On-shelf availability, retain performance, and external audits: A field experiment

June 2016 | Oliva, Rogelio

A potential answer to retailer’s shelf out-of-stocks (OOS), where the item is in store but customers cannot find it, is to employ third-party service providers to execute audits and corrections. However, given the nontrivial cost of executing external audits, it is still necessary to assess whether external audits are capable of reducing shelf-OOS, whether they can be performed in an economical way, and whether the benefits from the audits translate into higher sales. In an effort to address these questions, we partnered with a product manufacturer and a retail service provider and conducted a field experiment in a national retailer’s store set. We used transactional data to detect abnormal operations and respond to possible shelf-OOS by sending auditors to correct empty shelves and incorrect inventory records. At the conclusion of the experiment, we found that SKUs in the treatment group were less likely to have shelf-OOS and inventory record inaccuracies, and that our intervention had a positive effect on sales. Furthermore, we found that the external audit initiative is economically viable since these improvements required low auditing efforts after a transitional period, and in steady state the cost of running the program is a small fraction of the benefits it generates. We discuss the limitations of our study and the implications of our findings for researchers and practitioners.



  • Chuang, HC
  • Liu, S


Production and Operations Management 25(5):935-951.

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