There are all kinds of reasons, human and technological, why retailers fail to fill open spaces on shelves. Regardless of the causes, empty shelves can lead to lost sales and that was the concern raised by Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., in a Feb. 1 meeting of company executives, according to Bloomberg News.
According to notes taken by an executive during the meeting, Mr. Simon called shelf holes "self-inflicted wounds" that need to be corrected.
Last March, Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer for Walmart U.S., estimated the retailer could improve its sales by as much as $5 billion a year through more effective inventory management.
Walmart spokesperson David Tovar told Bloomberg that the news service's reporting of the executive's notes did not reflect the chain's in-stock position. He also took issue with quotes from a department manager at a Walmart Supercenter who said her store should have 72 cameras in stock instead of the 12 it was carrying. Mr. Tovar said the news service was taking an isolated example and presenting it as a problem that is national in scope.
While purely anecdotal, store checks I've conducted at Walmart support Bloomberg's reporting. That being said, I've found similar situations at Target and elsewhere.
Would you blame human or technological deficiencies most for poor in-stock situations at retail?