I visited an excellent retailer last week in Buckinghamshire with the sole purpose of looking at the shop’s approach to availability.

Tara’s News in High Wycombe was a great example of how to get it right – staying right on top of stock, advertising the availability of key products with great PoS and using space well to showcase what’s on offer.

It seems like an obvious part of retailing – making sure you don’t run out of the things you sell so that your customers are happy and can get what they want when they visit your shop.

But a news item on Marks and Spencer this week illustrated that even the big boys can get it wrong. The group posted a shock sales decrease of 0.7 per cent and Marc Bolland, the chief executive, said it was because they had simply run out of woolly jumpers.

He said some best-selling lines like blouses and tops, especially knitwear, sold out far quicker than expected, leaving the retailer “short of stock in best-selling lines”.

Perhaps the cold snap earlier in the year played its part in shoppers wanting extra protection against the cold, but even so it’s surprising that a household name like M&S could get it so drastically wrong.

What’s your approach to getting your availability right in your store? And have you ever been caught short by a freakish demand for a particular product?