Automatic substitution for unavailable items
The Problem


Providing substitutes for unavailable items in customer orders is challenging.  Some online retailers send their employees to physical stores to pick products.  If an ordered item is unavailable, an employee typically chooses the same brand in a different size, or a different brand in a similar size, if these are available.  Selecting different brands is difficult since few employees have in-depth knowledge of all products in the store.  Also, employees are unable to take into account other customers' orders or warehouse inventory availability to make substitution decisions that maximize overall customer satisfaction.  Thus, ad hoc decisions by employees often result in unsatisfactory order substitution.

The Solution 1


Our proprietary solutions can automate substitution of unavailable items in customer orders.  When a system based on our invention receives a customer order, it can dynamically take into consideration other pending orders in determining availability.  If an item has been identified as oversold, a second item can be automatically substituted, based on predefined substitution rules, as the order is fulfilled.


Our innovative substitution rules can take many forms.  One rule can defer to a preference of the customer, set either by previous customer interactions or at the time of the current order.  Another rule can be based on ratios.  For example, two Budweiser six-packs may automatically be replaced by one Budweiser 12-pack.  A third rule can favor substituting an item from an order with no other substitutions over an order that already has substitutions.   This is because customers are typically annoyed if too many of their ordered items are replaced by substitutes.


Another rule can give lower priority to the order asking for the highest quantity of an unavailable item, thus minimizing the total number of orders requiring substitution.  For example, if there are only five cans of tuna left in the warehouse, and there are five customers, each ordering one can of tuna while a sixth customer asks for five cans, this rule may select the order of the sixth customer for substitution.

The Solution 2


Our proprietary solutions can automate substitution of unavailable items in customer orders. Our solutions allow a customer to forbid her entire order or certain items in her order from being substituted.  Alternatively, substitution can be performed based on customer preferences.  Other products can also be restricted from being substituted, for example, if they are regulated items.  Our solution can also forbid a substituted product from being the same as a product already in the customer order.


Customers are typically not that thrilled if their products have been substituted.  Our solutions can regain customer loyalty using different techniques.  For example, one way is to substitute an oversold non-premium item with a premium brand item.  Another is to substitute an oversold item with an item of the same brand but larger in size.  However, the customer only has to pay the smaller size price.  Yet another approach is that the customer does not even have to pay for the substituted item if such item has a short shelf life.  Sometimes, the supplier of an oversold product may want to determine the response.  Our solution can alert the supplier when their item has been oversold.  It can then be up to the supplier to decide what and how to substitute.

Online Order Fulfillment