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February 12, 2007

In Stock?

The web has dramatically changed the way we shop. From gathering information on products we know about, to discovering new products, to finding sources of old or obscure products, to finding sales and discounts. Many existing Brick and Mortar (B&M) retail shops have launched web based shops to compliment their B&M stores, both to grab market share and to allow them to tailor more specific offerings that suit the online store model. One the big advantages of an online store backed by a B&M retailer is the leveraging of the B&M stores as outlets of the web store. This allows returns and exchanges to the physical store, which greatly simplifies the process and improves customer service. One of the other advantages is by using the online store as a informational front end for B&M shoppers. People can browse items, descriptions and pricing online before venturing to a physical B&M store to make the final selection and purchase. In this usage model a handy feature is stocking status of a product at a specific location. I've seen several companies launch this feature, some withdraw and relaunch it later, but I've never really seen it work properly. In every case, the stock status is either not available or incorrect. It is especially troublesome when a specific trip is made to a store, but the item is nowhere to be found, even though plenty of stock was indicated. Pure online stores also suffer from erroneous stock status. It is usually less troublesome though. The stock indicator would usually only be used as a deciding factor between otherwise equivalent items, or as a deciding factor between otherwise equivalent stores. For a pure online store, the business model is usually such that much of the product ships directly from a distributor and thus it is fairly obvious to see how this stock status can be completely out of whack, but certainly not excusable. Bottom line, if you are going to provide the information, make sure it is correct. I'm pretty sure its critical for operating a retail store to have an exact idea of what products are stocked where, so it can't be that challenging to present the information to the consumer.

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