COVID-19’s out-of-stock impact and how PWAs can support “endless aisle 3.0”

Linda Bustos

May 16th, 2020

In the “new normal” of disrupted supply chains and local stores doubling as online fulfillment centers, accurate real-time data is even more critical, as is the ability to reserve stock. Shoppers have disappointing out-of-stock experiences once every three shopping trips, on average.

Traditional endless aisle helps in-store shoppers locate out-of-stock items to order online or have shipped to store, and was initially offered through stationary kiosks and tablet-toting sales associates (Endless aisle 1.0).

For retailers that have integrated omnichannel ecommerce, customers can use the online store as an endless aisle tool through their personal mobile devices (Endless aisle 2.0). A 2019 consumer survey by iVend found 93% of consumers already use their mobile devices to pre-shop before visiting a store.

Post-COVID, using a personal device is an even stronger use case. Cautious consumers are touchy about touchscreens, and huddling over a tablet is too close for comfort.

What’s more, the in-store shopping experience (for stores that are open) has become more painful. Lineups to get into the store and the risk of finding items out of stock makes the routine shopping trip a more considered activity.

Providing shoppers the ability to pre-shop at home or on a mobile device with real-time inventory availability by store location, reserve store stock (or source from nearby stores) and pick up orders safely and swiftly is the highest value investment you can make to your customer experience during this pandemic (Endless aisle 3.0).

Enhancing mobile endless aisle with PWAs

One of the most popular reasons to adopt headless commerce is to support progressive web applications. PWAs allow you to incorporate native smartphone utilities like the camera, GPS and push notifications with your ecommerce and omnichannel experience.

For example, a PWA can:

  • Help mobile users locate product pages faster by using their camera to scan barcodes, QR codes or even use image recognition
  • Provide turn-by-turn directions in-store to locate products on a digital cart or shopping list on the shelf (wayfinding)
  • Help customers locate in-stock products closest to their current location
  • Send push notifications when a customer requests a back-in-stock alert or BOPIS order is ready for pickup
  • Send push codes to unlock pickup lockers (or integrate with authentication apps like Okta)

Unlike native apps that must be developed for different operating systems and require user download, PWAs are supported across mobile browsers. PWAs also work offline (so long as your customer has connected to it online before), making in-store mobile use even easier and more accessible.

Why headless commerce for mobile endless aisle?

To optimize your PWA for these emerging and urgent use cases, you want the ability to compose applications quickly, using only the relevant commerce services you need for a given touchpoint and the logic required to support the context of the experience.

“Going headless” (decoupling your front end from your back end commerce platform) is the first step towards composable commerce. But to truly launch new experiences that connect core commerce to new touchpoints (“heads”) like PWAs, chatbots/messengers, wearables and Internet of Things, you want modular services that can be remixed fast without hardwiring or adding code to your back end system.

The importance of real-time inventory visibility

You also want your touchpoints to connect with real-time data -- especially if you use local store inventory for online fulfillment which has a double-impact on in-store stock availability.

And it’s not just your own inventory you may want to connect to. If you supplement ship-to-store and endless aisle with drop-ship suppliers, you need real-time visibility and integration with their stock status and pricing. You may even integrate with shipping carriers and rate shopping tools to determine if ship-to-store and ship-to-customer orders can be delivered on time and at a reasonable cost.

Real-time integration with the right systems (and the ability to add or remove data sources as needed) is a key benefit of headless and API-driven commerce. Want to learn more? Get in touch.

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Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.