Photo by Marco D.
Many retailers are considering or implementing endless aisle applications in order to improve customer satisfaction and reduce lost sales. What is endless aisle? This varies based on your goals:
- Endless aisle can allow small footprint stores to offer a selection of inventory typically available in larger stores.
- It can allow all stores to offer any item available in your warehouse.
- It can allow retailers to offer a broad selection of product housed in their stores, a warehouse or a vendor’s warehouse.
Endless aisle brings elements of the online experience into the bricks and mortar store. It is particularly effective for product that consumers like to see and touch before purchasing. Endless aisle can increase sales by:
- Eliminating out of stocks.
- Allowing retailers to offer a broader selection of product.
- Improving the customer experience.
If you are considering implementing endless aisle in store, there are a few key considerations to help ensure it delivers the sales boost you are planning for.
Maintain Data Integrity
Data is key. Just as with your e-commerce site, the quality and accuracy of the information in your endless aisle application is critical. Poor or misinformation can significantly increase product returns over time and add up to a financial and operational disaster.
If customers can see and touch a sample of the item in store, they typically require less detailed information than when the item is something used to broaden the selection available in a small footprint store. However, best practice is to determine the standard of information that will be provided and offer that for all product. In fact, you should offer the same information in your endless aisle application as you would in on an e-commerce site.
Many of the top reasons that products are returned can be corrected with the correct information provided prior to purchase.
When you are offering a variety of fulfillment options (e.g. ship from warehouse, other store, or vendor), inventory accuracy is critical. Consumers do not want to find out that the product order they were expecting was cancelled because you had an inventory error.
Limit the Choices Customers Have
It is easy to think that you will drive sales and improve the customer experience if you give consumers more choices. However, research has shown that this is not the case. In fact, giving consumers too much choice leads to decreased sales. One of the biggest risks of endless aisles is overwhelming the consumer with too many choices. However, determining the right number of choices is a category by category decision. There are some categories where one to two options are will allow you to satisfy over 80% of consumers. Then there are other categories where selection needs to be significantly broader to capture such a large percentage of the market.
Many products require sales associates to have knowledge in order to answer customer questions. As you expand your offerings, the reliance on associates to have broad knowledge increases. While consumers do not expect associates to be experts in everything, there is an expectation in today’s connected world that they will find information quickly and accurately. This allows associates to effectively improve Discovery and Convenience, and add Value in their interactions with customers.
Don’t Overlook Supplier Reliance
In order to reduce warehouse inventory and improve the customer experience, some retailers are working with their supplier partners to have products shipped directly from the manufacturer to the end consumer. This can work very well for some items such as large custom items like upholstered furniture. However, it only works when you have reliable suppliers with excellent supply chains. Remember, your system relies on the information from your supplier’s system. If that data is incorrect, it will reflect poorly on your overall business.
Endless aisle can be a way for a retailer to improve the way they satisfy the 5 consumer shopping drivers: convenience, discovery, value, transparency and connection. Good strategy, excellent execution, and the ability to pivot and adapt to improve are required to ensure that endless aisle improves the customer experience and increases loyalty rather than the opposite.