Is Endless Aisle a Good Thing?

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One of the terms that has come up frequently at conferences I have attended and flashing before me online throughout the constant research I am performing is the thought of an endless aisle. Implementing an endless aisle strategy means using the Internet to display a long list of products online your customers can discover.  It is intended to be able to sell products that are either out of stock or not sold in store. Retail kiosks where retailers list additional products they do not carry in-store online in the hopes of capturing a customer sale. Is this smart retailing or grasping at straws?

The thought that comes across my mind is are we giving our customers too much choice and is the endless aisle really a good thing? By bombarding customers with endless options we are occasionally making a customers decision more difficult. The traditional retail approach is to carry a good, better, and best for each product category. The beautiful thing about the retail shelf is the fact that product assortment is limited due to physical retail space. This forces retailers to decide which products are worthy or not and effectively is limiting the amount of choice a customer has. I strongly believe this is one area customers appreciated as a service that retailers provided to customers. Retailers should be seen as experts in their field, doing the research on behalf of their customers with respect to selecting quality vendors to ensure customers would continue to appreciate their product post-purchase. With a limited product assortment retailers can increase their turns and store staff can focus on learning the products they do sell. Smaller specialty retailers have done this for years and because they are able to be category killers where they can obtain an insane amount of product knowledge compared to the big box, many customers including myself become loyal and prefer to shop there.

Most retailers who implement the endless aisle are admitting that they currently do not know their customers as well as they should. If they had more data around their customers, such as prior purchasing history, social data, and more they would begin to realize that a customer prefers top of the line or seeks out the latest gear only.  Knowing this data would allow retailers to have a better one-to-one relationship with a customer that ultimately results in customer loyalty. By doing so, retailers can hone down the choices making transactions more convenient and easier in addition to providing a better customer experience by educating customers about products. In today’s world many sales associates have been demoted to glorified stock boys and girls. Many customers walk into a store with more knowledge than the sales associate. By having countless products on an endless aisle, it is impossible for a sales associate to know them all let alone compare between products. It doesn’t have to be this way.

With ShipEarly.com’s in-store pickup retailers get advanced notice of the items customers are buying online so when a customer picks up an item in store the sales associate can customize each sales presentation to provide additional value to the customer by educating them about how their product works and additional accessories they may want to consider to enhance their product. The sales associate would have an idea of the product purchased, was premium or not, and could customize the presentation based on this and numerous other data points.

How do retailers know which products they should carry in the first place? Excuse our plug, but ShipEarly.com’s Order Capture service is a perfect fit. Order capture provides retailers data on an items sales history so they know what their local market prefers and don’t have to guess by adding an  endless aisle to their website. This allows retailers to focus their time and energy on products they know are selling locally. Setting up new items and ensuring they are up-to-date is time consuming. With ShipEarly retailers can better adjust their in-store assortment so that it meets or exceeds their local customer base expectations.

I have researched products with retailers that use endless aisle technology. We all live busy lives these days and often endless aisle requires more research. At checkout customers options explode resulting in more choice and additional research to ensure the right item is bought. This leads to customer reviews and brands becoming increasingly important. However, many customers like myself get distracted in our day-to-day lives and get pulled away during the online research phase resulting in lost sales…Just what the endless aisle claims to prevent.

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Is Endless Aisle a Good Thing?