Voice of the Customer- Is it Heard in Retail?

Black Friday came and went and I avoided shopping for a number of reasons, mainly because I couldn’t be stuffed getting up early enough to get a great deal. Besides, knowing my luck, anything on my list would’ve sold out long before I arrived.

Unfortunately Christmas has not been the only time I’ve shopped only to find empty shelves or a product on backorder (when shopping online). What surprises me is that a large number of these retailers tout themselves as using Six Sigma. When you combine this with sophisticated inventory reordering systems (Lean supermarket pull systems), I sometimes question if the voice of the customer is heard or is just being ignored.

For example, there is a particular chain I try to purchase laundry detergent from. I say try because 80% of the time the shelves are empty. Sure, one could attribute the deficiency to lack of employees, shipment delay, etc.- all of which could be improved using Lean Six Sigma methodologies.But if the product is out of stock, the retailer knows I’m likely to continue with the rest of my purchases and will likely return (and increasing the likelihood I’ll continue to purchase more).

It seems to me problems such as the example above could be easily solved. So why do some retailers continually have unavailable items (even when not on sale)? Is there a conspiracy theory in retail to sucker the customer into coming back (and spending more than planned)? If you work in retail, I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

Comments 1

  1. Kelley Troia

    Holly, I work for a very large retail company – very very large… I am in marketing however, so perhaps I don’t know this answer for a fact – but as far as I know we would never trick our customers into coming back repeatedly by NOT stocking what they expect us to stock. Replenishment and out of stocks are 2 things we take very seriously – supply chain management is a very tricky business and depending on where you are shopping, and how their supply & demand is managed, you just might have the makings of a fantastic six sigma project (of course you knew that already!). If we were able to crack the code on having the exact quantities of everything everyone wants for a particular store, and nothing folks didn’t want at that same store – our company would be even larger!! ;-)

    I do agree, out of stocks are incredibly frustrating. I remember shopping at Thanksgiving and finding there was no brown sugar left – how can you run out of brown sugar right before Thanksgiving?!

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