Maximizing Online Product Availability and Portfolio
Sometimes, shoppers have to wait. If they shop at brick-and-mortar stores, peak times could have them standing in lengthy queues. When shopping via online retailers, shoppers must wait to receive their sought-after products in the mail. Brick-and-mortar stores can often mitigate wait time by opening more lines. Whereas in the world of ecommerce, some amount of waiting is an unavoidable part of the transaction, usually when the shopper is waiting for the products to arrive. Still, shoppers once willing to endure delayed gratification in exchange for the conveniences associated with online shopping are increasingly less willing to do so. To remain competitive, brands must continually work to reduce shipping delays as well as issues with online product availability.
In response to the delivery part of the equation, conscientious online retailers work to offer lightning-fast delivery times. Establishing an efficient delivery system, however, is only half the battle. Even the most impressive of delivery systems are useless if items are not available on demand and ready to ship.
What’s more is that retailers are keenly aware that shoppers often will move on to the next best option if their desired product is out-of-stock. In fact most online retailers will remove out-of-stock SKUs from search and category results to reduce this shopping friction.
Monitoring and maintaining sufficient product stock levels presents a significant and ongoing challenge for brand leaders. And frankly, nothing can eliminate the difficulty associated with these tasks. However, having comprehensive data on your side is crucial for maximum success.
Maintaining appropriate stock levels can be troubling for any business—digital or not. While understocking results in loss of sales and even customer loyalty, overstocking comes with its risks and consequences, including a dearth of liquid assets as well as a glut of inventory that may never sell. And due to the inherent lack of warehousing and storage capabilities, maintaining optimal inventory levels is even more difficult for most ecommerce vendors than for physical retail sellers.
Classic retail marketing within the brick-and-mortar world relies on a “push” system, wherein businesses “push” products on the shelves, hoping that the supply they choose to make available will meet customer demand.
In ecommerce, the paradigm is flipped. To keep overhead low and profits high, the most successful ecommerce brands allow shopper demand to dictate—or “pull”—production. In a pull system, customers sit squarely in the driver’s seat, making the marketing decisions involved in garnering and keeping customer interest even more critical.
While allowing customers to drive stock levels is crucial to ecommerce success, it is a precarious tightrope to walk. Allowing demand to exceed available supply by too wide a margin will result in increased customer wait time and decreased product visibility at online retailers. Both of these negative impacts will ultimately lead to loss of interest in your product, not to mention customer trust and loyalty in the long run.
Maintaining adequate stock levels is even more challenging for ecommerce retailers than for their traditional counterparts. Physical stores traditionally carry between four and six weeks of product in stock. In contrast, the ideal stock level for digital retailers is half that: between two and three weeks of on-hand product. And because they carry less product on hand, ecommerce retailers and brand leaders alike must play a more active role in monitoring and responding to stock levels.
The simple truth is that creating and maintaining a balanced equation of customer demand versus in-stock product supply is virtually impossible without clear, reliable and up-to-date data. Fortunately, product availability reports available from Clavis Insight provide precisely the type of data necessary to accomplish this zen-like balance.
With reports from Clavis Insight, you can track product availability across retailers. You’ll not only know which retailers’ stock levels need replenishing first, but you’ll also be able to see how products are selling through different vendors, making it easier to focus your attention on the most successful outlets. Ongoing analysis of these reports will allow you to virtually see into the future, confidently assuring that stock quantities will meet foreseeable demand.
Any time an item goes out of stock, you face an assortment of risks. The most obvious risk to brands is lost sales—particularly if a priority SKU is out of stock across multiple websites. Ultimately, when items go out of stock, customer loyalty takes a hit. Damage to the brand is especially acute if products are frequently out of stock, as overall conversion rates could fall. In the vast majority of cases, customers have the option of selecting between your product or an alternative they perceive to be comparable. When given this option, consumers are most likely to indulge their penchant for immediate gratification. Simply put, if customers come to see you as an unreliable source for products, they will take their dollars elsewhere.
Moreover, in the digital setting where visibility is everything, the impact that being consistently out-of-stock can have on search engine results cannot be overlooked. Retailer search engine algorithms, like Amazon’s, consider repeated periods of out-of-stock product a negative signal when calculating search engine results rankings. Because the impact of declining rankings on product sales can be quite major, doing what’s necessary to keep rankings high is a critical factor for ecommerce managers and brand leaders.
