Contrary to predictions, the e-commerce boom brought about by the pandemic did not kill brick and mortar stores. In fact it has become clear that physical stores play a critical role in the customer’s shopping journey which experts attribute to the social value of a store, and to the sensory satisfaction of touching and trying garments surrounded by the well-curated sounds and smells of a retail space. But the pandemic did rush in a slew of acronyms and abbreviations to modern retail: ROPIS (Reserve Online, Pickup In-Store), BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In-Store), and BORIS (Buy Online, Return In-Store) and now the phrase "Endless Aisle” has emerged to head the list. It refers to the ability to track down any item in any color or size from any store or warehouse and place it in the customer’s hands without them having to do any work.
Even if the customer was acquired online the physical store is central to cementing their relationship to the brand. “The online shopper tends to be less profitable, less loyal, and to be more price conscious,” says Nikki Baird, Vice President of Strategy at Aptos Retail, the unified commerce solutions platform for retailers. “You want that customer to get the visceral experience of being in the store so that the experience is going to stick with them and become part of how they think about your brand.”
This is where Endless Aisle steps in to ensure the customer’s visit is a rewarding one. Even if the customer doesn’t immediately lay their hands on the item they wanted, they will leave knowing it will be theirs. Endless Aisle expands the BOPIS experience to allow the consumer to secure the item through any means. "Sometime you’ll hear it referred to as Save The Sale,” says Baird. “The store only has so many aisles but when you can open up access to inventory across the chain then your aisles become endless." Say a store doesn’t have the color the customer wants. The customer is asked to try the item for size and the associate will track it down in the requested color and and have it shipped to the customer’s home.
“You’re exposing the customer to the full breadth of your assortment rather than the limited assortment of a particular location,” Lincoln Tatro, Solution Principal at Aptos, tells FashionUnited. “It could be a size, a color or also an entirely different style that the store didn’t buy which means more opportunities to get the customer what they need.” Or what they didn’t know they needed.
How and why retailers should implement Endless Aisle technology
Just a short while ago, but a lifetime ago in retail, the associate would call a nearby store and the location would hold the item while the customer drove there to pick it up. That model is obsolete. A seamless, or “frictionless” - to use retail lingo - process involves minimal steps for the customer, but adds steps for the retailer. Says Tatro, “The mentality is you do the right thing for the customer and that will maximize your progress.”
There are instore logistics to be ironed out such as incentivizing associates to take that extra step to fulfill the customer’s desire. “One of the challenges retailers have is who gets credit for the sale,” says Baird. “The store associate is selling inventory that is not actually in the store but they want the credit for the sale.” In terms of Profit and Loss, the sale is not coming through the register which adds an extra layer of work in behind-the-scenes inventory transfers and keeping track of those. “Associates are looking at the goals they need to meet and every sale is important to them, says Baird, “So it’s part of the planning feedback loop, making sure you know what you did.”
Endless Aisle promises big benefits. When a retailer attempts to save every sale, they inevitably deliver excellent customer service, while also helping to leverage the investment in every piece of inventory in the chain to its full potential. Says Baird, “We’ve seen as much as a 90% increase in omnichannel revenue potential when our clients offer ship-from-store fulfillment (which includes Endless Aisle).” Some of the results that Aptos promises retailers using its Endless Aisle cloud-based technology include near real-time visibility of enterprise-wide inventory to show sales associates all items available to sell, and applications that allow selling inventory from other stores; order management tools to distribute the order to the fulfillment store and to monitor order progress and communicate status updates to the customer. Finally, In-store fulfillment tools to ensure Endless Aisle orders get picked, packed and shipped efficiently, along with reporting tools that deliver accurate sales analysis.
Today’s retailer must meet customers’ expectations using any combination from the suite of phygital solutions at its disposal. Customers are familiar with interactive kiosks, touchscreen displays, and QR codes but when they encounter a helpful, knowledgeable and motivated sales associate who is happy to go that extra step to ensure their satisfaction, that is when true and loyal relationships are built.