March 5, 2002, 12:00 AM

Real-time product availability online remains elusive, consultant says

Only 10% of retail web sites offer real-time inventory information to shoppers, says Geri Spieler, research director for GartnerG2 retail services group, up from 2% last year.


Only 10% of retail web sites offer real-time inventory information to shoppers, Geri Spieler, research director for The Gartner Group Inc.’s GartnerG2 retail services group, tells Internet Retailer. While low, the number is still up fivefold from 2% last year. Most consumers expect, however, that most sites are offering real-time status. “Shoppers expect that what they see is what they’ll get,” Spieler says. “But what you see is not necessarily what you’ll get and you may not get it at all.”

The growth in online shopping will force retailers to look more closely at real-time inventory or a close approximation of it, she says, as more consumers will expect the online shopping experience to replicate the offline experience. “The dreaded e-mail that comes some time after the order has been placed saying “We’re out of your product’ just isn’t going to work,” she says.

Providing customers with real-time inventory status goes far toward contributing to the similarity in online and offline shopping experiences: It is a lot like having items on display on retail shelves; it tells the customer the item is there to be bought. “It’s like picking up a sweater from a shelf in a store,” Spieler says. “No salesperson will take it away from you once it’s in your cart and say, ‘We’re out of this.’ If it’s in your cart--online or offline--you’re expecting to be able to buy it.”


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