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Another Target Missoni Reminder: When It Comes To Out-Of-Stocks, You Can’t Win

Written by Frank Hayes
September 21st, 2011

After everything else that happened to Target in the wake of its catastrophically successful Missoni sale on September 13, here’s one more thing to add insult to injury: Customers are now complaining about their online orders being delayed or canceled—and then seeing the merchandise they couldn’t get showing up again on Target.com. But it’s hard to blame this problem on Target’s new E-Commerce site—the same thing happened to Target and other E-tailers last Black Friday, when Target.com was still being run by Amazon.

The “now it’s out-of-stock, now it’s back in stock” problem isn’t new to either in-store or E-Commerce, and it’s one that retailers usually try to handle as quietly as possible with ever-smarter inventory systems. But that will probably never work, because real-time inventory stops working very well when an item is about to go out of stock. Unfortunately, giving online customers more information about a looming out-of-stock situation could actually encourage them to buy less—and may not keep them any happier.

In Target’s case, the retailer is keeping details to a minimum on the new Missoni problem, as it has all the way through the troubled promotion. (It’s a little odd to call it that—yes, there’s been plenty of trouble. But any time a retailer sells that much merchandise that fast, it feels very strange calling it “troubled.”) The chain just says the “unprecedented demand” affected the shipment of “select guest orders.”

That probably means some orders were spiked. Target’s fulfillment rules say that orders have to be shipped within a certain time. If there’s no product to ship, the order has to be canceled. Like much of the design for Target’s new site, that’s eminently logical. But when it runs afoul of what customers expect—as much of the new Target.com does—there’s bound to be trouble.

And it has to be galling to customers whose orders were canceled to check back a week after Missoni Tuesday to find that many of those same products (more than one-quarter of the Missoni items, according to a check of the Web site) were back in stock.

That’s a problem Target and every other E-tailer would like to solve. But real-time inventory won’t do it. When there’s plenty of stock, closely monitoring inventory to avoid canceling orders is unnecessary—there’s enough for everyone.

And when an item is nearly out of stock, a close watch on inventory doesn’t help.


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