Shoppers frustrated by stock shortages in runup to Christmas

Stock shortages on the high street are driving customers to look elsewhere and shop online, research finds.

According to a study of more than 9,000 consumers by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS), respondents believe that high street retailers are holding less stock than they used to, based on experiences of stock shortages.

This could prove damaging to retailers as we enter the crucial Christmas trading season, as customers warn they will turn away from the high street if stock outs continue.

More than a third (38 per cent) of consumers feel that shops are now stocking less than they used to hold. When questioned, one in five customers (19 per cent) say they had attempted to buy an out-of-stock item within the last month, one in three (34 per cent) within the last six months.

A quarter (25 per cent) of people experienced this in the last year even when they had checked beforehand to see if the item would be available. The types of retail outlet where most customers have experienced stock shortages in this six-month period are food (21 per cent), clothing (16 per cent), and electrical goods (9 per cent). 

Worryingly for retailers, almost a third (31 per cent) of all customers say they had experienced a stock shortage in the last year after having seen a promotion encouraging them to visit a shop.

Brian Weston, director at the ICS comments, ‘It is clear that retailers have a major challenge in balancing stock management and the ability to respond quickly to customer demand.

‘Many consumers clearly value the benefits of the physical shopping environment. Yet the evidence of this research shows that if goods are out of stock, consumers are highly likely to go to the competition or shop online, and may be less likely to return in future.’

Half of all customers describe lack of stock as “one of the most frustrating shopping experiences”, while 39 per cent question how much a store values its customers when it runs out of stock.

These issues are already beginning to encourage customer churn. More than a third of customers (36 per cent) say they walk away from shops where they experience shortages, taking their business elsewhere. 

A lack of stock leaves nearly half (42 per cent) of consumers less inclined to shop at the store in future and more than a third (36 per cent) more likely to buy from an online competitor.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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