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Rethinking "Sell What’s in Stock"

By David Wert
As retailers, we’ve had it beat into our heads to always sell what’s in stock, often avoiding special orders for customers. It makes sense: special orders are administrative time sucks, are often for brands that you don’t deal with regularly, and--if you don’t have a solid system in place--make it difficult to meet customer expectations. As a result, shops often discourage or avoid special orders altogether.

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But there's opportunity in special orders. In a recent study by Deloitte, 84% of shoppers reported using digital devices before or during their most recent trip to a store. Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillon recently reported that 10% of mobile orders occurred while people were in the store. Mobile orders made up 70% of total online sales for Walmart during this time. It’s not uncommon to see people looking at their mobile device, searching for other options on the products they are about to purchase, while waiting in the checkout line. Consumers realize that the perfect color, size, or even price is often available online and that they have instant access to those options. As a retailer, you won’t be able to fight the way people shop, but you can adapt to capitalize on it.

Good sales people are detectives when it comes to sniffing out customer objections during the sales process. If the salesperson understands that the customer might be looking for a different color online than the one in stock at the shop, he or she might be able to handle the sale with a special order, thereby closing the sale in the store rather than giving it to the first store that pops up on a google search. Your staff should be trained to search for items and complete orders smoothly while the customer is right there in front of them. Once the salesperson has found what the customer wants, the only question that remains is, "Would you like me to ship that to your house, or do you want to pick it up in the store?" This technique is called an assumptive sale and you’ve probably used it in your store. When a store displays inventory from all of its locations and inventory from key suppliers on its website, sales staff have a very powerful tool to capture sales from special orders. Many parts, accessories, and apparel lines can be shipped directly to the consumer's house from the supplier's warehouse.

Of course, aspects of “Sell What’s in Stock" are still relevant. Buyers pick the products right for the store’s local market. Sales people are aware of why these products are well suited for the area and can communicate this to customers in the store. Also, good retailers realize that one of the ways their store’s brand comes to life is through the products they choose to stock. With the right merchandising on your website, it’s possible to highlight the items regularly in stock in the store and still make it known that there are additional options available at supplier's warehouses.

Customers are well aware of the myriad buying options available to them. There’s no way for retailers to stock everything, but you can cast a wider net on product selection with the right approach. Consider embracing special orders and showing additional inventory not available in the store on your website. Make sure the staff are well trained in some next level sales tactics and that your store has the special order process dialed in. Create customers for life by giving them no reason to shop anywhere else.

Topics: Websites

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