By Daniel Hunter

As Christmas draws ever nearer, stock shortages on the high street are driving frustrated customers to look elsewhere and shop online, according to research by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS).

Consumers believe that high street retailers are holding less stock than they used to, based on experiences of stock shortages. This could prove damaging to retailers as we enter the crucial Christmas trading season, as customers warn they will turn away from the high street if stock outs continue.

The research was conducted among over 9,000 UK consumers.

Out of stock

According to the research, more than a third (38%) of consumers feel that shops are now stocking less than they used to hold.

When questioned, one in five customers (19%) said they had attempted to buy an out of stock item within the last month, one in three (34%) within the last sixth months. A quarter (25%) of people experienced this in the last year even when they had checked beforehand to see if the item would be available.

The types of retail outlet where most customers have experienced stock shortages in this six month period were food (21%), clothing (16%), and electrical goods (9%).

Worryingly for retailers, almost a third (31%) of all customers said they had experienced a stock shortage in the last year after having seen a promotion encouraging them to visit a shop.

Brian Weston, Director at the Institute of Customer Service comments:

“It is clear that retailers have a major challenge in balancing stock management and the ability to respond quickly to customer demand.
“Many consumers clearly value the benefits of the physical shopping environment. Yet the evidence of this research shows that if goods are out of stock, consumers are highly likely to go to the competition or shop online, and may be less likely to return in future. ”

Turning away

The research highlights customers’ frustration with stock shortages.

Half (50%) of all customers describe lack of stock as “one of the most frustrating shopping experiences”, while 39% question how much a store values its customers when it runs out of stock.

These issues are already beginning to encourage customer churn. Over a third of customers (36%) say they walk away from shops where they experience shortages, taking their business elsewhere.

A lack of stock leaves nearly half (42%) of consumers less inclined to shop at the store in future and more than a third (36%) more likely to buy from an online competitor.

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