Being able to sell products held anywhere in the organization requires constant attention, Forrester Research says.

In an effort to never lose a sale due to an empty shelf, retail chains including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Macy’s Inc., Home Depot Inc., Kohl’s Corp. and others have invested in technology, hardware, staff and more to enable them to sell products held anywhere in their networks to customers visiting a store. Retailers employing the so-called endless aisle strategy now report such sales represent between 1% and 10% of store revenue, Forrester Research Inc. says in a new report.

That’s helping retailers secure some of the approximately 10% of retail store sales Forrester says are lost due to items being out of stock. But implementing an endless aisle program isn’t easy and requires constant coordination of technology, process and people, according to the “Drive Incremental Sales with Endless Aisle Capabilities” report.

Consumer shopping habits are trending in a way that means retail chains must put in the work or lose sales to competitors. Upon visiting a store and finding a product they want is out of stock, 17% of U.S. online adults say they would use their mobile devices to make an immediate purchase at a competitor’s website; 37% say they will buy that item from an online retailer when they get home and 35% say they will just go to a different store to buy it. Among online adults age 26 to 34, those figure are even higher: 30% will immediately buy from a competitor on their mobile device, 47% will buy online when they get home and 45% will visit a competing store. “Out-of-stock situations effectively invite shoppers to find and purchase their items elsewhere,” writes lead author and Forrester principal analyst Adam Silverman.

To offer endless aisle capabilities, retail chains must know what stock is available and where with a high degree of accuracy. Retailers surveyed for the Forrester report recommend 98% accuracy. That means having a reliable order management system in place that can see and report across all sales channels in real time.

Store clerks also must be trained on how to find inventory easily—the Forrester report recommends clerks have mobile devices in hand to look up inventory and place orders for consumers rather than rely on stationary kiosks and point of sale terminals. The report also recommends, based on retailer input, that the employee who places the order gets credit for the sale rather than the store or warehouse where the product is located.


“Associates must be given credit for the endless aisle sale (as part of their compensation packages) even though the store that fulfills the order gets the credit within the profit and loss statement,” the report says. “This approach will allow e-business leaders to measure their success in servicing the customer through endless aisle capabilities and form business cases for ongoing strategies and future initiatives.”