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Out of Stock UX: Conducting experiments and addressing OOS in retail.

January 18, 2022 By: Elissa Quinby

2021 was the year that the retail supply chain collapsed. A record number of container shifts were stuck offshore at West Coast ports. Other containers returned from overseas empty in order to collect expensive goods in Asia, like iPhones. Trailers sent to Asia sat for days. On the customer experience side, consumers saw empty shelves at brick-and-mortar stores, out of stock (OOS) messaging online, and long delays (4-6 months) on semi-custom goods like furniture. Now more than ever, building a stellar out of stock UX should be a priority for every retailer. 

The supply chain chaos prompted consumers to start shopping earlier during high-demand shopping periods, such as Halloween and the Holidays. Some consumers who delayed buying their December gifts are still waiting for them to be delivered. 

The out of stock UX challenge has forced consumers to seek out new brands. According to a 2020 McKinsey survey, out of the 34% of consumers who have shopped with a new brand, retailer, or eCommerce website during the pandemic, 29% cite product availability as the primary reason for doing so.

By the time the holiday shopping season rolled around in 2021, consumers were already bracing for out of stock issues. According to Quantum Metric’s Holiday Retail Benchmark Report, 64% of consumers had already experienced out of stock issues before November 2021. 

The demand for gifts last year was intense, driving up costs and stock challenges. 41% of consumers spent 2 hours or more on holiday shopping in October. 63% forgoed doorbuster deals on Black Friday and purchased holiday gifts at full price. More than half explained that they intended to purchase more gifts in 2021 than 2020. 

Of course, demand will subside after the 2021 Holiday peak, but that doesn’t mean that supply chain issues will magically go away in 2022. In fact, supply chain experts predict that retailers and consumers will see the same–or even increased constraints–through the end of 2022. 

Stock-outs are not always avoidable, but that doesn’t mean retailers can’t create new and innovative ways to address them. In fact, retailers can control the customer experience around the product.

Standing out among the pack will be an imperative for retailers, especially as consumers seek out new brands. A recent Forrester report predicts that in 2022, consumers will strengthen their loyalty to two or three brands. A majority of consumers, moreover, still see the world as all-digital, with no divide between the in-person and online shopping experiences. 

For retailers, this means finding new and innovative ways to help customers solve their problems and make a purchase, regardless of inventory availability. By providing consumers with a standout customer experience, you are also increasing the possibility that they will return again in the future. 

Building a standout out of stock customer experience with Quantum Metric.

Unfortunately for retailers, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the supply chain crisis. 

So how do you craft the perfect out of stock message? When should you send out of stock notifications? What are eCommerce out of stock UX best practices? 

To find the right answers, the choice is simply: you need to empathize with your customers by stepping into their shoes, which means understanding how they interact with your digital products at moments of frustration or friction. 

Here’s a look at how Quantum Metric can help companies reduce customer frustrations related to out of stock issues and inventory concerns. 

Track Real-time inventory data. 

For retailers, it’s no longer enough to know that customers were impacted by a problem that happened weeks, or even days, ago. To succeed in the digital-first world, retailers must anticipate problems before they impact their bottom line. When a problem does occur, they must be able to identify and address it right away.

While the platform does not offer backend supply chain optimization tools, like those offered by Oracle Demantra, Quantum Metric nonetheless allows for accurate inventory data via real-time alerts. The platform connects disparate data points across silos such as inventory planning, operations, and UX. This way, digital teams across the enterprise can work together to not just find a solution, but to continue innovating. 

Understand past behaviors and anticipate future problems.

With tools like session replay and anomaly detection, Quantum Metric can help retailers understand how consumers are interacting with current designs, as well as identify where consumers are frustrated. The platform quantifies the business impact of each pain point, so you can better understand how much a design flaw or technical problem is costing your business.

With this information, you can optimize the UX and drive conversion rates by testing different solutions. This will help make the out of stock UX much less frustrating. 

Test out innovative solutions.

Quantum Metric enables UX designers and product managers to find pain points, understand what frustrates customers, and brainstorm a variety of ideas to solve these pain points. 

With Quantum Metric’s robust data analytics tools, you can develop a scrappy testing plan to determine which solution will drive the most value for your business.

Retailers and eCommerce businesses, for instance, will need to find new and innovative ways to improve the returns process. With extended return windows and supply chain backlogs still in play, returns is going to be the new frontier.

For some retail industries, such as QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants), optimizing the front-end ordering process will be top of mind. For instance, they need to make the supply chain and order process more seamless for in-store customers. 

Customer frustration is down, but that doesn’t mean that retailers should stop improving the customer experience. 

Overall Quantum Metric data from our Holiday Retail Benchmarks series shows that customer frustrations are lower, but that doesn’t mean that retailers should stop focusing on building superior customer experiences online. 

Our data showed that customer frustrations declined year-over-year, but this might be due to the fact that customers were already expecting issues, especially given the news coverage of the supply chain issues plaguing the retail industry. 

As the news coverage on supply chain constraints dies down and customers become less aware of ongoing challenges, retailers must still continue to raise the bar on how they deliver a superior CX on hot button issues, like out of stock. 

Additionally, we saw 12% of consumers abandon their cart during holiday shopping, so retailers will need to optimize against supply chain constraints and maximize their sales potential despite inventory challenges.

If retailers aren’t driving experimentation ideas now, they won’t be prepared for campaigns like “Back to School” and “Off to College.”

Interested to learn more about other eCommerce predictions? Join our discussion about the changing retail landscape at our annual virtual conference Quantum LEAP on Feb 8-9, 2022.

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