Why the 'endless aisle' works for the customer and the retailer

| by Judy Mottl
Why the 'endless aisle' works for the customer and the retailer

Photo by iStock.com

There is an old saying in business that more is better.

More product, more point-of-sale options, more merchandise access channels in the retail environment will lead to greater sales, greater customer base and a more satisfied consumer. Today’s consumers, especially millennials, want fast and expect such access to every product option — options that aren't within reach in the physical store environment.

One way to deliver that accessibility and the more is the endless aisle concept many retailers, big and small, have put into play.

An endless aisle is provided via an interactive kiosk (or via a tablet and other mobile device) in the physical store that lets customers search for different product options not available on the brick-and-mortar's shelves and then lets the customer purchase the product to either have it delivered to the home or for in-store pickup.

For the retailer, the endless aisle provides the ability to offer a much broader product assortment without the cost of having it put on shelves or stored in the store, explained Bryan A. Pearson, president and CEO, of LoyaltyOne, which provides marketing services to enterprises in retail, financial services, grocery, petroleum retail, travel, and hospitality sectors globally.

"This is where retail is headed, and we are seeing examples developing across many retail categories," he told Retail Customer Experience in an email interview.

Why endless is a good thing

Now entrenched in the retailer environment, the endless aisle is moving fast into the food and grocery sectors as it’s proved to be a boon for the bottom line and driven customer loyalty due to increased customer satisfaction.

"All retailers have either implemented an endless aisle kiosk or are familiar with the concept," David Anzia, vice president of sales at Frank Mayer and Associates, told Retail Customer Experience in an email interview.

"Those retailers that support the kiosk as another marketing and sales tool have reaped the benefits," he said, noting however that an endless aisle has little chance of succeeding if there is no plan focusing on how the store associate engages the customer at the kiosk or with a mobile device.

Training associates to understand the technology and ensuring product availability are two key elements.

That's why retailers deploying an endless aisle must educate the sales staff as part of an endless aisle strategy, said Anzia.

"They need to make certain that they [associates] know how the endless-aisle kiosk operates and the benefit to both the customer and retailer to enhance to customer experience."
Pearson said the challenges in deploying an endless aisle are similar to other digital marketing options.

"If consumers are given unlimited options, they get overwhelmed," he said. "The technology needs to provide a curated experience by only suggesting similar items that are approximately the same price, size, specs etc. And, the technology to share, order and ultimately deliver the merchandise needs to be frictionless for the customer."

Deploying a rewarding endless aisle experience, for both the consumer and retailer, is dependent on focusing on the customer experience and knowing what you want the retail brand to stand for, he added.

"Sure, you can gradually slip into the right solution, but I think the winners are going to be the folks that don’t just use the technology to hit the easy button on assortment, but those that use the balance of curation and experience to craft a brand that they thoughtfully leverage into a long tail assortment," Pearson said.

He cited the successful example of Canadian bookstore Indigo where shoppers are provided terminals to search titles, title availability in the store or nearly store and the ability to order for home delivery.

"The nature of this interaction is quite natural given the preponderance of online book retailing," he explained.

Endless aisle taking root in grocery sector

Within the grocery and food store environment, where endless aisles are beginning to pop up, the strategy is getting more interesting, noted Pearson.

"In grocery, particularly large city locations, the combination of aging demographics and the newer digital native cohorts are approaching shopping in a very different way and looking for less of a hypermarket experience," he said, adding one reason is that "the endless aisle also serves both the retailer and shopper by providing an element of efficiency, and, as strange as it seems, convenience for both parties."

"Clearly the need for vast assortments will be pressured by the combination of smaller store formats and a focus on ‘fresh,’” added Pearson, and that’s why there is an emphasis to solve the issue with what is termed the in-line experience.

"That's where the consumer sees the true integration of an experience that balances on-line and offline. Is this happening well today? Not really. But I do believe it is something that the high-frequency retail community needs to solve."

Emerging retailers focusing on creating pop-up experiences are well suited to building out an endless aisle as their roots are deep in the online environment, added Pearson.

"This type of reverse integration proves a point; that crafting an experience for a brand that people can share in-person plays a role in building broader brand adoption and passion," he said.

"What I find most intriguing are the retailers which start with a physical presence and then build an appreciation of the product quality, selection and innovation that they have and extend the branded experience to many more product categories by using an endless aisle approach," he added, noting that in the end, it’s all about the experience and building trust with the consumer. 

"That means you can curate a very precise and focused execution but execute the brand experience with a long tail of products that would be unaffordable if they needed to be carried in all your retail locations."

Anzia agreed and noted the endless aisle provides consumers with exactly what they expect and demand these days — information when making a buying decision.

"The amount of information is sometimes overwhelming because more is not always better," he acknowledged, "but a well thought-out kiosk can enhance the customer experience and provide the shopper with just the right amount of brand and product insight."

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Topics: Customer Experience, Customer Service, Department Stores, Digital Merchandising, eCommerce, In-Store Media, Interactive / Touchscreen, Kiosks, Kiosks / Self-Service, Marketing, Merchandising, Mobile Retail, Multifunction Kiosks, Omnichannel / Multichannel, Online Retailing, Retail - General, Shopper Marketing, Supermarkets & Grocery Stores, Supply Chain, Technology

Companies: Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc.

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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