What is Endless Aisle? Two Important, But Very Different, Definitions

It seems the retail industry is teeming with buzz words these days. Not only do you have to know your omnichannel from your IoT but many of these terms can mean different things depending on who you ask. The latest concept everyone is talking (and confused) about is endless aisle.

What is Endless Aisle? (General Definition)

Endless aisle refers to the concept of using enabling customers in your stores to virtually browse or order a wide range of products that are either out of stock or not sold in-store and have them shipped to the store or their home. 

Advantage of Endless Aisle

Endless aisle offers a seemingly endless number of SKUs, which is usually done by partnering with a fulfillment supplier. The goal is to be able to compete head-to-head with online product assortment in your stores. When a customer walks in, they can walk out having purchased exactly what they want – although their item may arrive at the store or their house a day or two later. It’s bringing the practice of blending physical and virtual product together to create the ultimate merchandising strategy.

Different Approaches of Endless Aisle

There are at least two different ways you can implement an endless aisle approach.

Endless aisle as order fulfillment (aka drop ship)

This is the basic approach to endless aisle. Endless aisle as a fulfillment model, or what some refer to as drop ship, is the practice of equipping your sales associates with access to third-party suppliers and/​or your e-commerce product. Sales reps can present these options to the customer either as they are shopping or if the customer approaches a sales rep looking for a specific item that is either out of stock or not typically carried in store. They can then order the desired item for the customer and have it shipped.

Endless aisle as an interactive kiosk

Endless aisle as an interactive kiosk takes the above definition and goes a step further. You may hear this referred to as a virtual shelf” or endless shelf.” By using customer-facing, interactive touchscreens to display your entire product catalog, and the entire product catalog of your suppliers, you can empower shoppers to browse, discover, and purchase all on their own. Customers aren’t dependent on interactions with a sales associate (some people will opt to go elsewhere before asking a rep or wait for a sales associate to be free) and you don’t have to rely on sales associates remembering to offer the virtually available product. It can be difficult to train sales staff to break old habits of preferring to sell the stock they have on hand – even when it’s not a perfect match for what the customer initially came in for.

For us at iQmetrix, we offer both drop ship (approach 1) and endless aisle (approach 2), but as a best practice, we consider them to go hand in hand rather than an either/​or option. By using them together, you can create an in-store experience that delights your customers and differentiates you from other retailers.

Now that you know the difference, dive even deeper by downloading the whitepaper, Best Practices for Bringing Endless Aisle into Your Retail Strategy.