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Article 5 min read

5 top reasons why retailers need an endless aisle solution now

An endless aisle can turn a frustrating shopping experience into a positive one. Here's how retailers can use it to boost brand loyalty and drive business growth.

By Caroline Lesley Baldwin, Contributing Writer

Last updated March 8, 2023

Today’s shoppers insist on immediacy. They use their phones to get anything they want instantly. When it comes to shopping, a customer walks into a store and expects an item to be waiting for them on the shelf or immediately available through buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS). What does this mean for retailers that want to stay ahead of consumer trends? Let’s take a closer look at what an endless aisle is and what it means for the retail world.

We know all too well the experience of heading off to your local store, product in mind, only for there to be a gaping hole and an ‘out of stock’ sticker on the shelf. It’s frustrating for shoppers and retailers alike—creating a poor customer experience and the potential of a lost sale. This jarring halt of the shopping journey can drive customers to the competition down the street or online. Research by Statista shows that 37 percent of in-store shoppers will shop elsewhere if what they’re looking for is out of stock. What’s more, almost half would simply walk out and abandon the purchase altogether.

Retailers are increasingly encouraging customers to engage with brands via in-store experiences, but the average store struggles to stock every possible SKU in their catalog. This is where retailers need to capture that almost-lost sale by predicting demand and extending their inventory with an ‘endless aisle’ solution.

What is an endless aisle?

An endless aisle is an innovative solution that blurs the lines between brick-and-mortar and online shopping. When a product is out of stock or a store isn’t large enough to carry its entire catalog, an endless aisle captures an in-store customer’s intent to buy in the moment by directing them to the retailer’s website via an in-store kiosk or tablet, a QR code, or NFC device. Once online, shoppers are provided with a rich customer experience, complete with additional content about the product and upselling opportunities, real-time inventory information, and a quick and efficient way to buy the item (with multiple fulfillment options).

An endless aisle can turn a frustrating shopping experience into a positive one with a few taps of a smart device. But it’s not just about capturing the sale. Let’s take a deep dive into the top five reasons why endless aisle technology is critical to the omnichannel retail journey:

  1. Forecast demand

    If a shopper comes in to buy a blanket before a cold snap and finds their item out of stock, not only has the retailer lost that sale, but they have also lost that information related to demand. If this interaction had happened online, retailers could see a spike in traffic, associate it with the weather, and plan accordingly. But if a customer simply walks away from an empty shelf, that information is lost forever. With an endless aisle, retailers can better forecast demand and move inventory around their business more seamlessly to support changes in demand. Even if the product is out of stock in that particular store, shoppers can still buy the product there and then, and have it delivered to their door a day (or sometimes hours) later.
  2. Capture key data

    With permission, retailers have an opportunity to capture information—such as email address, location, preferences, and much more—when they engage with a shopper online. This data is more difficult to gain from in-store shoppers who can come in and out of a store anonymously, but not impossible. By tying foot traffic data, SKU-level purchase patterns, and loyalty card use to an endless aisle solution, retailers can connect the dots and identify in-store shoppers and digital shoppers. With the right CRM, retailers can use this vital data to see trends, forecast demand, plan future marketing campaigns, and help customer support agents better serve their customers.
  3. Improve customer engagement

    An endless aisle doesn’t have to be a sterile table device in a physical store. Think outside the box by introducing innovations like magic mirrors, which work well in fashion and beauty and increase dwell time considerably. Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Mirror allows customers to try on various looks to create a realistic augmented reality visualization. Trying on products—even in a virtual setting—engages customers. This means they are more likely to buy, whether that’s in the store in real time or via a follow-up email that provides the shopper with a list of the products they tried on to buy at a later date.
  4. Extend shelf space

    Endless aisle solutions can also help retailers tackle the problem of having a finite amount of shelf space in-store. With an endless aisle, retailers can leverage their full catalog in the smallest of footprints, using this precious space to stock their best-selling products. Take Harvey Nichols as an example. The British luxury department chain put tablets in-store for customers to interact with products via NFC tags on shelves. Customers could shop alone or with a store associate and save a ‘collection’ of scanned items when finished if they wished. Entering an email address allows for this and for Harvey Nichols to re-engage the customers via email. With retail unit rents and energy costs at an all-time high, endless aisle solutions could be used to help reduce the store footprint and turn key locations into showrooms where the shelf space extends to an ecommerce store.
  5. Save an instant sale

    For an endless aisle to work effectively, retailers must have sight of real-time inventory levels. If a customer comes into the store to buy a dress, but their size is missing and they turn to a tablet device for assistance, it may well be that the item is actually in the store, just in the wrong place. With a click of a button, a store assistant can be alerted to the problem and quickly search the changing room to find that item and make that shopper’s day. According to the Zendesk CX Trends Report, customers who have a positive shopping experience with a brand are more likely to remain loyal customers.
    An endless aisle is most effective when it goes hand-in-hand with a digital shelf strategy. This joined-up strategy means when the retailer directs an in-store customer online to complete a purchase, they can easily find all the information they need to hit that buy button and become a satisfied customer.

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