'Sorry sir, we are out of stock'

2010-09-01 07:15

As a boy I remember going into large department stores, and seeing my mom and dad’s disappointment over lack of stock, especially in the more popular clothing sizes. That was 30 years ago, and it’s a shortcoming where little if any learning curve has taken place.

There still seems to be a shortage on popular sizes in clothing, especially men’s trousers in size 36, and popular colours. It amazes me that the sophisticated inventory management systems cannot compensate for this by ordering two, three, or even 10 times the number of sizes that sell out quickly. If they sell more, then surely order more?

Why settle for the mediocrity of having to always say, “Sorry sir, there is no stock”? Why can the adjustment and improvement simply not be made? The millions spent on computerised stock control systems are not delivering – the same problems have prevailed for three decades.

Another example – my wife and I walk into a large tiling showroom in Paulshof to choose a mosaic pattern for a bathroom wall. We browsed around for about 20 minutes and, after consulting a sales person, made our selection.

We were then told “Sorry sir we are out of that one”. We then found out that they had only one colour of the range of 4-5 that were on display. If there is no stock of an item, then how about removing it from the display? Retailers, it creates disappointment to the customer, when their expectations are not met! Do you get this?

So I mentioned to the store manager that since there was no stock, we were going to their competitors, and the reaction I received showed no care, or pride, or willingness to learn from this. I got a powerless shrug from him. It’s a pity, as stores could use this information to get the edge, and learn from stuff like this.

Aside from these two examples, there are hundreds of stories we would all share about being disappointed to find that there is no stock of an item you’ve selected. Time and again it feels as though it really is not about us the customer.

A three decade old problem still prevails as much today as it did then. Since then, technology has exploded and we now have a plethora of warehousing, inventory, and stock control systems, with trend analysis and automatic ordering etc. It doesn’t seem to be working.

While this piece may not be a big issue like some discussed on this site, I would like to get other readers feedback and perhaps some feedback from retailers on this.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

  • Courtney - 2010-09-01 07:24

    This is so true. If it is out of stock get it off the floor, but isnt this typical South African business??? This tile place must have been C_M?

  • AJ - 2010-09-01 07:27

    I agree fully, I am sure these guys (for example when it comes to men's shoes), choose 10 of each size from 8-12, ignoring the fact that the majority of guys will want a 10 for example. There does not seem to be much lateral thinking when stocking for consumers. Maybe the buyers can explain. That goes for airline caterers too (especially on African flights) - a 50/50 split between beef and fish means 45% of your passengers will be disappointed with their meal. You got a brain - use it.

  • @ Robin - 2010-09-01 07:31

    The problem is that no one wants to manufacture products in SA any more, 'cos of strikes & labour laws. As such most products are imported. Our quantities are insignificant compared to the rest of the world.....resulting in SA falling to the back of the line when prioritising deliveries. This also explains the high costs, compared to prices overseas. And with the current wave of strikes, the situation will get worse. We are feeling it in the company I work for. The international business world is focusing on China, India, Brazil & Russia.

  • NAV - 2010-09-01 07:33

    if you and your family lose some weight, there wil be plenty of stock, trust me.

  • Thobi @Author - 2010-09-01 07:34

    Dude, lose weight, get there early, get a life, repeat!!!!!

  • Pop Idol - 2010-09-01 07:34

    I fully agree with u but it reminds me when i worked in the retail pharmacy sector,theres not much a computerised stock system can do when the manufactures are out of stock,or when a strike in Europe comes about and you run out of Valoid tablets for example.Anyway,I also experienced what u have and its senseless when it comes to clothes,as they should stock more of the fast moving clothing sizes.Have a good day

  • Sean R - 2010-09-01 07:34

    It is not the system, it is the human not interested in doing the job properly. You cannot complain about the service, because there is no service these days. Check out "" and see the complaints.

  • Zimbabwean - 2010-09-01 07:35

    People of Mzansi please wake up and smell the coffee, SA is slowly following in the foot steps of Zimbabwe most people say no but watch the space. The main problem with Zimbabwe is greed nothing but greed. Once it becomes a part of society the rest is history. Its not IQ or skill its greed plain and simple. We were let down by so many ppl who we entrusted with our lives black and white who after eating off the tree of good and evil never ever gave a hoot about the people. Govts that use ethnicity and race to lure voters are cancerous to Africa, which is SA biggest tumor right now. Forget race, tribe, etc focus on sustainability, development and improved standards of living for the masses. Blaming apartheid is one thing but what has the govt done to show that it can do better than the previous govt nada, nienta, rien, nothing. Forcing BEE and AA doesn't solve the problem it actually creates a new problem which we see today. Nation building is about a common vision for a better country a vision that stretches beyond ones nose. I am sorry to say I feel let down by my brothers and sisters in Africa all this wealth and sunshine and still we want to settle scores first before we start improving the lives of those who supported you and put you in power. As for the civil service for you information Zimbabwe collapsed in exactly the same way with public sector strikes once there is chaos, poor, education, below par health delivery forget about the Mzansi dream its gone. Wake up people of Mzansi you were Africa's last hope....

