How can I increase sales without burning a hole in my pocket? It’s a question that keeps most retailers up at night. Sure, you can pay a ludicrous sum to secure endless products with limitless options (read: colours, sizes, materials). But that’s not helpful advice when there’s only so much money you can invest and only so much stock you can physically hold.
To make matters worse, customers don’t particularly care about your problems. Not when that fancy retailer round the corner has far deeper pockets to offer more stock, with more fancy ways of getting the stock to them and giving them what they want.
So, what’s a mortal retailer to do?
Enter: endless aisles and special orders, offering a risk-free way to make more sales while improving the customer experience.
Endless aisles and special orders offer incredibly desirable benefits in three critical ways. They:
- Give your customers exactly what they want by providing the same convenience, flexibility and product range as an online store
- Keep your costs down by not having to own or keep the stock on your premises
- Make it much easier for profits to keep flowing in
Before we discuss how it works, let’s clarify the terminology.
What are endless aisles in retail?
An endless aisle (or endless aisles) is a concept where retailers offer products to in-store clients online. The endless aisle concept is a bit like the reverse of choosing Click & Collect (aka BOPIS). But instead of the customer shopping online from home, they are physically in-store, selecting from a wide range of virtual products, showcasing the various sizes, colours and materials available.
The shop assistant may display the goods to the retailer via their computer screen or another electronic device such as an iPad.
Some items displayed on the endless aisle may be in stock or on the showroom floor as a demonstration model. In contrast, others may be located at a distributor and can be shipped to the store or the customer’s home.
What is a special order in retail?
In retail, a special order is when a customer places an order for a product that is currently not in stock. The product can be any item in the range of goods you supply. Alternatively, it may be held in another location, be in transit on a ship or require manufacturing.
Retail Express POS software makes it possible to offer endless aisles & special orders. Retailers of almost any size can increase sales, reduce stockouts and improve the customer experience. Get a free, customised demo from an Australian-based Retail Express expert today.
Meeting retail customer expectations
Today’s consumers are unforgiving, with high expectations. To meet these high expectations, retail stores have to offer the same convenience, flexibility and depth of product range that an eCommerce shopping experience provides.
Online stores are not limited by the square meterage of their stores, so they can digitally showcase an unlimited number of products. Better still, it’s done in a way that’s easy for customers to navigate — especially if they display live stock levels in-store — a massive benefit of omnichannel retailing.
But today, many customers visit online stores purely to research products, then visit a nearby store to pick up the goods.
But here lies the problem.
Suppose you don’t give up-to-the-minute information, and there’s a gap between expectations and delivery. In that case, you compromise the customer experience, and the retailer loses the sale.
Imagine if a customer makes an effort to drive to your store, only to find that the goods aren’t available. They won’t be happy (goodbye customer experience) and will go elsewhere (goodbye sale).
Not looking good, is it?
But let’s be reasonable — it’s also not possible to hold every product any customer may want. And even if you could, it’d be a high-risk activity. Imagine the investment you’d outlay — and the losses if those goods didn’t sell.
So how can you sustainably balance your customers' needs with your business?
Endless aisles: how they reduce stockouts, inventory problems & customer dissatisfaction
You can’t physically hold unlimited stock — but your suppliers can.
With special orders, you can leverage your supplier’s ‘endless’ product range and available stock from your other stores. This way, you’ll offer a much more comprehensive range of stock than what you hold in your stores.
So now you can meet and exceed customer expectations without any upfront risk.
And that, comparatively, is rather good, no?
Here are some scenarios to explain how it works.
Endless aisle example 1
A customer walks into an outdoor adventure store and wants to buy a tent. To be competitive, the retailer offers a vast catalogue of tents from all brands but can’t afford to stock everything in-store. The customer wants to buy a tent that’s on display. A special order would allow the retailer to take a deposit, order the tent directly from the supplier (on behalf of the customer) and then arrange home delivery or in-store pickup once it arrives. Ka-ching.
Endless aisle example 2
A customer visits a bike retailer’s online store and wants to buy a specific bike in a size or colour outside the core range held in inventory. Suppose the retailer goes the extra mile to give the customer a solution to this problem (placing a special order of the bike from the supplier). In that case, they’re likely to close the sale. If they don’t, they’re almost guaranteed to lose it.
Why aren’t all retailers doing this to increase sales?
You probably already know this approach: furniture and bedding stores have been using showrooms to sell products sourced from suppliers for decades. It’s a core component of their operating model.
Tapping into special orders can help retailers in any category to maximise their product sales potential and deliver a better customer experience. The problem, however, is that previously, special orders have been a massive admin nightmare.
Retailers have considered special orders more of a ‘headache on a stick’ than a realistic option. Headaches such as:
- Time and effort spent placing purchase orders
- Time and effort tracking them in the supply chain
- Updating anxious or demanding customers
- Potential errors causing hours, if not days, on the phone
- Expensive stockouts
- Disappointing delays
In other words, it was a recipe for exasperation, poor customer experiences and little financial return.
But that’s because a lot of the work was manual.
And manual work with special orders is no longer necessary. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be.
Omnichannel software: removing the challenges of endless aisles
Fortunately, it is now possible to successfully introduce special orders and an endless aisle solution for almost any retail business — providing you use reputable omnichannel software with advanced inventory and fulfilment features.
Here’s what your new endless aisle omnichannel world would look like.
Processing the retail sale-
The right point of sale system will enable your staff to:
- Create a POS sale for a product that is not in stock
- Flag Special Orders in the system
- Record key information like ‘expected delivery date’ and ‘delivery location’
- Automate minimum payment deposit rules and terms
- Process Special Orders and Cash and Carry in the same transaction
Once the sale is complete, the appropriate software system automatically generates a Purchase Order (PO) to the supplier.
When the PO is received, the system auto-creates the stock transfers back to the stores. This gives retailers complete supply chain tracking: sales, POs and transfers are all linked together.
Purchase Orders are also consolidated within the software system. This allows retailers to meet a supplier’s minimum order value with the best pricing while also minimising freight costs.
Supply chain visibility-
When done well (with the appropriate inventory and fulfilment software), staff can see all outstanding orders, including the customer’s and supplier’s expected dates.
This automation eliminates staff needing to contact the head office for inbound special order stock updates. Therefore, it will boost productivity by allowing the team to put their efforts into other profit-enhancing areas.
Your staff will also be better equipped to answer customer update enquiries. Knowing which orders were promised to customers and what needs to go on the shelves, the ‘put away’ process becomes more straightforward.
Choosing the best POS system for your retail business
Choose your software carefully. Take your time and do your homework. The best POS software system for your retail business will be cloud-based and include special orders as an ‘out-of-the-box’ feature, not an added extra. They should be able to be quickly and easily customised to meet the specific needs of your business. This way, you can focus on running your retail operation — not managing a complex IT project.
An agile, capable, point-of-sale software system will deliver the following benefits for your retail business:
- Maximise the revenue on your entire product portfolio without having to hold stock
- Improve cashflow by taking deposits before paying suppliers
- Eliminate up to 75% of manual administration
- Deliver a better customer experience and product range
- Build loyal brand advocates that stay with you longer and make repeat purchases
- Reduce costly inventory risk
Retail Express offers advanced yet affordable point of sale software that makes it easy to provide endless aisles and Special Orders. It will allow you to compete with the more prominent players, maximise your profit-building potential — and make your customers very happy.