Endless Aisles: How They Can Help Retailers Keep Up With Supply and Demand

Endless aisles in retail | Shopify Retail blog

Considering the competitive state of the retail world, retailers want to offer your customers as much product selection as you possible.

For the ecommerce portion of your business, it’s a bit easier to carry a variety of products. But for retail, it’s more difficult to stock so much product at a brick-and-mortar location. With a finite amount of shelf space, stores can only stock a limited number of products.

But there are options for retailers that find they run low on stock: Endless aisles. Endless aisles help merge your online offerings with your in-store locations to bring the best shopping experience possible to your customers.

What Are Endless Aisles?

So, what exactly is an endless aisle? Also referred to as "buy in store, ship to customer," iQmetrix defines endless aisles as, “the concept of using in-store kiosks to allow customers to order products that are out of stock or not sold in-store and have them shipped to their homes.” 

Rather than using interactive kiosks, retailers can also dropship out-of-stock products directly to a customer’s home. Essentially, you use third-party suppliers to fulfill your customer’s order. The benefit here is a continuous customer experience (they don’t have to deal with suppliers) and retailers have access to endless inventory without having to warehouse it.

Offering endless aisle services in your retail store is like carrying all the products you have available online in your actual store. It’s essentially the other side of the coin to an in-store pickup option (also known as “click and collect”). You can offer these services through a digital portal operated by your customers, or you can have dedicated sales associates that manage the process or aid customers in using the portals.

The Benefits of Endless Aisles

Endless aisle kiosk | Shopify Retail blogBefore we get into the challenges that endless aisles can pose, let’s take a look at some of the benefits to help you make the right decision for your business.

If you operate your retail business both in-store and online, offering endless aisles is a great way to capitalize on your full product selection without having to carry inventory for each item at all store locations. You can keep extra stock in your warehouse, at larger store locations with more shelf space, or with third-party supplies to ship directly to your customers.

By offering your customers more selection at your brick-and-mortar locations, you also decrease the chance that they’ll go elsewhere to spend their money. N Channel reports that, when customers don’t find what they’re looking for in-store, “17% would use their mobile device to make an immediate purchase at a competitor’s site. 37% would buy that item from an online retailer when they get home. 35% would go to a different store to buy it.”

Endless aisles help you capitalize on the buyer intent that brought them into the store in the first place without losing sales due to low stock.

In the long term, you may also convert endless aisle customers who to online buyers. By educating your audience about your online offerings (and offering a great user experience from order to delivery), you’re increasing the chance they’ll become online shoppers in the future.

Partnering up with a third-party supplier can also impress customers. Shoppers will see the quantity and variety of products you can offer with a fulfillment supplier. As iQmetrix says: “Endless aisle offers a seemingly endless number of SKUs, which is usually done by partnering with a fulfillment supplier.”

For more info on third-party suppliers, read Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Third-Party Warehousing and Fulfillment>

The Challenges of Endless Aisles

If you’re thinking about implementing endless aisles for your business, there are a few challenges to keep in mind. First, you’ll need an inventory management system that keeps all your stock up to date. You don’t want to be selling a product that shows it’s in stock online only to find out that it’s actually not available.

To help you keep track of multiple orders happening across a variety of sales channels, you’ll need to centralize all your orders. As N Channel says on the topic: “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 channel. To solve this problem, retailers need a single place to manage and track all orders.”

To centralize all your orders, you have a few options:

  • Use a tool like Zapier to automatically add new orders from across your sales channels to a central to-do list
  • Use an app like Order Desk to integrate with all your sales channels. View all your orders in one place to streamline your fulfillment workflow.

N Channel also cautions about the complexities of working with a third-party provider to stock your endless aisles. “When working with a dropshippers, you must ensure that vendors are accurately invoiced for items ordered, at the cost you expected, and track that the items were actually shipped to the customer.”

Research your partners properly, make sure you do test runs, and have an iron-clad process in place before you launch a partnership — remember that it’s your retail business customers are buying from.They’ll attribute the experience to your brand so it’s important to make a good impression.

Are Endless Aisles Right for your Business?

Not every strategy is right for every retail business, and endless aisles are no different.

If you currently operate large retail stores with tons of shelf space and don’t have issues keeping items in stock, then endless aisles might be redundant for you. But if you’re looking to downsize your retail footprint or cut back on inventory overhead, then endless aisles are worth considering.

Implementing Endless Aisles

If, after weighing all the options, you think endless aisles are the right choice for your business, it can seem like a daunting task to actually get them up and running. By partnering with a brand like iQMetrix, you can get your endless aisles operating quickly and not have to worry as much about the technology and logistics.

Do you have experience with endless aisles with your retail business? Or do you use a different strategy to ensure you’re offering your customers a selection of products in-store and online? Tell us about your opinion of endless aisles in the comments section.