3 Ways To Still Satisfy Customers in Retail When You Can’t Meet Their Initial Expectations

Wed 16th January 2013

As much as every organisation tries to ensure it never happens, running out of stock at some point throughout the year is an inevitability.

You can attempt to judge how many products will be sold during a given timeframe, so to help maintain healthy stock levels, but there are simply too many external factors that can easily mean you run out of a product quicker than you first anticipated.

And when this happens, it unfortunately can be more detrimental to your business than you’re likely to realise, something that was recently covered in a piece by the Institute of Customer Service.

Explaining that stock shortages were the ‘most frustrating’ shopping experience for half of the 9,000 consumers surveyed, 39% of the respondents said they questioned how much an organisation valued its customers – or potential customers – when it has empty shelves.

Although the ideal scenario is of course to replenish stock as quickly as possible to ensure the customer’s expectations are met, there are three key ways to reduce the negative impact not having a certain product in stock can have on the customer and ultimately, the organisation as a whole.

1. Offer an alternative

As consumers, when we go to a shop and find an item is out of stock, we’re left a little confused. We went for that product, it’s not available, so now what?

If no one else intervenes, the majority of consumers will simply leave the store. However, if an alternative is offered, at the very least it sparks our interest and makes us want to take a look at it more.

The alternative doesn’t have to be an almost exact match to the product that we were originally looking for, but it needs to be as close as possible – we came for a certain product and although we’re happy to take a look at something that’s slightly different, it has to at least meet the majority of our needs and expectations.

And even if the potential customer doesn’t like the alternative, you’ve not only improved the customer experience by showing you care about the customer’s needs, but you’ve kept them in store longer – and the longer a customer is in store, the more chance there is of them making a purchase.

2. Ensure the customer can be kept updated of stock levels

Most consumers are more loyal to brands than is often realised. We usually shop at the same supermarkets, get our clothes from the same retailers and buy our music from the same websites.

It’s because of this why we’ll often be happy to wait for an item to come back in stock if we’re given the ability to find out easily when that happens.

It could be by e-mail, telephone or text, but unless we’re absolutely desperate for the item, knowing that we’re going to be told when it’s next in stock so we can go and purchase it is often enough to satisfy our needs – and for the organisation, it ensures we don’t seriously consider going to a competitor.

3. Give the customer more attention than normal

One of the most annoying experiences any shopper can have is to walk into a shop, find out a product is out of stock and when asked about it, simply be told “we don’t have any available”. It’s infuriating and it leaves you with a negative view of the organisation as a whole.

Whilst great customer service isn’t going to completely satisfy the customer in the way having the product available would, it allows you to be confident that the customer has at least left with a relatively positive view of the organisation.

For example, it unfortunately doesn’t happen as often as it should, but many will have been into a shop and when they’ve asked about an out of stock item, the customer advisor will have politely explained the situation before going away to check the stock levels in other stores.

It might take 10 minutes out of the advisor’s day, but those 10 minutes are going to ensure the customer leaves feeling more satisfied than if they were simply told the item was out of stock and that was it.

No organisation wants to be managing complaints because of a lack of stock, but it can very easily happen and it can also cause you unnecessary headaches if you don’t put plans in place to deal with the problem.

By offering an alternative, giving the customer the opportunity to find out when the product will be back in stock and / or providing a better level of service than you may have otherwise done, you can be confident you’ve made as much effort as possible to satisfy the customer – and in a situation that is hugely underrated in terms of its potential negative impact.