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Why Your Holiday Stockout is the Competition’s Opportunity

The same thing happens every holiday, it seems: More people will do more of their shopping online, preferring the potential risks of delivery delays and package theft to the hassle of navigating crowds and facing empty shelves.

In an August survey of 1,530 consumers from France, the U.S. and the U.K., Mirakl, a provider of online marketplace tech solutions, found that 74 percent of consumers plan to do about half to three-quarters of their shopping on the web this holiday season, with 55 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds intending to purchase more than 75 percent of their holiday haul through digital commerce. Some industry experts project a 5 percent rise in holiday sales, a slight dip from last year’s 5.3% increase, but still encouraging growth.

Though unavailable inventory is particularly disappointing during a store visit, out-of-stocks are an issue online, too, and Mirakl research reveals that shoppers who can’t find what they’re looking for on your site will run without hesitation to your competition. Even more so than the rest of the year, holiday shopping can be a ruthless affair. With gift lists in hand, all that matters to many shoppers is crossing off one name and moving onto the next. Loyalty? From Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas Eve, there’s little time for that.

How big is the stock-out situation? Nearly half (46 percent) of Brits and Americans have run into holiday online inventory issues at some point, per Mirakl data. Selection and convenience are two of the biggest reasons why people like e-commerce so much, but if a product eludes them, shoppers will keep searching until their quest reaches a successful conclusion—80 percent told Mirakl they ended up purchasing from a competitor when faced with an online stockout. Inventory challenges aren’t necessarily just a one-off “oops” but can siphon away unsatisfied shoppers, as many surveyed consumers (55 percent, and 70 percent of Gen Zers) will switch e-tailers altogether if they encounter a more favorable choice of goods elsewhere.

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Is there any way to get people to stop checking Amazon on their path to purchase? Probably not. It’s notoriously difficult to change ingrained behaviors, and Amazon makes it too easy to compare prices before sealing the deal. Nearly all (91 percent) of the 35- to 44-year-olds Mirakl surveyed admitted to scoping out an item on Amazon before eventually buying elsewhere at the holidays. Amazon, it seems, is in some ways akin to a childhood safety blanket: It’s always there for you, just in case.

Consumers don’t like having their options limited, which is partly why Amazon and its marketplace peers like eBay, Alibaba, Walmart and others are becoming the default one-stop-shops for many dealhunters. Two years ago, NetElixir data showed that 42 percent of shoppers planned to buy holiday gifts from an online marketplace, a figure likely to rise as these sites attempt to outdo each other to become the ultimate go-to for consumers. The competition is so cutthroat that just this week eBay accused Amazon of illegally poaching sellers away from its platform—the latest report of shady dealing by the trillion-dollar company.

Mirakl said retailers interested in closing the competitive gap with mega-merchants and marketplaces can partner with third-party sellers, which can help with coverage on popular items selling quickly without having to broaden inventory investments. Offering click-and-collect on such marketplace orders will drive additional store traffic, Mirakl said, where customers might be tempted in incremental stocking-stuffers purchases.