A new report suggests that multichannel retailers need to integrate their offline and online inventory more closely to avoid losing sales as customers switch between channels.

According to the Multichannel Retail Report from GSI Commerce, if customers can't find an item instore and decide to look for it online, 69% would compare prices across other websites, meaning that risk losing potential sales to rivals.

The lesson for retailers?

40% did say they would look at the website of the retailer they were trying to shop at, 53% would try a price comparison site, and 41% would type the product name into a search engine. 

Typical consumer responses to finding items out-of-stock in-store:

Multichannel retailers could avoid this problem by making it easy for customers to order online direct from the store. 81% of those surveyed said they would be likely to take this option if it was offered to them.

This reduces the risk of losing potential sales to online competitors, and also has the added effect of extending the shelf space of the store by making the online inventory easily accessible.

While if you ask an assistant, they will often offer to order online for you at stores like Marks & Spencer and Next, there are few I can think of that really promote this to customers by providing booths (or something like it) for customers to walk up to and order from.

The only example I can think of at the moment is Tesco, whose Direct Desks are provided in its larger stores, and allow customers to order goods for collection at home or in store.

Other stats from the survey:

When consumers were asked what would deter them from making a repeat purchase online,  76% of consumers cited an expensive or lengthy online returns or refund procedure, 68% said goods not being delivered on time, and 61% unhelpful online assistance.

56% of customers said they would purchase a last minute gift online if they could collect in the same day from a high street store.

Graham Charlton

Published 29 January, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (5)


Miriam O'Flynn, Project Manager at esus Web Services

I'm suprised that as many as 81% would consider using a booth (or similar) in store to order a product that was out of stock. While it seems like a great option in priciple (and I'd probably have been one of the 81% if surveyed), I think in reality it has its issues: provision of booth-type technology is expensive, so if you're not in the Tescos league, it may be out of reach. Additionally, I would not queue up to use the 1 or 2 booths that might be available and I would not spend time searching for the missing product or putting all my personal details into the purchase flow when I could use the 'Autofill' option on my PC at home. Additionally, I think trust could be an issue where Users are in practice reluctanct to part with the credit card details on an in-store/public-use computer.

Instead, things could be improved in the 'staff assisted process' you mentioned above (M&S, Next). Advertising this service in store, particularly at the product level would be a cheaper option e.g. each 'Out of stock' notice could have a 'You can still purchase this product at the counter today....' with tear-off strips showing bar codes which the User can take to the till. I find in 'Next' for example, that it is often frustrating waiting for staff trying to find the exact product on their system to re-order. The 'bar code' thing applies the principle of classified ads (for guitar lessons/selling a car) in my local supermarket; some people use little tear-off strips with their phone number; I've placed ads with and without them and the response is far greater with them.  Additionally, maybe users could scan/photo the bar code with their mobile phone cameras and connect to the website to re-order.

Finally, could some sort of incentive be offered as way of compensating the customer for the inconvenience of a wasted shopping trip and/or the additional effort involved in ordering the 'missing' product?  e.g. 5% off /free delivery as soon as in stock etc.

over 8 years ago


none none, Owner at none

Interesting stats; I'm surprised that 81% of the survey would use an in-store booth. Personally, if I spend the time to visit a store and I can't find an item I want help from a sales person. (I prefer to shop online unless it's something I need immediately or the added shipping cost is prohibitive.) The stat that 61% are deterred from a repeat purchase by unhelpful online assistance underscores the importance of the customer service aspects of the online experience.

over 8 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Miriam - you make some excellent points. I agree that the in store kiosk option wouldn't work for every retailer, though I think larger multichannel retailers like Argos and Tesco should be providing this in store.

For stores have the ability to order online for customers (and this should be most stores), simply promoting this service more prominently could make a difference.  

over 8 years ago


Mark Bolitho

Hi Graham

Dave Lomax at indie Bagga menswear has been ahead of the game for a while now, offering purchase via the in-store terminal idea since early last year.

He says it's worked really well for them, and just goes to show that it isn't only the big boys with big budgets that have a divine right to innovate.


over 8 years ago


Robert Farago

I'm a little confused here. In-store customers who find an item out of stock start price shopping online? I can underestand why a customer would stray from the retail/etailer who frustrated his or her desire to buy, but why would they start looking for a cheaper price? There are plenty of possibilities.

1. Bricks and mortar and online shopping are fundamentally different. Perhaps the customer didn't do ANY price comparison before entering the store. Once "forced" online, they considered all online sites pretty much of a muchness. Price became the default comparitive value. 

2. The survey is flawed. Note: "if customers can't find an item instore and decide to look for it online." The most important question is left unanswered: how many of people do that? How often are they disappointed AND go online to sort it out?

In the bricks and mortar biz, the default out-of-stock option is "Would you like me to order that for you?" How often does that fail?

3. The survey is really flawed. Also, the survey says 69 percent "would" compare prices across other websites. "Would" is not the same as "will." (The word disappears from the chart.)

As an e-commerce researcher, I am well aware that suggesting options is a deeply dicey proposition, often masking a hidden agenda. Does GSI's have a skin in this game? Ya think?

4. Maybe the consumer has ALREADY price shopped elsewhere, BEFORE going to the store. So when an item's out of stock, they're primed to go back to the web. Again.

This survey strikes me as axe-to-grind fear mongering. It does not answer the really important questions: how do consumers navigate through the blended online and offline worlds? Do they read an ad, go online, get a price, visit their local store's website, visit the store, buy a product, get an email, move the store to the top of their consideration list regardless of price for their next purchase, etc.

I'm going to find out. Meanwhile, why would a customer want to shop online in-store? That's not the point of a store (look and feel uber alles baby). Unless the salesman did it for them. As they do now.

over 8 years ago

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