  • garth - 2010-09-01 07:40

    it is also a strategy of a lot of company to hold very little stock as cash is tied up when stock is purchased. Some companies would rather have out of stock situations than sit with too much that needs to be discounted to move the stock

  • Peacock - 2010-09-01 07:43

    I can sympathise with the "out of stock" comments. Very simply put.... A lot of suppliers have demands to meet but they have to buy the raw materials to generate the stock, and they need to order this, and the problem is also with the imported raw materials which could take 3 months to arrive - especially if it comes by sea and not affected by strikes.The problem is that the suppliers do not know what the demand is going to be, so how much do they make? If they make too much then their capital is tied up in Surplus stock. The same goes for the Shop owner. He does not want to have a large inventory where his money is tied up. The idea is to have a quick stock turn, this creates a healthy bank account and reduces debts.

  • Excalibur - 2010-09-01 07:44

    Size 36?. Have you tried "Big and Tall". Guess the local take-away is also low on stock. Size 32, no issues whatsoever.

  • Sl8r - 2010-09-01 07:46

    Its not the systems in place that are bad, most of our clothes are made with imported material, rough seas, human error abroad. You have no clue how many different hands products pass through before you get your paws on it. Even when chains recieve stock, the head warehouse has to distribute it to its respective outlets in the right quotas, Stop being naive, do you think the stores place an order and the clothes are here that same day??? I seriously just wasted 5 minutes of my life reading this, and another 2 trying to educate you.

  • RifRaf - 2010-09-01 07:46

    Get a life.

  • AnnyMous - 2010-09-01 07:49

    Well, it would seem to me these days big retailers just dont give a sh1t about the consumer, except their money - once I receive poor service from a shop, I never go back, and tell everybody I know about the experience. Its time us the consumers wake up and see we have the power to MAKE the retailers listen to our needs.... by boycots etc !!!!

  • solo - 2010-09-01 07:52

    To carry stock cost money. Building trade is down about 30% over last year. You can understand that cash flow is not good and they dont want to be heavy invested in idle stock. It's a difficult situation a lot of businesses find themselves in.

  • Ali - 2010-09-01 07:52

    On queue Zimbabwean (probably some disgruntled saffer) and now watch this discussion become a political thing...

  • Benzo - 2010-09-01 07:54

    About systems: if one computerise chaos, one gets more chaos, only quicker.

  • Susan - 2010-09-01 07:57

    You're so right! It is infuriating, especially at the grocery store where you can always be assured that any number of their basic run-of-the-mill products will be out of stock. And yes, no-one cares - although their smarmy advertising assures us otherwise.

  • Charlie - 2010-09-01 08:00

    The most sophisticated stock control system can only be as good as the person(s) doing the initial ordering. Unfortunately this is where it more often than not falls down due to lack of experience - products are ordered based on what is thought to be the most popular size rather than basing it on previous trends. This seasons trends are also not properly analyzed for future reference or are distorted because of the above inefficiencies or are overcompensated for in the next seasons - if there are plenty of smalls left this year (because too many were ordered) and the rest were sold out (because too few were ordered), it gets reversed the following season (too few smalls and too many others) because the underlying reasons aren't properly understood.

  • Uhuru - 2010-09-01 08:04

    From one Robin to another! You are dead right - there seems to be the ethic that the customer is no longer important and that 'who cares if we do business with you or not'! It also gets my hair up when I, as a result of some flyer posted through my gate, I make an effort to shop at some store or supermarket only to discover that "no, we didn't receive those items", or "we expect them next week" - which is probably after the special offers end!!! Some years ago I inquired of an hardware store whether they stocked brass tubing. I was told, "No sir, there is no call for that sort of thing --- funny thing though; you're the third customer we've had this week asking for the same thing!". I rest my case!!

  • concerned - 2010-09-01 08:08

    Definitely not all stock issues are due to specific store management: franchise management, international logistics etc all play a part.
    However, what concerns me more (and your article touches on this) is the perception that customer service in South Africa is in serious decline, compared to 30 years ago. Is there so little pride amongst so many service providers???? Even amongst different cities in South Africa. I was told that PE was the friendly city: when I recently went there for the first time (and spent 2 weeks there) I experienced this for myself. Never have I had better customer service than in PE.

