In the new world of omnichannel retail, the line between online and offline is blurring for customers. They expect a consistent and fulfilling experience whichever channel they use to engage with the retailer. The Endless Aisle concept offers the potential to meet those expectation in a way that will delight both customer and retailer. Making it work is the next challenge for brick and mortar retailers.
There’s nothing more annoying than packing the family into your car and heading to the mall only to find that the one thing you really wanted to buy is out of stock. While it’s annoying for the customer, it’s damaging for the retailer. A survey by Digital commerce found that 89% of US pursue alternative purchasing options on finding the item out of stock – including 17% who made an online purchase using their mobile phone while still in the store. Endless Aisle introduces an element of online shopping to in store so that the customer is always able to find the item they’re after.
What is Endless Aisle?
Endless Aisle is the process of allowing a customer to purchase a product from a store even when that item is out of stock within that particular store. It’s a close integration of a retailer’s in-store and ecommerce operations. The retailer uses interactive screens or kiosks to make its entire product catalog available whenever the customer requires it. Behind the scenes, the retailer works closely with their suppliers to manage the inventory and drop-ship the item to the customer’s home or collection point – often on the same day.
In theory, an item may never need to be out of stock again. That’s a small part of the power of Endless Aisle. More impressive is the ability to broaden the amount of products available in any one store. The store has immediate access to all the retailer’s product lines at all times. This is great news for the retailer and for the customer.
Let’s start with the retailer.
Less floor space, more choice
People love shopping the traditional way. One survey showed that more than 60% of online consumers said they would choose to shop in-store if the store offered online services. Endless Aisle gives us just what we want – the best of both worlds. Now, brick and mortar retailers can provide the same instant gratification that customers receive online shopping without ever having to disappoint their expectations.
By increasing the amount of ‘virtual merchandise’ that a store provides, Endless Aisle provides the opportunity for retailers to reduce the footprint of their store. Retailers – even the biggest brands such as JC Penney, Target and DSW – are actively looking at ways they can maximize store space while increasing the in-store experience for customers.
Start with satisfying, move to delighting
It may appear that the concept behind Endless Aisle is to make out-of-stock a thing of the past. It’s the minimum that today’s consumers expect. That’s important but it has to be viewed within the context of customer experience.
Sales assistants are only human and retailers are suddenly flooding them with a huge product portfolio that they really don’t know too well. How will they know what products there are, what variants are possible or what accessories are available? Unless the in-store experience is as seamless as the online experience then omnichannel retail unravels quite quickly.
Retailers have two choices: They can only employ staff with the memory capacity of Einstein or they must introduce an Enterprise Information Management infrastructure that puts the same information onto the customer’s order screen, the salesperson’s iPad, the cashier’s point-of-sale screen, the retailer’s ERP system and the supplier’s order management system.
All this and you’ll only just have satisfied customer expectations for a good in-store experience where they get what they want every time. Endless Aisle offers more. It offers the ability to deliver more than just a satisfactory customer experience. It allows retailers to increase the targeting and personalization of services to customers.
For example, Walmart is currently testing a touch-screen monitor in its toy aisle in some Texas stores. The kiosk allows shoppers to choose from the company’s entire range of toys. If the customer is unsure, the kiosk will make suggestions based on a series of prompted questions.
The Walmart example shows how Endless Aisle can be adapted to become a means to increase customer experience. Once a store has the entire product portfolio at its disposal, it can begin to employ many the sale and marketing techniques that are developing through omnichannel retailing. The retailer is no longer limited to in-store promotions around the stock physically held at that location. In-store activities can be more closely integrated with the retailer’s ecommerce facilities.
The key to realizing the benefits of Endless Aisle to improve the customer experience is an effective Customer Experience Management solution that can bring together all the information created on and offline. It can manage the creation and distribution of highly tailored and personalized content to whichever channel the customer wishes to use – whether that’s an in-store kiosk, ecommerce website or mobile app.
Endless Aisle provides a foundation to further improve the customer experience of omnichannel retail. In my next blog, I’ll look at how it can improve inventory management.