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Article 5 min read

Why retailers need an endless aisle solution

By Caroline Lesley Baldwin, Guest contributor

Last updated November 9, 2022

Today’s shoppers insist on immediacy. They use their phones to get anything they want instantly, from taxis and food to the latest blockbuster film. When it comes to shopping, a customer walks into a store and expects an item to be waiting for them on the shelf, or immediately signposted to a digital solution to fulfil that purchase intention. Let’s take a closer look at why retailers must implement Endless Aisle solutions to stay ahead of their competition.

We know all too well the experience of traipsing out to your local store, product in mind, only for there to be a big gaping hole and an ‘out of stock’ sticker on the shelf. It’s a frustrating experience when shoppers have something in mind and are primed to part with their hard-earned cash there and then. This jarring halt of the shopping journey can instantly lead to a loss of sales, as a customer departs the store to walk up the high street to a competitor, or immediately takes their phone out of their pocket and orders from Amazon instead.

Retailers are increasingly encouraging customers to engage with brands via in-store experiences, but the average store struggles to stock every possible SKU in their catalogue. This is where retailers need to be capturing that almost-lost sale by predicting demand and extending their inventory with an ‘endless aisle’ solution.

What is an endless aisle? An endless aisle is basically a ‘buy-in-store-ship-to-home’ solution that comes into its own when a product is out of stock or a store isn’t large enough to carry its entire catalogue. It captures an in-store customer’s intent to buy in the moment by directing them to the retailer’s website, via an in-store kiosk or tablet, or a QR code, or NFC device to enable them to use their own smartphones. Once online, shoppers are provided a rich customer experience, with additional content about the product and upselling opportunities, real-time inventory information, and a quick and efficient method of buying the item, with multiple fulfilment options.

An endless aisle can turn a frustrating shopping experience into a positive one with a few taps of a smart device. But it’s not just about capturing that sale, let’s take a deep-dive into the top five reasons why endless aisle technology is critical to the omnichannel retail journey:

  1. Forecast demand

    If a shopper comes in to buy a BBQ days before a heatwave and finds their item out of stock, not only has the retailer lost that sale, but they have also lost that information related to demand. If this interaction had happened online, retailers could see a spike in traffic and associate it with the weather and plan accordingly, but if a customer simply walks away from an empty shelf, that information is lost forever. Not with endless aisle, instead retailers can better forecast demand and move inventory around their supply chains accordingly. Even if the product is out of stock in that particular store, shoppers can still buy the product there and then, and have it delivered to their door a day, or sometimes hours, later. Sale made and data captured.

  2. Data capture

    When you engage with a shopper online, with permission, retailers have an opportunity to capture information such as email address, location, preferences, and much more. This data is more difficult to gain from in-store shoppers who can come in and out of a store anonymously, but not impossible. Tying foot traffic data, SKU-level purchase patterns, and loyalty card use to an endless aisle solution, means retailers can connect the dots and identify in-store shoppers and digital shoppers. With the right CRM retailers can use this vital data to see trends, forecast demand, plan future marketing campaigns and help customer support agents better serve their customers.

  3. Customer engagement

    An endless aisle doesn’t have to be a sterile table device in a physical store–think outside the box by introducing innovations such as magic mirrors which work well in fashion and beauty and increase dwell time considerably. Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Mirror allows customers to try on various looks to create a realistic augmented reality visualisation. Trying on products-even in a virtual setting-engages customers meaning they are more likely to buy, whether that’s in the store in that moment or via a follow-up email providing the shopper with a list of the products they tried on to buy at a later date.

  4. Extend shelf space

    Endless Aisle solutions can also help retailers tackle the problem of having a finite amount of shelf space in-store. But with an endless aisle, retailers can leverage their full catalogue in the smallest of footprints, using this precious space to stock their best-selling products. Take Harvey Nichols as an example. The British Luxury department chain put tablets in-store for customers to interact with products via NFC tags on shelves.Customers could shop alone or with a store associate and save a ‘collection’ of scanned items when finished if they wished. Entering an email address allows for this, and for Harvey Nichols to re-engage the customers via email. With retail unit rents and energy costs at an all-time high, endless aisle solutions could be used to help reduce the store footprint and turn key locations into showrooms where the shelf space extends to an eCommerce store.

  5. It might even save an instant sale

    For Endless aisle to work at its optimum, retailers must have sight of real-time inventory levels. If a customer comes into the store to buy a dress, but their size is missing from the rail and they turn to a tablet device for assistance, it may well be that the item is actually in the store, but just in the wrong place. With a click of a button a store assistant can be alerted to the problem and can quickly search the changing room to find that item and make that shopper’s day. According to the Zendesk CX Trends report, customers who have a positive shopping experience with a brand are more likely to remain as loyal customers.

For endless aisle to work effectively, it must go hand-in-hand with a digital shelf strategy. This joined up strategy means when the retailer directs in-store customers online to complete a purchase, they can easily find all the information they need to hit that buy button and become a satisfied customer.

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