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Why do supermarkets store unopened boxes above the shelves?

Updated: Jul 15

If you go into any main supermarket these days you will see unopened cases on show above the display shelves on its own dedicated shelving called "Top Stocking" or similar

This is just spare stock or 'Overs' that couldn't go out from the recent deliveries. historically this would never have been allowed as it can make the store look messy and presents a poor customer image.

Today, the pressure on supermarket costs and the increase in online shopping means a balance has to be made between the operational needs and the in-store experience.

Supermarkets operate on a One Touch Replenishment basis. Every day deliveries are received which should all go out on the shop floor at the point they are first replenished. In an ideal world nothing would be left over as this has to be dragged back to the warehouse and reworked later.

That works well 95% of the time as each product has a large enough shelf capacity to hold the orders that arrive. Excess stock usually builds up when

  • Lines are under dressed (the line sells and orders more than the shelf can hold)

  • The line is on promotion requiring additional back up stock

  • The system inventory is wrong, there is more stock than the system knows about

  • Sales are below forecast and stock builds up as the forecast is too high

In these cases you cannot get all the stock out on the shelf and that stock would traditionally go back to the warehouse to be offloaded and then in the future dragged back onto the shop floor to be tried again. Latterly product was just condensed up by aisle on pallets and brought back out and retried the next shift. All left over stock is checked to make sure the system knows it is in inventory, to stop it ordering more.

So today Top Stocking shelves are placed above the aisles so that the overs can be put directly above the place where they go on the shopfloor. No need for all the dragging back and forth and staff can instantly check the top stock shelves to fill any gaps during the day. Customers can also see the lines if they are savvy and ask colleagues to get stock down. It is such a simple idea; it begs the question why we did not do it years ago.

To a retailer you understand a lot about a store from these shelves. If they are heavily stocked with unopened boxes, or if you have a product out of stock on the shelf and none on the top stocking shelves, you may have a forecast or inventory issue. It is much clearer than if half the stock is sitting out of sight in the warehouse.

At Christmas and seasonal times, Central Supply Chains can increase the orders to force stock into store in advance of an event and stores will use this space to hold that stock. The reality is the volume at Christmas is so great it can only be delivered if it is brought in early. (See my blog on Why there are Christmas lines in September)

To a customer, if you ever find what you want is out of stock, have a look at the top stocking shelves. Chances are it may be up there and a colleague can get it for you. NEVER try to get it yourself.

Disclaimer: I hope to monetise this blog with an affiliate program to support my costs and time involved. I am NOT sponsored and nor do I speak for any of the employers I have worked for. This is my own content based on my knowledge and opinions

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