  • Corne - 2010-09-01 08:11

    You guys suck - Robin just said that the size he used as an example is always "sold out" - so he's not the only one wearing a 36. He might be 6 foot tall and will never fit in anything smaller than a 36 ??? Robin - I feel your pain dude......but what can we do?

  • Jim - 2010-09-01 08:12

    Also to go one step further, what about advertising specials, then you go all the way to the store to be told Out of Stock.
    They waste peoples time and money.

  • @Excalibur - 2010-09-01 08:15

    Ag shame, you must enjoy showing off your girlish figure. I suppose you are a proud little man that does not get it that if your size is available you are in the minority and not normal.

  • TheOne - 2010-09-01 08:17

    I know exactly what you mean. We are in IT and our suppliers suffer the same problem each and every time. OUr problem is that they send stock to their buddy buddy retail stores first, and then only keep the rest for the channel. Sadly the retail stores also get "price protection" (ie price fixing) prices.Hewlett package are very well known for "price protection" and prefferred distribution (mainly Pavillion laptops!). Illegal but still doing it.

  • Max - 2010-09-01 08:17

    Couple of idiots commenting on the story. I agree with the author, and lets talk about shirts - large is often sold out, with plenty of medium, small and triple xl still in stock.
    @SI8R - thanks for the 2 minutes, but even that was a waste as you really are missing the point. Maybe spend more than 5 minutes reading next time.

  • AJ @ Excalibur - 2010-09-01 08:18

    Size 32 should not be a problem as most guys are not a 32. The problem would manifest itself in the 36/38 sizes where many guys shop. We get it, you're thin and in shape, well done to you there, but not really the point of the article is it?

  • @Sl8r - 2010-09-01 08:24

    Sl8r you obviously wasted 5 minutes reading the article as you did not get it at all. Yes clothes are made from imported material etc. But it’s not a lack of material it is a lack of insight into consumer demands. Why are there always bucket loads of 46+ and 30- pants, but nothing in the middle? Obviously the order quantities on sizes are wrong. This has been happening for as long as I can remember. This is bad planning... It is not that difficult to forecast the demand for sizes... The general population don’t change size in a day, so you don’t need same day delivery, just a bit of commonsense.

  • Andrew - 2010-09-01 08:27

    Clearly some people don't understand business and that carrying too much stock on your shelf is a huge risk. And they don't understand the supply chain "pipeline" either from manufacturer to retailer...wise up a bit and stop being ignorant!

  • John - 2010-09-01 08:28

    Couldnt agree more!
    If its out of stock, take it out of display. Nothing could be simpler.
    I guess theres a lot of people in the supply chain who simply dont care - and thats a problem with human nature - which incidentally hasnt changed in thousands of years, so i guess this problem is here to stay!

  • optout - 2010-09-01 08:28

    I could not agree more. One only has to look at the sizes available in the sale racks to see the evidence of this - only very small or very large, nothing in between. I have always wondered why the buyers don't compensate for this when they place their orders in the first place.
    Most businesses don't want to hold inventory anymore. A local health store has never got the products I need but always say they can order it for me and it will be there in two days. I have given up on them and now take my business elsewhere where I don't have to go back again.
    We experienced the same thing when trying to buy cabinet handles recently. Went to a specialist store with a huge display but not one of the handles we chose was in stock or if there was stock there was only 1 or 3, and we needed 12.
    In the end I took my search to the internet and found a company that had stock of what I wanted without having to waste anymore time.

  • Whatever - 2010-09-01 08:31

    You think it's bad not having clothes available? I worked in South African state hospitals for years before I mercifully managed to emigrate - we often used to run out of gloves, sterile linen, WATER, plaster of paris, name it. The problem is the useless people who are given jobs they can't do, and don't care about, and for which they are never disciplined for not doing. That's the real face of Africa and it's not changing. And to all those making smartass comments about the author being fat: I'm a size 36 waist and 6ft tall, that's not fat by any standard, so shut your mouths.

  • Andriette - 2010-09-01 08:32

    I went looking for a wedding dress at a well know bridal outfitter 2 weekends back. According to their system, 3 of the dresses I was interested in was available in my size. Nothing was hanging on the floor however... They just shrugged their shoulders and moved on to the next customer. On their website it claims that the dresses are available in a size 4 to 16, but it is actually from size 4-10, maybe 12. Only annorexic stick insects can shop there by the look of things.

  • @Zimbabwean - 2010-09-01 08:35


  • @ Excalibur, Thobi and Nav - 2010-09-01 08:36

    Get a life! You are probably part of the annorexic crowd who have teenager bodies. Real people have roles and curves - it is part of your natural shape. There is nothing wrong with being a size 12, 14 or 16.

