Product Managers Practice Magic To Fill Shelves

Product shortfalls are forcing product managers to use magic
Product shortfalls are forcing product managers to use magic
Image Credit: Andy Oakley

Every product manager wants their customers to be able to buy their product when they decide to make a purchase. The worst thing in the world that could happen is that your customer is ready to buy and you have nothing to offer to them. Grocery store product managers are facing a situation like this. Product shortfalls are forcing them to have to get creative. Their goal is to be able to present their customers with full shelves. What kind of magic is this going to require?

The Problem Of Not Enough Products

Product managers know that while chaos may reign in supply chains, grocery stores are still trying to present an appealing and seemingly organized front for their customers. In order to do so, some are turning to age-old tricks of the trade, and even developing new ones as they try to cover up gaps on their shelves. In some cases that may include moving products to unlikely places in stores. Over in the U.K. grocery store customers have said that they have spotted bulky crates of beer piled into aisles reserved for prepackaged meals and boxes of chocolate filling crates that are usually stocked with fresh vegetables. One branch of a grocery store stocked refrigerated displays with shelf-stable HP Sauce and Heinz Salad Cream condiments so that shoppers wouldn’t see empty racks.

Product managers have been impacted by some patchy disruptions to their deliveries. The product teams are always trying to make sure that their stores look as attractive as possible and sometimes product managers come up with creative ways of making sure shelves are full. Businesses the world over have experienced product shortages as demand for goods has rebounded faster than supply following the worst of the pandemic, which also disrupted labor availability at food suppliers. In the U.K., 17% of consumers said they couldn’t buy essential food items because they were unavailable. Retailers say they need to find ways to maintain their customer experience as best they can in order to remain competitive.

Some 58% of consumers have said that supply-chain disruptions, product shortages and shipping delays have made shopping more stressful for them. 41% said product shortages and significant shipping and delivery delays might cause them to abandon a brand. For product managers, this means managing stores to at least look well-stocked, ordered and tidy. Some have gone ahead and stacked whole aisles with items that ordinarily have a small space on one shelf. Another approach is to fill gaps with cardboard “dummies,” including empty prepackaged sandwich boxes. This tactic isn’t new, but one that shoppers are likely noticing because it is being employed more frequently.

Managing The Customer Experience

Not all of the changes that have been happening in grocery stores are due to shortages. Cardboard photos of items have been displayed in the place of merchandise in some stores because the pictures are used by larger stores for various reasons, such as a layout reconfiguration. However, some grocery stores have been using signs to fill empty shelves. The use of cardboard placeholders can make operations easier for supermarkets. This is one way that they can deal with the struggle to hire and retain staff.

Product managers realize that it’s quicker and definitely cheaper to put pieces of cardboard in than it is to do anything else such as reorganizing a store’s aisles or moving stock to fill the empty space. Additionally, placeholders also can shield staff from shopper inquiries into the whereabouts of items. Grocery store product managers in the U.S. haven’t escaped product shortages, although larger companies with access to a wide network of suppliers, capital and space have been more successful working around supply-chain issues without disrupting the shopper experience.

Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the U.S., has increased its safety stock of items in more than 70 categories. They have also sourced additional warehouse space to house the extra products and spread out the ports that they use for imports. Walmart also diverted ships to less congested ports, while hiring 20,000 additional supply chain workers and further automating some warehouse operations. However, smaller grocery product managers with less flexibility have struggled to keep shelves full and to plan for what items may show up on any given day. Grocery store product managers said they are deploying one of the oldest techniques usually used by stores running low on produce to other sections of the store: “Facing up,” or bringing the few items on a shelf to the front so customers are not able to see the empty space behind. They are also increasing the number of “facings,” or rows, a certain item is given on a shelf in order to cover gaps.

What All Of This Means For You

All product managers know that if they want their product to be successful, they need to be able to make their product available to their customer when the customer is willing to buy it. Grocery store product managers have been running into some problems doing this. Issues with supply chains have resulted in grocery stores running out of products that people are looking to buy. When this happens, it falls on the product manager to find a way to solve this issue.

One approach that grocery store product managers can take when they are missing some of their products is to move things around in their store. By doing this customers may not be aware that something is not there. The goal is manage the customer experience so that customers will be willing to come back. In some cases aisles can be filled with items that used to take up much less space or cardboard “dummy” products can be used to fill in empty spaces. Cardboard images of food can also be used to make operations at the grocery store easier. In some stores product managers are resorting to “facing up” products in order to cover gaps in what is being offered.

Grocery store product managers have a real challenge on their hands. They don’t have as many products to sell and so they need to find ways to make sure that their customers feel that what they need is still available at the grocery store. In order to do this, a number of novel tactics are being used. The goal is to keep the customers happy and perhaps to make sure that they don’t notice the shortages. If grocery store product managers can do this, then perhaps they’ll make it through these rough times.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that it would be better to tell customers that a certain product is not available?

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