Well-stocked shelves are considered important for several reasons: orderly appearance of the aisle, lower likelihood of out-of-stocks and higher visual impact for the brand. A recent study questions this reasoning: Shoppers may infer higher popularity or higher quality when some of the items on the shelf are missing.
Indeed in several tests, shoppers are shown to be attracted to brands that do not have a full shelf. The exception is Foods where a sparse shelf could indicate ‘near to expiry date’. The impact is not trivial in other categories: Less stocked items may see an increase in choice of up to 10%.
The effect disappears if the perfectly stocked alternative(s) is strongly preferred by the shopper, is on promotion or is clearly better quality
These results offer somewhat risky (beware of out-of-stocks and shabby appearance), yet low-cost alternatives to sales promotions. If you want to learn more, click here for details of the study.
Source: Jeffrey R. Parker, Donald R. Lehmann (2011), When Shelf-Based Scarcity Impacts Consumer Preferences, Journal of Retailing.