Not all demand is true demand

Jul 19, 2018  |  5 min read

For consumer goods companies with omnichannel sales, downstream demand is a key signal to consider when thinking about inventory allocation, new product launches, demand planning, and other decisions. However, not all downstream demand is created equal.

To minimize lost sales due to out-of-stocks, companies must measure against true demand. But what is true demand, and why is it so important? We had the opportunity to give a presentation on this topic at the TPA Supply Chain Conference earlier this year alongside Procter & Gamble (P&G) Customer Supply Chain Manager, Ula Iriarte, and Ahold-Delhaize USA Director of Replenishment, Ashley MacLearn. In this post, we’ll highlight some of the key points we discussed.

First, an example

At a high level, measuring true demand is important because it helps reduce lost sales that stem from out-of-stocks. As an illustration, imagine that a shopper comes to Food Lion in Mount Holly, North Carolina, and intends to purchase Crest 3D White toothpaste, but finds that the store is out of stock.

She may decide to purchase a different brand’s whitening toothpaste instead, which would be revenue lost for Crest’s parent company, P&G. Or, she may decide to make the trip to a neighboring Target, where the Crest is in stock, which would be revenue lost for Food Lion’s parent company, Ahold-Delhaize. In both scenarios, the stock-out has led to a lost sale, and in aggregate, this affects both consumer goods companies and the retailers they sell through.

For this reason, both parties are incentivized to work together to use true demand to ensure consumers can purchase the products they want, when and where they want them.

Calculating the costs

So, lost sales because of out-of-stocks are clearly a real issue, but just how big of a problem is this for the collective retail ecosystem? As it turns out, it’s a very expensive problem.

Cost of OOS

According to data from Progressive Grocer Magazine, there are 38,571 supermarkets in the United States that exceed $2M in annual sales, and they do about $682.7B in total revenue. Past studies have estimated that lost sales are generally equivalent to about 4% of revenue — in this case, that would be $27.3B. If we can prevent even a fourth of lost sales by decreasing out-of-stocks, that would amount to an extra $6.8B in revenue every year, and that’s just for grocery stores!

The key to recouping this revenue is the difference between generic demand and “true demand”. Tracking for true demand means thinking about demand at the individual consumer level — shifting from “filling orders” to “filling shelves.” This granular approach is very different from the typical tracking that stops at the distribution center or other higher levels. Demand at the DC is just a proxy for true demand.

Why use a proxy when you have the real thing?

In our experience, several obstacles stand in the way of companies hoping to measure true demand.

  1. Generic business intelligence tools. Many companies are working with generic tools that are not designed for consumer goods manufacturers’ use cases. On top of that, outdated infrastructure and legacy systems often create unstructured or difficult-to-access data. The disconnect makes it difficult to trace up and down the supply chain to find the root cause of issues and take corrective action.

  2. Data paralysis. Measuring true demand means tracking every purchase of every item by SKU, store, geography, etc., and that results in a lot of data. For companies already taxed by current reporting and analysis needs, it can be overwhelming to try to spin this proverbial mountain of straw into gold.

  3. Culture. The organizational process for consumer goods companies selling to retailers focuses on bulk orders, and incentives and KPIs structured around sell-in rather than the way each product actually moves in each store — in other words, sell-through.

Shifting from proxies to true demand

Companies might also wonder if such granularity really makes enough of a difference to be worth the investment. Based on working with clients across a number of industries, we’ve found the answer to be a resounding “yes!”. Here are three situations where the lack of access to true demand can get you in trouble.

  1. Using averages instead of granular data obfuscates the important variation that leads to actionable insights. By definition, a portion of your stores, SKUs, or whatever you’re measuring are performing below average, and should be the targets of optimization to avoid lost sales.

  2. If visibility stops at the distribution center, it can create a false sense of security and increase the time it takes for consumer demand signals to propagate back to the manufacturer, hampering the company’s ability to respond in time to current sales trends and opportunities.

  3. Efficiently conducting a root cause analysis when problems occur is key to minimizing impact, but without granular sales data, it’s impossible to truly access the “roots” of issues.

For examples of how each of these problems impact store in-stock rates, please download our white paper “True Demand: The Difference Between Assuming and Knowing”. 

Posted by Alloy