Technology continues to dramatically alter and craft the shape of a new retail landscape. Large monuments to what was continue to erode, some marginally whilst others are significantly abandoned by the prevailing winds of change and the underlying and shifting tectonic plates. The omnichannel consumer emerges and the retailer adapts accordingly. Retailers now feel an expanded strain to have an omnichannel presence. Selling products should be in a matter of seconds, and as seamless as possible.

Mobile, in-store and online are quickly merging together. This disruption has advanced the concept of Endless Aisle.

Endless Aisle, otherwise known as the virtual shelf, looks to define its value to an omnichannel connected retailer, and therefore consumer. If the mail order business was superseded by online purchases, lay-by through to Click and Collect, what is the next stage in this technological adaptation to service retailers and customer needs? And what is the real substance of Endless Aisle that enhances the retailer’s delivery, customer journey and makes good economic sense , versus what is froth and bubble (or non – value-accretion if you like)?

What is Endless Aisle?

Endless Aisle refers to the concept of enabling customers in your stores to virtually browse or order a wide range of products that are either out of stock or not available in-store and have them shipped to the store or their home. Terms such as Endless Aisle, drop shipping and virtual merchandising all refer to a retailer’s ability to sell out out-of-stock items to in-store customers or sell online items that are not kept in local inventory. Endless Aisle is an extension to your in-store self.

The purpose of a shop comes to the fore here. It’s the showrooming, human experience of the brand to convert and drive higher Average transaction value (ATV)/loyalty that is crucial to the concept of Endless Aisle being the success factor in the integrated brand experience. To sell out-of-stock items to in-store customers, the retailer places an order for inventory to be kept by external suppliers. The supplier then ships the products directly to the customer from their storehouse. To the customer, though, it appears as if the retailer has sold the item. The supplier is completely invisible in this process. It would then seem you have an ”endless aisle” of products and are never truly out-of-stock. Endless Aisle strategy through external suppliers is a process called drop shipping.

Factors to consider when setting up Endless Aisle

  • Keeping inventory updated in real time:

The most critical element of all to the foundation of a successful integrated business information system is the platform on which it operates. First and foremost, retailers must know when stock is available and where. For many, this means the inventory levels across your sales channels must be updated in real-time or very closely. If you sell in-store and multiple places online, your inventory will constantly change. Real-time inventory updates require efficient system integration and inventory management technology to ensure visibility of your current products.

Omnichannel Smart Fulfillment Solutions, with an efficient cloud-based Centralised Order Management system, helps retailers overcome infrastructure and inventory challenges. It connects mobile, online and store channels to aggregate orders from various supply chains and provides a single dashboard of information across the retail channels.

This helps retailers maintain a single view of inventory across all channels. Meanwhile, some systems provide the ability to auto-route orders to distribution centres or stores depending on stock location, leverage stock inventory and manage online returns in-store. By implementing this Endless Aisle concept, enabling flexible fulfilment, Store as fulfilment Centre, Return Anywhere and Distributed Order Management, retailers can meet customer needs in a faster and more efficient manner. One view of all inventory levels in real-time is mandatory for a truly effective integrated retail ecosystem to deliver a seamless customer experience.

  • Centralise all your orders

With orders being placed across channels, it’s inefficient to manage orders by channel separately. You won’t be able to easily track order status and inventory levels across all your sale channels. This can easily run you into problems when fulfilling in-store orders with drop shippers or via your online channels.

To solve this problem, retailers need a single place to manage and track all orders. There is also cautious of the complexities of working with a third-party provider to stock your endless aisles.

To track and update inventory quantities across all sales channels, all orders should be managed in a centralised location. This gives you visibility into inventory regardless of its locations and channel for delivery, ensuring you’re optimizing fulfilment practices.

The integrity and speed at which your inventory data remains up-to-date is critical in creating a successful customer experience when it comes to Endless Aisle. You must have accurate information relating to the availability of your products via your systems to ensure you will be able to fulfil an order. It’s all about giving the in-store customer what they are looking for in a convenient manner. – Matthew CraigMindArc

  • Empower staff

It’s not enough to just make sure that inventory levels are correct. Staff must also have easy access to be able to see inventory levels and communicate them with individual customers. This means that the present inventory availability must be within an employee’s order screen, a cashier’s point-of-sale screen, or an inside sales rep’s ERP order. You must have a system with these capabilities.

  • Working with suppliers 

The biggest challenge of the Endless Aisle is managing order processes with the suppliers you drop ship with. Retailers must have a three-way match process in place. If not put in place, it’s usually the downfall of any Endless Aisle strategy.

A Three-way match involves the vendor’s invoice for the order, the purchase order and the receiving report by the retailer. This process helps avoid paying any incorrect or fraudulent invoices. When working with drop shippers, you must ensure that vendors are accurately invoiced for items ordered, at the cost you expected, and track that the items were shipped to the customer. This is a lot to handle and track when you don’t have a physical possession of the products. The process will have to be thoroughly developed before considering selling products via drop shipping.

Strategic Implications of Endless Aisle

Increase in capital allocation through to business information systems offset by reducing operating costs associated with working capital.

An important step towards building a truly integrated retail ecosystem

Ability and opportunity to realign the physical shop’s location/size and distribution modelling

Creating one view of inventory/associated processes, customer data collection and collation points

So, is Endless Aisle a significant adaption for Retail Omnichannel development ?

It not only fulfills the need to manage data, inventory, minimise excess working capital investment and channel distribution modelling, but also increases average transaction multiples.

Endless Aisle signals the beginning of the end for channel thinking. Rather it highlights the emphasis on brand differentiation, with channel infrastructure increasingly interconnecting “behind the scenes” to products selection and distribution.

Hence, Endless Aisle is a key element in technology and customer-centricity deployment for retailers moving forward. If you currently operate as large retail stores with tons of shelf space and don’t have issues keeping items in stock, then Endless Aisle might be redundant for you. However, if you’re looking to downsize your retail footprint or cut back on inventory overhead, Endless Aisle is worth considering.

To learn more about the topic of Endless Aisle and its implication, download the whitepaper now! Information on our Digital Insights programs are available here!