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Endless Aisle: How to Meet Customer Demand and Lower Inventory Costs

Customer standing in an endless aisle ready to purchase their order
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Customer standing in an endless aisle ready to purchase their order

Customers want it all. While ecommerce currently represents around 20% of all retail sales (up from 14% in 2019), 72% of customers still rely on physical stores as part of their primary buying method. Retailers need to satisfy consumer preferences for both online and in-store shopping.

While in online settings you can feature your full product selection, in brick and mortar stores it’s not so easy. With limited shelf space and inventory management to consider, you can only stock a small selection of your product line. But blending the best of both online and offline worlds is possible by using endless aisles. 

Read on to learn about how to unify your online and offline selling to improve customer satisfaction, and lower your inventory costs with endless aisles. 

What are endless aisles? 

Endless aisles are the idea of placing online orders for customers that visit retail stores. Customers can purchase out-of-stock items that aren’t available in-store but can be delivered to their chosen address. This could include ordering an item that’s in a different color or size online that’s not available to take away from the physical store. 

You might hear endless aisles referred to as “buy in-store, ship to customer”.

Using endless aisles means retailers don’t need to maintain and balance stock across multiple physical locations. Endless aisles let you offer your entire product catalog in your physical store without needing to actually carry the stock. 

When integrated properly your endless aisle technology should receive real-time inventory updates too.

3 types of endless aisles 

There are three main types of endless aisles retailers should be aware of:

  1. Self-serve experience: Customers can purchase items in-store at a self-serve kiosk and have them shipped to their homes. 
  2. Showrooming: Customers browse products in-store and complete their purchase online through QR codes shown on product signage or via email carts where sales associates make virtual carts for customers as they shop so they can complete their purchase later. 
  3. Order fulfillment: Instead of having stock on hand, retailers can dropship products to a customer’s delivery address. A store associate takes a customer order at a physical location through the ecommerce store. A third-party supplier picks up the customer order data and handles the packing and shipping.

What are the benefits of endless aisles? 

Using endless aisle retail strategies can positively impact your business on many levels. Here are some of the key benefits of implementing endless aisles for retailers:

Improve customer experience

If you offer your entire product catalog at your physical stores, you’ll improve the chance that customers shop with you and not a competitor. 30% of consumers feel that stockouts harm their shopping experience. Only 16% buy another item from the same brand while 37% walk out and buy from a different brand. 

Endless aisles mean saying goodbye to frustrating in-store stockouts and the possibility of customers shopping with a competitor who stocks the product they want.

They help you educate customers about products and encourage shoppers to interact with them in-store before making a purchasing decision.

Endless aisles appeal to the modern demand for omnichannel retail. 

Lower online returns

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), online sales accounted for $1.050 trillion of total US retail sales in 2021. But, approximately $218 billion of online purchases were returned. Often what drives shoppers to return online purchases is a mismatch in expectations. Products look or feel different from how they had hoped.

Customers can’t try before they buy when they exclusively purchase online. Endless aisles solve this problem by letting shoppers interact with products before they purchase them. 

In-person interactions also allow associates to cross-sell or upsell to receptive customers. 

Reduce inventory costs

Inventory costs are the costs generated from ordering and holding inventory. They’re usually the largest cost retailers have –– for every US dollar a retailer makes, they have $1.33 in stock

Endless aisles enable you to sell a wider product assortment without having to hold inventory for every product at every store. That way you can store stock in your warehouse or in stores with more shelf space. Endless aisles give customers access to more of your products without increasing your inventory levels.

Offering more products with less physical inventory is the way forward in modern retail –– prioritizing freshness and differentiation is often why retail brands outrank the competition. 

Endless aisles examples

Want to see how endless aisles look in practice? Here are three examples of retailers using endless aisles in their stores. 

Bonobos

Menswear retailer Bonobos has developed a personal concierge-led showroom where customers can try on items in-store. Bonobos store associates, or guides as they’re known, help customers choose the perfect items before taking care of delivering them to their home address. This creates a personalized interaction and customers don’t need to worry about whether their favorite item is in stock. 

 Interiors of endless aisle menswear shop Bonobos
Source

Staples

Office supply chain Staples uses store kiosks that provide customers with access to over 100,000 products including school supplies, office furniture, tech products, and cleaning equipment. Shoppers can make payments at the touchscreen kiosk or store checkout. 

