We are re-running a series of popular blog articles which we originally posted last summer, covering a range of topics important to business owners and managers. This week we focus on how to meet purchaser expectations, but keep costs to a minimum.

When you have taken a customer through the full sales process to the point of purchase, the last thing you want to find is that you can’t deliver.

Whether you are out of stock or do not have the ability to fulfil the order, if you can’t meet the expectations of your purchaser, they are likely to go elsewhere. Here, we’ll look at simple and effective ways to help you increase product availability within your business, so that you can meet the needs of your customers more of the time.

Range

One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make when it comes to stock levels is the number of products in the range. Businesses can get hung up on trying to grow sales through increasing the range, rather than putting efforts into the successful delivery of a focused range.

For a small business, the product range has to meet the customers’ expectations, without being over complicated. After all, it is far more efficient to control and manage 1,000 units of 5 SKU’s, than 5 units of 1,000 SKU’s.

The key is to focus on the SKU’s that really matter to your customers. Apply the 80:20 rule, whereby 80% of your sales are likely to come from 20% of your products, and consider reducing the 80% that have low sales levels. This will allow you more time to focus on managing the availability of your important lines. Creating better availability for your target market, yet your costs remain unchanged, or possibly lower.

Process

When stock levels are at their optimum, the second consideration is whether there are elements within the delivery process that disrupts the customer experience. This could be due to long lead times for a particular product, or broken processes that cause failed deliveries. A clear understanding of the root causes of unfulfilled sales vital to ensure that this does not become an issue and affect the perception of your brand.

Business improvements may be necessary to deal with the root causes of unfulfilled sales. A business sale is only a sale when it has been fulfilled, so make sure you get rid of any blockages to delivery.

Forecasting

The reliability of your forecasting system can be the key to availability. If your forecasts are not reliable, then how can you expect your production or buying teams to be successful?

For those with a finger in the air approach to forecasting, now is the time to implement a more sophisticated system. And for those that are well on the way to effective forecasting, make sure you are constantly reviewing forecasts against actual sales to ensure consistent reliability.

Use the knowledge and insight of your sales team to improve your forecasting processes. This will ensure your stock is more likely to be available when your customer demands it.

Stock and Customer Proximity

The final element to consider is the physical location of your stock in relation to your customers. Consider expectations: how quickly do your customers believe they should wait for your products? Ensure you can work within these parameters.

Is there the opportunity to spread your stock to multiple locations to reduce delivery times? Or would a rapid fulfilment option increase cost that could be recovered through a differential pricing structure for deliveries? Compare your own service offering with that of your competitors; who would you buy from, and why?.

With a few simple tweaks to your business model, it can be possible to take away that ‘out of stock’ sign from your business, and ensure your customer demands are met.

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