Survey reveals consumer frustration with out-of-stocks

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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grocery shoppers
Out-of-stocks are on the rise.

Consumers see a deteriorating situation with product out-of-stocks.

According to a new survey of over 1,000 U.S. shoppers from Retail Insights, seven in 10 (71%) felt out-of-stocks are now worse in-store compared to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Six in 10 (61%) said stock availability online is now lower than the onset of the pandemic.

Over half (54%) of respondents said out-of-stocks seemed to be more of a bricks-and-mortar issue, and online availability seemed better. In one positive trend, 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 respondents 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 shopping and a further 41% saying they had noticed more errors in their online food orders. Poor inventory in online grocery orders has prompted 45% of respondents to do extra “top-up shops” to replace missing items or poor substitutions.

Other notable findings include

  • Almost half (48%) of respondents blame the pandemic in general as the biggest cause of out-of-stocks.
  • 44% of respondents said retailers do not have the technological infrastructure needed to cope with heightened or rapidly changing demand, while more than one-quarter (26%) said grocery chains do not have the systems in place to cope with new supply chain demands.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of respondents said better pay and working conditions for warehouse operatives and store staff could improve the inventory availability issues retailers are facing.
  • More than one-third (34%) of respondents called for better collaboration between retailers and suppliers, while 28% said retailers need better logistics capabilities, and 26% said retailers need better forecasting capabilities to cope with fluctuating demand and reduce shelf gaps.

A recent survey from shopping rewards app Shopkick confirms that a large number of consumers are noticing an increase in out-of-stocks. Eighty percent of respondents to the Shopkick survey have noticed that more shelves are out-of-stock or low-in-stock at their usual retailers and grocery stores than they were 12 months ago. Items they have noticed that are unavailable include meat products (53%), dairy products (52%), boxed goods (50%), canned goods (48%), toiletries (50%), fresh produce (30%), bottled water (29%) animal supplies (28%), and medicine (23%).

“For the most part, shoppers are understanding of the well-publicized and multifaceted pressures facing retailers in today’s challenging trading environment,” said Paul Boyle, CEO of Retail Insight. “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. 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.”