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Out-of-Stocks Worse Now Than Height of Pandemic?

Consumers aware of supply chain issues, but want retailers to do more: survey
empty shelves in store, out-of-stocks
Image: Shutterstock

CHICAGO — Continued supply chain disruption and retail labor shortages have made product out-of-stocks worse now compared to the period of panic buying seen at the start of the pandemic according to U.S. shoppers, the latest research from Retail Insight shows.

Original research of more than 1,000 U.S. shoppers by the retail-execution company showed seven in ten (71%) consumers felt out-of-stocks are now worse in-store compared to when consumers panic bought at the start of the pandemic, with a further 61% saying stock availability online was now lower than during the same period of panic buying.

More than half (54%) said out-of-stocks seemed to be more of a bricks-and-mortar issue, and while items were not available in-store, online availability seemed better, the report said. However, six in ten (61%) said there was often a replacement item that met their needs if their usual products or brand was not available on the shelf.

Online, nearly half (46%) of shoppers had noticed more items were missing or not available in their online grocery orders, with the same number (46%) saying they had experienced more substitutions in their weekly online shop and a further 41% saying they had noticed more errors creeping into their online food shops. And, according to the Retail Insights poll, poor inventory product in online grocery orders had prompted 45% of consumers to do extra top-up shops to replace missing items or poor swaps.

“For the most part, shoppers are understanding of the well-publicized and multifaceted pressures facing retailers in today’s challenging trading environment. But that does not stop poor availability, out-of-stocks and shelf-gaps from becoming more than just a bone of contention in their buying journeys,” said Paul Boyle, CEO of Retail Insight. “Poor stock availability, whether in-store or on the digital shelf, is one of the biggest drivers of customer dissatisfaction, and where baskets get abandoned and long-term loyalty can be lost.

“We estimate that retailers lose 8% of revenue through poor inventory availability, which when combined with intensified competition and spiraling supplier and manufacturing costs, is revenue retailers simply cannot afford to leave on the table.”

While almost half (48%) blame the pandemic in general as the biggest cause of out of stocks, 37% felt there were enough staff available to stack shelves in-store while 36% blamed a shortage of warehouse operatives, as retailers face mounting pressure amidst growing labor shortages. A further 37% also pointed to the rising cost of food production causing shelf gaps in the aisles. Meanwhile, 44% of consumers said retailers did not have the technological infrastructure needed to cope with heightened or rapidly changing demand, while over a quarter (26%) said grocery chains did not have the systems in place to cope with new supply chain demands.

Two-thirds (66%) said better pay and working conditions for warehouse operatives and store staff could improve the inventory availability issues retailers were facing, despite many U.S. retailers already bolstering pay or offering new benefits to store associates and warehouse workers to address labor gaps following the Great Resignation in a bid to recruit and retain staff.

While over a third (34%) called for better collaboration between retailers and suppliers, more than one-quarter (28%) said the answer to stock availability lay in better logistics capabilities, and a further 26% said retailers needed better forecasting capabilities to cope with fluctuating demand and reduce shelf gaps.

Chicago-based Retail Insight uses data to develop strategy by focusing on the factors that drive sales and profit performance, minimize waste and loss, and increase operational efficiency.

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