Stock-out levels now ‘worse’ than during pandemic panic buying, UK shoppers say

Original research of over 1,000 UK shoppers by Retail Insight showed over half (56%) felt out-of-stocks are now worse in-store compared to when consumers panic bought at the start of the pandemic, with a further 46% saying stock availability online was now lower than during the same period of panic buying.

Four in ten (42%) said out-of-stocks seemed to be more of a bricks-and-mortar issue, and while items were not available in-store, online availability seemed better.  However, almost two thirds (63%) 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 (45%) of shoppers had noticed more items were missing or not available in their online grocery orders, with the same number (45%) saying they had experienced more substitutions in their weekly online shop. And, according to the Retail Insights poll, poor product availability in online grocery orders had prompted 44% of consumers to do extra top-up shops to replace missing items or poor swaps.

Paul Boyle, CEO of Retail Insight, commented:

“For the most part, shoppers are understanding of the well-publicised and multifaceted pressures facing retailers in today’s challenging trading environment.  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 spiralling supplier and manufacturing costs, is revenue retailers simply cannot afford to leave on the table.”

Shortages of HGV drivers were the biggest cause of out of stocks according to 54% of UK shoppers and almost half (48%) blamed a shortage of warehouse operatives, as retailers face mounting pressure amidst a growing labour shortage, prompted by both the pandemic and Brexit.  Meanwhile, a third (32%) of consumers said retailers did not have the technological infrastructure needed to cope with heightened or rapidly changing demand, while a fifth (19%) said grocers did not have the systems in place to cope with new supply chain demands.

39% said better pay and working conditions for HGV drivers could improve the issues retailers were facing when it came to supply, despite many retailers already bolstering pay or offering signing-on bonuses for lorry drivers and warehouse workers to address labour gaps.  While a quarter (25%) said the answer to stock availability lay in better logistics capabilities, and a further 21% said retailers needed better forecasting capabilities to cope with fluctuating demand and reduce shelf gaps.

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