Today’s Supply Chain Disruption: Alternative Products are The Answer

October 22, 2021
by David

Why Retailers Need to Start Stocking New Items Now

Perhaps no image better captures the earliest weeks of the pandemic than empty shelves and frustrated shoppers. The uncertain future sent customers stockpiling products until the supply chain was under a pressure test that no one expected. Replicate that throughout the world and you end up with a chain reaction that sent manufacturers scrambling to keep their core products on shelves while deprioritizing newer offerings. I saw it firsthand in my local stores as I’m sure you did, too.

As you might’ve noticed, shelves are starting to look bare again. Ongoing issues with labor, shipping, and production have put pressure on the still-recovering supply chain while fill-rates plummet to those early pandemic levels.

“Retailers are telling me that their current fill rates are still at 75% even 18 months after the initial grocery stock-up last year.”

Dawn Valandingham

A retailer receiving only 3 out of 4 orders when a truck arrives is a precarious situation no matter the time of year, but especially as the holidays approach. The solution is to understand how data can help you find alternative products to put on shelves and keep shoppers satisfied during this supply chain disruption.

How Retailers Can Pivot and Adjust Amidst the Supply Chain Disruption

The most important advice I give retailers today is to act now: a wait-and-see approach is not a viable option in this situation. The moves you make (and don’t make) in this moment are going to shape the remainder of Q4 and the outlook for 2022. Whether you have one storefront or several, you can use SPINS proprietary retail data tools to understand category growth, assortment needs, emerging trends, and product attributes. These are all insights that allow you to understand the items you usually have on your shelves and find similar alternatives to order in their place. For example, if your top gluten free pasta is out of stock, you can look up gluten free pastas and see which options are similar and then order them immediately.

Stocked shelves help you provide a seamless customer experience that satisfies your shoppers and retains sales. Don’t forget that they’re also laying the foundation for long-term success because they’re helping you address some critical opportunities right now.


Innovative products and good communication can attract and retain shoppers during the supply chain backup. SPINS retail experts, Lisa Labuda and Simon Cutts, discuss the unique opportunity retailers have right now.

Customer Loyalty Is at Stake

A retailer’s nightmare is having to turn away customers. You might be forgiven for one failed shopping trip, but most shoppers are not going to give repeated tries when they can use their phone to find a product within seconds. This event has the potential to permanently disrupt shoppers’ habits and cause them to switch retailers. However, if your store stays stocked with the items they need, you’ve proven that you are the reliable retailer in the region and that they don’t need to look elsewhere even in a time of crisis.

Shopper Acquisition Is Up for Grabs

Earning loyalty isn’t only for existing customers. There will be stores that don’t pivot quickly enough and that lose shoppers who look elsewhere to fill their baskets. This shortage can be a rare opportunity to attract new shoppers and earn their trust. This is particularly true if you’re earning customer loyalty with your existing base who is then likely to give word-of-mouth recommendations, which are the gold standard of endorsements.

Lifestyles and Dietary Needs Don’t Disappear

At the start of the pandemic, we saw sales rise across the store, including natural products—and those products continued to outperform their 2019 levels. This proved natural shoppers didn’t abandon their lifestyles and diets, and they’re not going to during this supply chain disruption either. A vegan shopper is going to remain vegan no matter what, so you want to replace their favorite frozen entrees with a similar offering from another brand. If you bring in an animal-derived alternative, they’re going to look elsewhere. Consumers will adapt by finding new similar items that suit their needs—and, if necessary, they will find new retailers.

Trends Continue to Move Forward

Neither brands nor shoppers are pausing right now, and retailers who stay stagnant will be left behind. Brands have launched thousands of innovative products in 2021, and shoppers are always looking for ways to improve their health and wellbeing. That widens the scope of alternative products you can add to your inventory while also establishing yourself as the retailer who didn’t miss a step during the supply chain shortage.

Now Is the Time to Act

No one knows for certain how extreme the shortage will get, but we do know that we’re still not out of the pandemic’s shadow when it comes to order fulfillment. Don’t wait until your shipments go unfilled to start finding the alternative items. Start looking at the data today to help you earn loyalty, win new customers, and offer a seamless shopping experience.