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The Importance of Endless Aisles within Your Digital Shelf and Retail Strategy

This past year has completely changed the way consumers shop for products. One of the most popular buying habits is engaging in other is online shopping, which has increased by 44% just in the last year due to COVID-19. Forty-five percent of consumers used home delivery this year and over 90%  utilized buy online, pick-up in-store, or curbside. More consumers daily are finding what they need online quickly – and that’s because organizations are ensuring they find what they need by placing the best product content on the internet for users to easily find. That’s all due to investing in their digital shelf.

What is a Digital Shelf?

Brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart or Target carry multiple brands and each aisle displays these different labels throughout. We then select a product or brand depending on its placement and the detailed information associated with it. Digital shelf is essentially an online version of this entire experience and allows a company to show a full product catalog in multiple places, such as their ecommerce website, marketplace, mobile app, and others. It also gives your business the freedom to choose how you’d like to market your product’s content in these multiple areas, bringing awareness to your business and turning users into buyers.

Over the years, the ecommerce strategy has certainly evolved and aligned closely with retail strategy by enabling certain functionalities like:

  • BOPIS: Buy online, pick-up in store (or curbside)
  • ROPIS: Reserve online, pick-up in-store
  • BORIS: Buy online, return in-store

These features have allowed buyers to browse, shop, purchase the products online, and interact with the store for pick-up or returns. This does require orders and inventory to be maintained in real-time between the online store and the retail store. Buyers like the convenience of interacting with the local store and not waiting for deliveries or sending in returns via a shipping provider. It can also help increase foot traffic in the store, builds brand loyalty, and allows in-person customer service interaction options as well (when needed).

What is the Endless Aisle and Why is it Important?

Even though the number of online shoppers has consistently increased, there is still a portion of the population who loves to shop in-store, especially the stores within the mall. There is value in seeing and feeling the products in person, and trying or testing them out before making a purchase. One of the challenges a physical retail store always has is to be able to project the number of sales to stock the appropriate amount of inventory. Most retail stores do run out of inventory and have to continuously restock. In the time it takes to restock the inventory, stores run the risk of sending the buyers back without making a sale and thus missing out on that potential revenue.

This is why stores have started to implement the concept of the endless aisle as a way to bridge the experience gap between an in-store experience vs an online experience. Endless aisles are in-store digital devices (tablets or kiosks) that allow customers to browse the full product catalog online and purchase a product that may have just run out of inventory or was never stocked in that store. By making an online purchase while in-store, customers still get the full experience of browsing, interacting with customer care (as needed), purchasing the product, and either picking it up in-store at a later date or getting it shipped to their homes. This way, customers also have an option to try out a sample product in-store before making the purchase or try out the product they received at home and return in-store or ship it back if it does not meet their needs.

Endless aisle provides benefits like:

  • Customer retention by preventing a loss of customers (foot-traffic) and not have them consider shopping at competing stores
  • Mitigate the risk of lost sales even after a product goes out of stock
  • More product choices available to customers to view and purchase
  • Opportunity for cross-selling and up-sell via the sales representative
  • Consult an in-store expert but avoid long checkout lines
  • Sell more inventory without having to stock those products in-store

Key Elements for a Successful Endless Aisle Strategy

For the endless aisle strategy to be successfully implemented as part of the larger digital shelf strategy, it’s crucial to align the people, the processes, and the underlying technology to enable this seamless experience.

  • These in-store vs online commerce strategies are not mutually exclusive. A true end-to-end experience would need to make sure to retain the customer’s interest during the browsing phase and guide them through the shopping experience all the way to checkout.

Following are some of the key elements that contribute to the success of this strategy:

  • Guided user experiences (online and in-store)
  • Enriched product content
  • Real-time inventory updates
  • Order fulfillment and notifications
  • Allow in-store returns for online purchases
  • Capture customer information
  • Implement up-selling and cross-selling
  • Provide in-store and online discount coupons
  • Product catalog updates and product positioning

An important point to call out is that enriched product content and real-time inventory updates for both in-store and online experiences are important. Clear and detailed product information helps to hold the buyer’s interest, leads them to the purchase phase, and reduces the chances of returns. Real-time inventory helps streamline the fulfillment process against an accurate number of items in stock irrespective of where the buyer purchased the product or where they returned a product.

Integrate Endless Aisle and Digital Shelf

It’s valuable for retailers to consider the implementation of endless aisles as part of their commerce strategy to help build synergy with their retail strategy. To learn more about implementing these types of initiatives, contact our commerce experts today.

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Ritesh Keskar

Ritesh is an eCommerce Practice Director and PIM Consultant at Perficient. His role is to provide consultation to clients for their Product Information Management strategy alongside their Commerce Solutions roadmap, as well as to assist with platform selection and implementation.

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