To incentivize customers, Staples offers free next-day delivery for products ordered through their interactive kiosks. 

Finger touching Staples self-service touch screen endless aisle kiosk
Source

Staples also uses a self-service system where customers scan product QR codes before moving to the POS (point of sale) system to order products and complete the purchase for home delivery. 

Using these endless aisle strategies helps the retailer use its store space more efficiently while offering customers a wider variety of products. 

MADE

Home interiors brand MADE uses showrooms as part of their endless aisle strategy. Customers can browse their products and get expert styling advice at the same time. Shoppers can interact with the products in person and compare different models, styles, and colors. 

Once customers are happy with their selection, sales associates place the order via a tablet or mobile device and shoppers make their payment. The items are then shipped to their chosen address. 

By using in-store showroom experiences, MADE reduces the risk of dissatisfied customers requesting returns. 

Blue sofa in MADE endless aisle showroom
Source

Five tactics to consider for your endless aisle strategies 

Endless aisles used to take between two and four months to implement for a single vendor. Now with platforms like Convictional, it can take just two to four clicks (or 15 minutes). 

It’s important to be able to efficiently onboard all the brands you need to. If you’re not able to offer fast onboarding, you run the risk that your chosen brands will cool off and won’t finish onboarding. Like all of us, brands don’t want to waste time –– they’ll always choose retailers that have onboarding systems with the lowest effort and offer the highest potential ROI. 

Here are five tactics to consider when you’re implementing an endless aisle strategy: 

1. Think about your core offering 

Before you start onboarding brands, think about your core product offering. It makes sense to onboard new brands that are closest to your core today –– you’re more likely to see more sales and profitability. 

For example, if you sell BBQs, start by offering these in your endless aisles. Next, add BBQ accessories and patio furniture. Later on, think about products that are adjacent to your offering like patio stones. 

Endless aisles offer the possibility of adding infinite products to your offering, but it’s important to start close to your core and slowly build out as you see success.  

2. Start with a brand you already work with 

Build out your endless aisles with brands you already work with. Jumping in with multiple brands before you’re sure of customer demand may create inventory problems down the road. 

Work with your current vendors to find out what they can supply from their warehouses. If you’re unsure of demand, ask them about their dropshipping capacity for new products. Keep in mind you may need to teach your chosen brands about dropshipping if they haven’t used it before. 

3. Find out what your customers are asking for 

Retailers need to build endless aisles that surprise and delight customers. So it’s vital to think about which products help with customer acquisition and retention. 

Start by directly asking your customers about the products they want you to carry. Do they want you to sell hammocks and garden furniture? Or would they prefer you stock blue and pink barbecues? You can do this by emailing customer questionnaires or by asking customers in-store. 

Track what customers are asking for via search too. If you notice customers are searching your site or asking store associates about charcoal and wood pellets, you’ll know these items are a good choice for your endless aisle.  

4. Integrate Convictional with your ERP system for easier onboarding

Integrating Convictional with your ERP system makes it easy to start setting up endless aisles with your vendors. With the menu of integration options, you can provide easy supplier onboarding for dropship, marketplace and wholesale business models. 

Shopify brands connect to your systems in minutes and there’s also support for traditional EDI suppliers too. There are also API first integrations for brands who prefer this method. 

Integrating Convictional will optimize the whole onboarding process and make it simpler to get started with your chosen brands.

5. Create a process that enables your team to place “ship to customer” orders in-store 

A winning endless aisle seamlessly combines in-person selling with the convenience of the online experience. 

Think about how you can create a blended experience where customers aren’t afraid to try your technology. Self-service kiosks are great for customers who are confident tech users. But often, shoppers want some form of assistance. Selling products through a tablet or mobile POS can help customers feel more confident. 

For example, customers could view your products either in-person or at a kiosk before placing their order with an associate with a POS-enabled device. This marriage between endless aisles and a retailer’s POS can offer the best of both worlds. 

Implement endless aisles at your store today 

If you’re looking to reduce your retail space or simplify your inventory management, endless aisles could be worth implementing. 

The key is to start slowly with brands and products you already know. Consider which types of endless aisles are most likely to resonate with your target customers. Then create an in-store process where customers feel supported by knowledgeable store associates. 

To simplify the process, retailers can set up an endless aisle solution with Convictional. Contact our sales team to get started today. 

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