  • Nkosinathi Mhlophe - 2010-09-01 08:37

    Systems are run and managed by people and while they replenish and manage inventory people are the ones that should plan accurately.They ought to know at what level they ought to place and order and they must create a relationship with their supplier.The whole thing is called the supply chain management.Well managed ERP systems work very well where an organisation learns to manage their customers and suppliers well.

  • Mochidi - 2010-09-01 08:43

    That's is why there's more than one shop all over.If you're shopping at Eastgate Mall at a certain shop and no size 36 let them phone another branch and get you ur size.

  • Blonde - 2010-09-01 08:46

    So often it's just laziness! I often ask the sales assistant whether they have additional stock and the response is normally a shrug of the shoulders and a mumble that all the stock is on the rail and there's nothing in the stockroom. Glad that the staff are so efficient that they know exactly what is in the stockroom! Just too bone idle to get off their asses! They don't deserve their jobs!

  • Michel - 2010-09-01 08:54

    I agree with you, but also understand there are uncontrolable factors that could cause problems. As for all the other idiots, maybe you should get a life.

  • TJ - 2010-09-01 09:00

    It's a sign that business is so good, retailers don't have to make an effort to track stock, restock or even offer a halfway decent level of service to customers. I recently had to buy a novel for my daughter's English class. The Sandton-based book store didn't have it and wasn't inclined to order it for me. Not even when I told them that 200 kids from a nearby school were ALL required to buy the same book. If it were my book store, I'd have offered a discount price to the school, ordered 200 books for them and even gone so far as to deliver them to the school, to secure those 200 sales and do a bit of PR for my shop at the same time.

  • Mimi - 2010-09-01 09:08

    Its not only clothes but shoes as well. I'm a lady and wear a size 8 and finding a size is a general problem. Either there is way more women that wear this size than I thought or makers just don't make size 8 shoes thinking all women wear small sizes. If I wore size 6 then I'd be a happy camper because those are always available. As for clothes, if not offered, then I politely 'force' them to call another branch to ask whether they have teh size I want.

  • Mark - 2010-09-01 09:08

    As a software developer, I have developed a stock system that is state of the art. Sending emails from the point of sale to advise management that stock is low or re-order is necessary. The problem is that your system is only as good as the staff who are in charge of the system. In SA, these people are 95% AA, which is not a problem until accountability is pulled into the equation. Then you get the back door bribes on who gets to supply the shops. I have seen this first hand.

  • womble - 2010-09-01 09:14

    From a customer perspective shop somewhere else - simple as.

    What is also obvious however is that you dont work in retail or understand the supply model - things are no quite as simple as they seem.

    Enjoy your day.

  • @ Zimbabwean - 2010-09-01 09:17

    Dude, is this for real? Did you post a response to the wrong reader's letter? I suspect that the lack of stock on Zim's shelves is due to a completely different reason from the one to which the author is referring. To the mean "skinnies" out there - I think a 36 is a fairly normal size isn't it? I'm a 32, but know that this is not normal.

  • motswanagape - 2010-09-01 09:19

    Woolworths are always out of stock :Men's trousers sizes 30;31;32.I bet you go there now and see for yourself ;and I thought their clothes are made in Cape Town.

  • Eish - 2010-09-01 09:21

    Jeez guys, 36 DOES NOT mean FAT - this guy might be a fit hunk of muscle for all you know! Who wants to hug a bag of bones anyway....
    Robin, I totally agree. That big food chain who we all flock to is a pain, always out of stock, never carry enough for the day, bring our products which I end up loving and then they remove them completely from the shelves! Also experienced it with a skincare brand who has a free gift promotion on at the moment, 'Sorry madam, no stock'. Great, you think they'd order more seeing as people will flock to get the gift. Eish. Service is null and void.

  • NH - 2010-09-01 09:32

    I received a "call back" voucher from the "pink" store cos they didn't have stock of a particular item that was advertised in their catalogue. I was assured that I would receive a call as soon as they do receive stock and was promised it at the advertised price as I was there to buy it on the first day of the sale - this was in August last year - I'm still waiting for that call....I've been to the store several times in the interim with my call back voucher but I'm always told the same thing - we still don't have stock as yet ma'am but we will certainly call u as soon as we do!!

  • 117 - 2010-09-01 09:34

    Size 36 fat? Hardly, i'm 6"3, 78kg, stick thin and wear a 34

  • Zolani - 2010-09-01 09:36

    Edgars is so bad, I was at eastgate the other day No size 5 ladys shoes at all, no kids slippers, no Boys pjammas. all Edgars is, is a glorified Bank, they dont care a single bit about clothes , customers or fashion any more, Stuafords was like that a few years ago and dropped big, big time.

  • Bullwhip - 2010-09-01 09:37

    Ever heard of "Bullwhips and Beer”. Read it and maybe you can begin to answer your own question.