The stock-out paradox: 83% of UK consumers unable to buy the product they wanted in-store despite living in the ‘golden age of data’

Some 83% of UK consumers found the product they wanted to buy unavailable in-store during the past 12 months, while 70% have found the same online – this is according to a GT Nexus online survey, conducted in association with global polling company YouGov. Highlighting the paradox that in this golden age of ubiquitous data and the connected consumer – where retailers have access to unprecedented levels of information on shopping behaviour and trends – planning and prediction efforts are still not guaranteeing that retailers can meet buyer demand.

The online survey found that retailers can pay a heavy price for stock-outs. When recalling the most frustrating in-store stock-out in the last 12 months, 57% of disappointed in-store shoppers said it resulted in a lost sale for their first-choice retailer – they took their business elsewhere or didn't buy at all. The impact is even more acute for online retailers as 65% of disappointed online shoppers bought from another site, store, or abandoned their intention to buy entirely. The availability of fashion and footwear caused most frustration; when asked about their most frustrating experience of out of stock items, a third of disappointed UK shoppers (33% in-store; 34% online) said the product they wanted to purchase but was unavailable was a clothing and footwear item.

Unfortunately, with the rush to be ready for 'back-to-school' already underway, and the winter holiday season around the corner, the online survey on the whole indicates a massive gap between consumer expectations and retailers' ability to fulfill them. The results indicate significant impact upon sales; another area of particular concern for retailers, most notably, is that 84% of millennials (18-34 years) found they couldn't always get what they were looking for in-store in the last 12 months. An ever-demanding priority target market, that by nature does not subscribe to brand loyalty like the generations before it, today's retailers would be remiss to let their brand reputation suffer in the eyes of these shoppers.

Boris Felgendreher from supply chain expert GT Nexus believes the results illustrate an interesting paradox: "Retailers have invested fortunes in technology to predict customer demand. Yet, many still struggle to co-ordinate the flow of products based on their predictions and taking account of all the unexpected disruptions that can occur that are difficult if not impossible to plan for."

In the main, shoppers showed limited sympathy for retailers facing issues that can impact stock levels such as natural disasters or strikes. On the occasion when shoppers were most frustrated by their desired item being unavailable, 41% of disappointed in-store shoppers blamed the retailer, with 32% of online shoppers believing the same. Only 4% and 5% respectively considered it could be down to an external reason beyond the retailer's or manufacturer's control.

"Stocking the right goods, at the right time, at the right place, in the right quantities is an enormous coordination effort – but that is what today's shoppers have come to rightly expect. However, success hinges on the success of a retailer's supporting supply chain infrastructure," adds Felgendreher. "Modern supply chains are very complex and often involve hundreds of trading partners. While retailers continue to invest in the front-end of their business – the customer facing web sites and in-store promotions, they are lagging in their ability to execute the movement of goods; the ability to sense and respond to demand through greater inventory visibility and intelligence. To remain competitive, savvy business leaders are starting to embrace cloud technology so that they can not only collaborate with their trading partners in real-time, but also respond to sudden bursts in demand."

In summary, the online survey found:

  • 83% of UK adults have suffered from an unavailable product in-store in the last 12 months (70% online)
  • 21% of UK adults experienced in-store stock outs often (14%) or very often (7%) in the last year
  • When asked about their most frustrating experience of out of stock items in the last 12 months; a third of disappointed UK shoppers (33% in-store; 34% online) said the product they wanted to purchase but was unavailable was a clothing and footwear item
  • 41% of disappointed in-store shoppers blamed the retailer when the product was unavailable
  • 57% of disappointed in-store shoppers became lost sales – where shoppers bought the product from another retailer or did not buy at all
  • 65% of disappointed online shoppers became lost sales – where shoppers bought the product from another retailer or did not buy at all.

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