Why the ‘endless aisle’ means endless opportunities to satisfy your customers

Why the ‘endless aisle’ means endless opportunities to satisfy your customers

By Steve Powell, Sales Director at PCMS

Retailers have been talking about developing an endless aisle strategy for some time now, but recent reports suggest this concept of ‘never being out of stock’ when a customer requests an item is becoming prevalent across the UK High Street.

Among the retailers moving strongly in this direction are department store chain John Lewis, Marks & Spencer’s clothing and general merchandise division, and – one that is in the process of implementing online in-store ordering across its store estate – fashion retailer Jack Wills.

If retailers can provide consumers with a seamless shopping experience that gives them access to products they want, even if they’re not immediately available on the shelf, it represents a prime example of offering a positive customer experience.

A recent report into consumers’ new shopping habits, dubbed ‘Point of Satisfaction – how to sell anywhere and never lose a sale’, highlights the benefits of this approach. Whether it’s a case of giving staff handheld devices to help customers order from a retailer’s online offer or placing interactive kiosks in stores, endless aisles clearly provide endless opportunities to impress.

Satisfying the self-server 

The Point of Satisfaction report identifies new shopper journeys that did not exist in a time before e-commerce, one of which is the consumer who wants to use technology in-store to build their own basket and check out of the store without friction, or carry on their online search when in a shop.

Some 37% of shoppers want to order goods themselves using kiosks or other digital touchpoints, according to the research, which suggests retailers should be catering for such an eventuality.

Offering access to this type of technology can help boost dwell time in a store and allow self-serve shoppers ample time to choose their desired items, some of which will be available in the aisles and some which may require an online order.

Asos founder and former CEO, Nick Robertson, once said there will be a day when retailers never have to say they are out of stock. He was talking from an e-commerce perspective, with ever-more sophisticated websites only displaying what’s available at a given time, but stores can do the same thing by ensuring if a desired item isn’t on a shelf, customers can still locate it via the web.

Satisfying the missing piece shopper

If the tech-enabled self-server is a completely new breed of shopper for the digital age, then the missing piece shopper – also identified in the report – is something of a mainstay over the generations. Consumers will have countless examples, be it in fashion, homewares or consumer electronics, where they have gone to buy a selection of items but not all of them are available.

In years gone by it would have involved speculatively returning to the store to see if the item was back in stock, or waiting for the store to phone up when said item was available again. With an endless aisle approach, forward-thinking retailers can cut out this friction – they can sell someone that suit for their weekend wedding, and order the accompanying tie from their website for home delivery.

The result: a happy customer and, hopefully positive tales of retail prowess discussed and shared by the guests at the wedding that week, which could be great for future business.

Satisfying the increasingly informed shopper

The Point of Satisfaction study finds that 49% of shoppers want to be able to research and order goods through staff-operated digital tablets. It’s a sign of the increasingly informed shopper all retailers are catering for, and a by-product of a world where online research and price comparison are now fundamental pillars of most shopping trips. 

One scenario where the endless aisle system can be successful in converting this type of shopper is if the consumer in question comes into a store knowing the product they want, but doesn’t want to go through the process of perusing the shelves. An endless aisle-enabled member of staff should be on hand to locate the product on their device, clarify it is what the shopper wants to buy, and then make the purchase – potentially adding suitable accessories to the shopping basket in the process.

In short, an endless aisle approach to store retailing is an endless opportunity to impress. As well as increased sales, the use of in-store devices can be a valuable means of collecting and using customer details across channels. But most of all, deploying online options in the physical shop floor – the ultimate definition of ‘endless aisle’ – means retailers never have to say ‘no’ to customers who are ready and willing to spend.

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