Product Distribution – Steps to Making Sure Your Product is Getting to the Shelf

Most manufacturers have a product distribution strategy – the roadmap for ensuring products get to retailers as needed, efficiently, and on time. You might have your supply chain optimized, packing team automated, driver routes mapped out, and more, but there may still be one aspect of your retail distribution that is missing in action…

Are your products actually making it onto the shelf?

Although you might be getting your products to your retailers, once they arrive, what happens? Are you confident that they are being put out on store shelves in the best way possible?

While you may want to say “yes,” the answer isn’t always so simple…

Some in-store issues can stop your products from getting onto the shelf.

1. Retailer Staffing Challenges

Due to labour shortages, minimum wage increases, and the like, retailers aren’t hiring as many employees. According to a recent report, 47% of retailers report facing a skills gap.

In larger centres, such as Toronto and Vancouver, it’s harder to find affordable housing, so people who traditionally might have worked at retail stores can’t afford to live in the city and are moving elsewhere – or searching for higher-paid jobs.

Turnover rates are also high. According to Retail Insider, they’re about 80% to 90% annually, meaning the majority of the workforce doesn’t even stay for one year at a retail position.

With less staff in-store, there is also less staff to put products on the shelf… And with fewer employees staying long-term, new hires need to be recruited and trained more frequently, which can result in lost productivity or steps being missed.

When retailers are understaffed, brands need to take control of their inventory in-store. They can do so through a service like Marketsupport Canada.

2. Geographic Trends

Housing affordability and high cost of living are sending some Canadians moving to the suburbs. However, the suburbs are quickly becoming more and more populated.

According to Statistics Canada, regions such as Windsor, Peterborough, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa-Gatineau, London, and the like have all experienced significant population growth in the past three years.

Pay attention to stores where sales are picking up. While this is a good thing, it also might mean the store is becoming busier – and not necessarily hiring the staff to keep up with demand.

If all staff are needed on cash, for example, there will be less staff to put your products on the shelf. Again, this is where it makes sense to send in your own teams to ensure your brand is represented to its best ability. Especially when stores are getting busier, you want to capitalize on the added revenue potential.

3. Issues with Omnichannel

While omnichannel selling is bringing in more business for many retailers, it could affect your inventory and sales.

For instance, last year Marketsupport Canada President Sara Clarkson shared an experience she had while shopping at a big-name mall.

She tried to find a new pair of shoes for a timely event but every store she went into would only let her buy them online and have them shipped. They lost her business because the order wouldn’t have arrived on time.

Make sure to have adequate inventory on-site and online to satisfy shopper demand, and that items aren’t being held back for one channel over another.

4. Phantom Inventory

It might look in the system like a product is on the shelf when in fact it’s not… This is called phantom inventory. The computer system tells you there is inventory left in stock, but it’s nowhere to be found.

Phantom inventory can happen for many reasons, but whatever the cause it’s a big concern for brands and could be why your product isn’t making it to the shelf. Manufacturers might not even be aware this is an issue — it’s something you need to be in-store to see.

If inventory levels have stayed the same for a while, or a product that was selling well is no longer moving quite as much, this could be a sign that phantom inventory is to blame. You can also send teams into the store to physically check inventory at regular intervals.

5. Quality of Product on Shelf

Sometimes products do make it onto the shelf, but they don’t represent your brand well.

The inventory system might say there are three items on the shelf – but all of them have been opened, are damaged, or are otherwise unappealing… This can be misleading and retail staff may not necessarily flag issues.

It can also contribute to stagnating sales and a lowered brand reputation. If customers can’t find your products in good condition, they might move onto the competition.

Again, this is something that is best checked in-person. While system checks can give an idea of issues (if inventory levels are staying the same) you can gain a better understanding much more quickly by doing physical checks in-store.

If your products are getting to your retailers, but not making it to the shelf, you need to know about it. Due diligence doesn’t end at delivery. Make sure your products are being displayed and restocked to your specifications by visiting your retailers regularly.

Can’t make it to all of your in-store locations? That’s where Marketsupport Canada comes in. We have a national reach, so we can visit your retailers for you and ensure your products are making it to the shelf.

Learn more about our in-store and e-commerce solutions for manufacturers today. Call 1-877-421-5081 or visit

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