Friday, February 13, 2009

Out of Stock

I went to Wal-Mart this morning because I was out of flax seed and
dark brown sugar. Wal-Mart was also out of both things.

This is not too surprising, and I do not blame them for it. The
demand for each of these goods is very low, so it would not make sense
to devote much shelf space to them. At most, they will have six boxes
of flax seed in the store.

However, the people who do buy these things will buy them in large
quantities at irregular intervals. It would not surprise me if the
half-dozen boxes of flax seed and the dozen bags of sugar sat
untouched for a week, and then were all bought in a single day as
people stocked up on groceries after payday, or were preparing to bake
something for a Valentine party.

And of course, the irregular supply is a problem that reinforces
itself. If people know that something will always be available, they
buy just as much as they need to last until the next store visit. But
once they learn that it might be out of stock the next time they are
in the store, they will grab more whenever it is available, to make
sure they don't run out.

However, having said that, I was somewhat annoyed at the massive
amount of shelf space devoted to identical five-pound bags of cheap
white sugar. That one product consumed at least five times the space
of the entire specialty baking goods section. I find it very hard to
believe that they actually need all of that space. There is almost no
chance that people would buy that much in a single day. Wal-Mart
could double the shelf space devoted to flax seed by removing just
three bags of sugar from their massive supply.

On the other hand, the consequences of running out of a staple food
are much worse than the consequences of running out of a specialty
good. Many stores don't even carry flax seed, so they know I will be
back later. But Wal-Mart could lose a customer permanently if they
ever didn't have something that people consider a basic necessity.

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