens of thousands of suppliers, these companies can be a one-stop shopping experience for customers.
Implementing an endless aisle allows you to have the freedom to offer a product catalog of any size without space constraint. With a larger and more diverse product catalog, you can use better cross-selling techniques and give more product recommendations. Even when you’re out of a popular size or color in-store, the customer can still have that item shipped to them. You’ll always be able to meet your customers’ expectations.
Customers seek out sellers who provide a shopping experience like this. When they find you, they’re going to keep coming back for more. You’ll increase your sales and your customer satisfaction. Don’t miss out on another opportunity for a sale.
Key Requirements for Endless Aisle
Ready to build your endless aisle of products? Here’s what you’ll need to accomplish that:
- Real-time Product Availability – The ability for shoppers and/or your company’s employees to see the availability of a product in a variety of scenarios like store-to-store and store-to-web. It increases the likelihood that customers will purchase.
- Inventory Presentation – Be able to present inventory availability within a shopper’s order screen, a cashier’s point-of-sale screen, or an inside-sales rep’s ERP order.
- Multichannel Order Management – Have centralized visibility and management of customer orders, regardless of where they were placed – whether in-store, marketplaces, inside sales team, or your web-store.
- Three-way Match – Not having a disciplined three-way match process is the downfall of many traditional retailers. You have to ensure that vendors are accurately invoiced for items that you ordered, at the cost you expected, and then were actually shipped to the customer. It’s more difficult to keep track when you don’t have physical possession of the product.
- In-store Pickup Notifications – When customers have items shipped to your store, your software has to tell the customer and store employee that the order was received from the supplier.
- Tracking Lead Times – Keep customers informed of when they should expect the product to be shipped. If this information is coming from a supplier, your software has to able to track it.
If you’re really serious about using drop shipping to provide an endless aisle, you need to build a platform of integrated systems. It’s an investment. But the pay-off is being able to compete with the likes of Amazon.
What to Do Next
Endless aisle and drop ship are both critical to enhancing the customer experience. However, they are both just one piece of what builds your long-lasting base of loyal customers.
We recently published a white paper that shows you what it takes to build your organization around providing unforgettable customer experiences. Along with endless aisle, we talk about several different capabilities that affect the customer’s buying experience. Learn how to build true loyalty by wowing your customers.