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How the Grinch Almost Stole My Retail Experience

Colby Creger
12/15/20 3:02 PM

Recently I made plans to purchase several Christmas light boxes and decorate Clark Griswold style. 

Since I'm an informed consumer, I pulled up a retailer's website to confirm availability before leaving the house. My search revealed my winter wonderland dreams would come true. The lights were available! I jumped in the car, navigated drive-time traffic to my local big-box retailer, and started searching for a sale on the C9 Warm White Christmas lights. As I entered the store and strolled down the aisle stocked with Christmas lights, I saw an empty shelving area with a "SALE" sign underneath. Empty? The online search I conducted 15 minutes ago showed these were available. 

My Griswold aspirations were dimming quickly. 

Critical Retail Problem

Out-of-Stock (OOS) is a critical problem in the retail space. Studies have shown that 39% of shoppers will leave empty-handed in an OOS scenario. Another 12% will choose a competitor. 

In all cases, the retailer, CPG, and consumer all lose. Data plays a critical role in mitigating OOS scenarios. Data feeds internal inventory systems. If the internal inventory systems aren't communicating with website inventory or the data isn't updated in real-time, or the information is just wrong, there's a problem. 

In my scenario, was there an error in the data load from the CPGs? Perhaps the sale didn't match the correct SKUs for the right products. As a consumer, I don't know what happened behind the scenes. I just know how I'll remember my experience. 

The impact of these data-driven mistakes is enormous. Numbers show that consumers are going to choose other options when OOS happens. Beyond that, and possibly more importantly, you expose the potential of subpar customer service interactions. 

As Albertson's CEO Vivek Sankaran said, "You are only as good as your last transaction." Can you imagine providing a shopping experience so underwhelming that you don't even get that last transaction because the customer decides to walk out empty-handed? Worst yet, what if they take their business elsewhere?

As a retail executive, you shouldn't accept those risks. You have to know that your data is useful and that consumers can trust what they see online and in the store. 

Lights Out

Me? I didn't make it to the transaction during my visit. 

When I didn't find what I was promised online, I grabbed the nearest associate. Unfortunately, he couldn't help me after 10 minutes of searching for additional help from his handheld device. He couldn't see updated inventory numbers. His condolences did little to brighten my hopes of a well-lit house. 

I ventured to customer service, where I was told they had many of the lights I wanted. I was introduced to the Christmas light expert, who confirmed the lights' location and happily went to grab them. But seven minutes later, she returns with the wrong lights. 

The expert and customer service rep explain that their data shows the lights are here. They confer. I wait an additional 30-minutes for them to figure out that the lights are on a pallet in the back and haven't been unboxed. 

With my Griswold Christmas looking bleak, I called it quits at the store, but decided to give this retailer one last shot at my business by ordering online. I started to wonder if the retailer was the Grinch in disguise when they could not fulfill my online order. So after the initial online search, numerous employee interactions, a trip to the store with high expectations, and coming up empty-handed, I visited a competitor. 

Of course, I found lights at another retailer, and they answered my Griswold dreams.

Not everyone wants to visit a store to light up their house and neighborhood like Clark Griswold, but everyone wants a positive experience. That experience is predicated on how well a retailer manages, integrates, and uses its data to understand and help customers access the products they want.

Are frustrated consumers leaving the store empty-handed this holiday season? If your answer is yes, then you're not using data to its full potential. Successful data usage and system collaboration can deliver the gift of accurate information and robust processes that fulfill your promises to shoppers.

Let's find some time to chat about your system.

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