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Approaching Stock-Out: 5 ways to Prevent the Out-of-Stock Problem and Boost Sales

Approaching Stock-Out: 5 ways to Prevent the Out-of-Stock Problem and Boost Sales 

Managing inventory and predicting sales is a difficult process for every retailer. Customers hate it when an item isn't in stock and they are quick to take their business to another retailer who has the item in stock. A stock-out or an out-of-stock situation can have devastating effects for a retailer. A stock-out can be defined as a situation in which the demand or requirement for an item cannot be fulfilled from the current inventory. They are also known as oversells and out-of-stocks. A stock-out leads to a loss of sale due to not having a product any longer. Too many out-of-stocks can ruin brand trust, decrease customer loyalty and result in increased customer care costs. Therefore, preventing stock-outs ought to be at the top of your list of priorities.

Understanding the causes of stock-outs will put you on the right path, but you’ll need actionable solutions if you want to keep your warehouse well-stocked.

Here are 5 solutions to help decrease and prevent stock-outs:


Forecast Demand

Stock-outs are caused by inaccurate demand forecasting. AI and machine learning enabled demand forecasting is one of the most promising applications of AI for the supply chain. Apart from AI based inventory management, here is what you can do:

  1. Determine what to measure and how often, for example, the frequency of stock-outs, competitors sales data, POS data, etc.
  2. Integrate data from all of your sales channels, especially if you’re running an omnichannel e-commerce strategy.
  3. Create a regular monthly process that analyzes previous forecasts and compares them to actual market results.


Refer a Reliable Order Point Formula

A reorder point for​​​​mula can tell you approximately when you should reorder stock to minimize stock-outs and maximize inventory turns. Ideally, this occurs when you’ve reached the lowest amount of inventory that you can sustain before you need to order more stock. Instead of falling victim to erratic spikes and slumps in the market, you can plan ahead by using a proven, mathematical equation that helps you consistently order the right amount of stock each month.

For example, you could use the following formula to help you beat stock-outs:

(Average Daily Unit Sales x Average Lead Time in Days) + Safety Stock = Reorder Point


Implement RFID Tags

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags can allow you to track every product you store quite easily.

It can make your inventory more efficient and allow for faster stocktaking processes. You can swiftly search for and find the products you need to ship. RFID tags can also allow you to scan any product and, find out in real-time how many of those products you still have in stock.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas found that RFID technology can reduce stock-outs by 16%. If you experience regular stock-outs too, then implementing RFID tags can be beneficial for your business.


Maintain Safety Stock Inventory

Safety stock inventory is a small, surplus amount of inventory you maintain on hand, to guard against lead times and variability in market demand.

It can help you to add a buffer for longer-than-expected order lead times, compensate for inaccurate market forecasts, protect against unexpected spikes in demand, and ultimately prevent stock-outs.

Here’s a formula to help you calculate safety stock:

(Max Daily Sales x Max Lead Time in Days) – (Average Daily Sales x Average Lead Time in Days) = Safety Stock Inventory


Prepare a Hierarchy of Recommended Substitutes

For some classes of e-commerce, customers will accept an alternative or equivalent product when one item is out of stock. In grocery, this can be in the form of suggesting an alternate brand of the product, or an alternate form of the product. For example, suggesting a frozen or canned form when the fresh item is out of stock. This enables a customer to prepare a planned meal without wasting time going to another store or having multiple delivery charges. Likewise, in fashion, a popular or necessary item might be back ordered or sold out, and a competing brand or color might be able for immediate shipment. For example, if it’s the rainy season and the customer needs a new pair of rain boots, they may be satisfied with a different design that is available for immediate shipment. In this situation, a machine learning based recommendation engine can be leveraged to help determine the correct recommendation from the real-time inventory of available options.


Preventing stock-outs won’t be an easy task and neither will it happen overnight. But keeping these pointers in mind and implementing them as part of your inventory management will go a long way in safeguarding against stock-outs. You could always continue to test solutions while paying attention to the market. To do so, we recommend using an AI-based tool that can collect, measure, analyze, discover patterns in and provide accurate forecasts.

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1 empty shopping cart in an aisle

Impact of Stock-Out on Retailers

Impact of Stock-Out on Retailers

One of the worst nightmares for a retailer is to have a stock out or out-of-stock situation when it comes to selling products. This is a very serious issue and can be detrimental to the bottom line of any business. Aside from lost sales, stock-outs also lead to reduced customer satisfaction and lowered loyalty levels. When a customer requests to buy a product that is out of stock, they are going to end up unhappy with the inventory issue and you most certainly don’t want to disappoint your customers. Many cases of stockouts may be easily prevented by taking steps to better understand your business and products, and by refining your e-commerce processes.

Common Reasons for Stock-Outs:

Let us start by taking a look at some of the most common reasons for stock-outs: 

  1. Inaccurate data: It can be hard to maintain accurate inventory counts. This may be due to several reasons such as misplaced products, product returns, shipment variances, and even stolen goods. As a result, the data in your inventory management system may not reflect what's in the warehouse.

  2. Failure to reorder on time: This especially happens with your best sellers. Items with high-turnover, such as consumer products and grocery items are the most commonly affected. Due to either a poor forecast or a missed signal on a hot seller, you may run out of products before you’ve had a chance to reorder and restock your inventory.

  3. Unclear communications with suppliers: Another cause of stock-outs is when you don’t have clarity in your communications with your supply chain. Failure in effective communication with suppliers may lead to missed or delayed orders, resulting in stock-outs.

Effects of Stock-outs on Business:

If a product is not available for delivery to a customer who has placed an order, there are four possible outcomes:

  • Customer agrees to wait for the itemFor important items, a customer may be willing to wait for it. However, the customer is likely to still harbor some disappoint in the interaction. 
  • Customer back orders the item: While not the ideal solution, the order still gets fulfilled. Again, customer satisfaction declines and most customers won’t repeat this process with you unless you are the sole provider of the item.

  • Customer cancels the order: Customers today are savvy. They are shopping the competition. If the customer knows that the item is available from another retailer, they may simply cancel the order and ask for a refund. The customer may be unhappy, but they may still order from you again in the future.

  • Customer cancels the order, and never returns: This is the worst case scenario as a result of a stock-out situation. An angry customer here may be so disappointed in your fulfillment process that they never order from you again.

Implementing demand forecasting is one of the most important steps to avoiding stock-outs. You can try to forecast demand on your own by factoring in stock turnover, sell-through, historical sales data, and other factors such as promotions, economic state, seasonality and using your judgment. Analysis of these data points could give you insights into how products will perform. Stock-outs also tend to form patterns such as recurring on a particular day, at a particular time. Through analysis of stock-out patterns, you can better predict potential inventory and consumption problems and build a better forecast.

 In the next article in this series, we'll look at how artificial intelligence can be leveraged to help you see patterns in your data, and make suggestions to a more accurate forecast.

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