Despite best efforts, however, there will still be times when products may fall out of stock. When this occurs, how these out-of-stock items are managed and displayed to consumers becomes paramount.
What “out-of-stock” looks like online varies substantially from retailer to retailer. A look at a handful of industry leaders from the UK and the US (e.g. Ocado, Asda, Target, Tmall, Tesco, Amazon) will provide insight into the numerous ways this can be handled.
Menu placement change
At Ocado, items that are out of stock remain on the menu, but rest at the bottom of the page. The logic behind this tactic is that by taking such items from front-and-center to the bottom of the list, you increase the likelihood that a customer will find a suitable alternative before realizing that the item he or she originally wanted is unavailable.
For brand leaders, this means that your once highly visible product will now be all but invisible—something you want to avoid.
At Asda, items that are out of stock are replaced with a similar item. This strategy assumes that customers aren’t married to a particular brand or style but are instead willing to purchase an alternative with the same or a similar function.
The impact of this swap-out on your product’s sales can be even more dire. When substitution is offered, you run the risk of losing a customer altogether, as he or she might come to view the substitute product as better—or at least more consistently available—than yours.
Many retailers that use an omnichannel platform, including UK-based Boots and US-based Target, take in-store availability into consideration. This omnichannel approach to commerce gives the retailer another way to prevent lost sales since customers can have the item shipped directly from a physical store location if the warehouse lacks the necessary stock.
When ecommerce retailers use this method, it can benefit your brand, giving you another venue through which to capture customers. If both your store and online stocks are lacking, however, the situation could prove just as detrimental.
Some large ecommerce sites have the ability to procure the product from different suppliers if one particular supplier is out of stock. Amazon uses this
approach. On Amazon, if a particular seller is out of the product but the product is still available from another supplier, customers are presented with a “Buy” box. This option diverts the purchase away from the originally chosen seller and to an alternate supplier. While this isn’t great news for the original seller, it assures that customers’ needs are met and that Amazon continues to enjoy both customer loyalty and profits.
Purchase diverting is logically the most beneficial option for you as a brand leader since, with this option in play, you keep consumer focus on your product. Because this method is such an advantageous one for brands, placing your products on sites that use this method is wise.
With reports from Clavis Insight, you can monitor product availability regardless of each retailer’s out-of-stock management method. Armed with this powerful data, you can act decisively in implementing the most superior option of all: simply being able to assure optimal stock levels so that your buyers get what they want when they want it.
The dangers of being out of stock extend beyond lost sales or even individual dissatisfied customers. The truth is that repeated periods of product unavailability can damage your brand image on the whole.
The rise of ecommerce has entirely changed how customers feel about waiting for products. While shortages of high-demand products from yesteryear, such as Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo, may have served to increase the perceived prestige of owning such items, today’s customers are simply not willing to wait. Attempt to make them, and you will lose their patronage to the brand of a competitor who can gratify the appetite for immediate satisfaction.
Evading this potential pitfall requires proactive and continual monitoring. And the degree to which you succeed at this could have major financial ramifications for your business, suggests Oregon State University, whose research found that stock-outs are responsible for as much as $25 billion in lost sales annually.
The good news is that, in most cases, this loss in sales is highly avoidable. By carefully capturing and analyzing key data, you can reduce instances of out-of-stock merchandise and improve your bottom line. But how?
Instead of struggling to track your products yourself, enlist the help of those with the know-how and tools to accomplish this task efficiently and effectively. Free yourself up to be great at what you do best—by inviting us to do what we do best. Reporting tools available from Clavis Insight will allow you to constantly and consistently keep track of product availability, removing the guesswork. Our detailed, up-to-date and easily accessible reports place full stock updates and trends at your fingertips.
Our Availability insights helps you understand the state of product availability by retailer, category, brand, and manufacturer so that you can quickly identify and resolve supply issues. These insights allow you to prioritize your efforts to maximize availability and sell-through.
In addition, you can track the availability status of individual products within your portfolio over time. If a product is habitually “out of stock” or “void,” you can investigate the causes, whether they be increased consumer demand or supply chain issues.
Furthermore our portfolio analysis helps you optimize your assortment by retailer to efficiently match shoppers’ needs and maximize sales velocity.
To learn more about our Availability insights and the rest of our ecommerce intelligence solutions, connect with us today.