Stock products so customers can find them

For a number of years, 25% of retailers leaving a cash and carry said they failed to buy an intended item, with 85% of these blaming out-of-stock. HIM worked out that this equates to approximately pound;750m worth of lost sales.

But there was a problem. HIM were visiting cash and carries all the time and couldn’t see any of the vast empty shelves retailers were eluding to. So this spring, the industry was put to the test.

Nearly 50 cash and carries were visited by trained McCurrach auditors who checked the on-shelf availability of 100 key lines – products such as Carling, Fosters, L B, Red Bull, Heinz Baked Beans – the real “must stock lines”. Essentially 5,000 product availability checks were conducted across branches of Booker, Bestway and Batleys, and among members of Landmark and Today’s.

It was discovered that the availability of these lines was excellent. The products mentioned above all had 100% on-shelf and accessible availability. It went on: Cadbury Dairy Milk, Kingsmill Square Cut Loaf, Walkers Salt Vinegar – all 100% available. Over the 100 SKUs we checked, 60 had 100% availability across the whole industry.

Flicking through a random four issues of The Grocer 33 shows that you never get a clean sweep of perfect availability for only 33 lines in half a dozen stores.

Even where there wasn’t 100% available across all wholesalers, it was usually 97% or 98% availability, which begs the question: how can so many retailers blame out-of-stock for their failed purchase?

Either products are available, but retailers are not seeing them, or it’s the tertiary non-core lines which are out-of-stock.

So what is to be done about it? Wholesalers might want to consider the following:

l communicating on-shelf availability figures to retailers in the same way train companies publicise their punctuality figures;

l ensure they are effectively highlighting the “must stock” lines to retailers (25% of retailers do not know that a Mars bar is a top three selling confectionery line)

l giving “must stock” lines enough space in branches

l giving “must stock” lines the right quality of space in branches ie faster sellers to the front – (75% of retailers say they are “topping up” requiring fast service and ease of shopping)

l deploying category management principles in C C branches like in retail stores.

The annoying thing for wholesalers and suppliers alike is that in 60% of occasions when products were not available on-shelf, there was product in the cash carry somewhere – either in stock rooms or merchandised “30 feet up in the air”. Logistics to branches is pretty good – it’s “the last 10 feet” which needs looking at.

When looking at the results by category, it can be seen that non-foods consistently have 100% availability in all but one product in one branch (Persil Auto Non Bio). Likewise fresh produce. But only 6 of the 20 alcohol products we checked had 100% availability, and alcohol is important to retailers’ sales.

There is still room for improvement, to get 40% of lines up to 100% availability, but HIM would suggest that the availability picture is better than perceived. But, as always, perception is reality in the eyes of retailers, so we need to make product more available and more accessible to improve sales.

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