As the battle between brick-and-mortar retailers and online giants like Amazon.com wages on, retailers are now transitioning to zero inventory and putting excess inventory in an online shop.
This strategy, often referred to as an “endless aisle,” is being used by big-box and specialty retailers alike. Stores are able to reach digital shoppers using online storefronts to extend their physical space as well as customer relationships beyond the physical local store.
Whether it’s through in-store kiosks or on laptops in the comfort of their homes, consumers can access seemingly unlimited inventory through endless aisles. They're able to access a larger assortment of SKUs and don’t have to worry about their favorite product being out of stock in their local store. The best part of all for both sides? Goods are shipped directly to customers’ doorsteps, and the retailer has a record of what they’ve ordered. With that data, the retailer can recommend additional items and continue to nurture their customer relationships.
Here’s how endless aisles benefit retailers with physical stores:
1. Retail associates get access to unlimited inventory:
Traditionally, associates have been limited to the inventory in-store. With an endless aisle, associates and shoppers get access to products that are always available regardless of the store’s size or location.
For example, a consumer walks into a store looking for a certain shoe in a specific color, size and width. That particular shoe may not be physically located in the store (because it’s impossible for every store to carry every style, color, size and width), and the consumer may be ready to walk out to shop the competition to find it. An endless aisle avoids potentially lost sales by allowing associates to show shoppers the items they want physically in the store and receive it conveniently on their doorstep the next day. Empowering associates with the right technology allows them to search unlimited inventory right in the store and make the right suggestion to their customer.
2. Connect with shoppers outside the physical store:
Many consumers forget to complete a transaction in-store, but still have a need to shop. When this happens, sales are often lost to competing stores. We're at a point in retail where brand loyalty is extremely low, and price or convenience is playing an increasingly important role in purchase decisions.
When consumers know they can visit your store online or in a convenient way on their own schedule, they're more likely to stay loyal to you and out of competitors’ stores. This rings especially true when your endless aisle is easy to navigate, accessible via mobile devices and offers access to personalized service from stores and associates.
3. Leverage impulse shopping online:
Impulse purchases can create significant sales for retailers, but this strategy has mostly been used only in physical stores (i.e., near checkout lanes). This translates over into the digital realm in the form of an endless aisle. When consumers browse a retailer’s website or associate storefront, they can see a wider selection of SKUs and might decide to add in a few smaller things.
Retailers can also strategically price items, so consumers have a greater chance of their cart nearing that magical number to receive free shipping or volume discounts. It’s no secret that consumers are likely to add items they know they'll need in the future just to avoid shipping fees.
There are a growing number of technology platforms to helps retailers launch endless aisle programs. Customers log on, shop, even receive advice, customized offers and the kind of service they would be used to in-store, all from within the site. Leading retailers will use endless aisle purchases to deepen relationships with customers by connecting them with local stores and extending after-sale offers.
If brick-and-mortar stores are going to compete with online giants, endless aisles are an important competitive advantage to meet the expectations of omnichannel shoppers. By extending in-store experiences online with endless aisle, brick-and-mortar retailers can leverage their customer relationships to grow sales and empower associates.
Oscar Sachs is the CEO and co-founder of Salesfloor, the first platform to allow customers to shop online directly with their local store or favorite associate, bringing the in-store experience online.
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