Asda has introduced measures to improve availability, after admitting levels fell in 2006 due to poor planning over the summer and a switch from bogofs to other types of promotion.

This week, general store managers did their first week on the night shift, something they are now expected to repeat one week in every 10 as part of a drive to improve space planning and inventory accuracy and support night staff.

New space and inventory planning teams have already been introduced in around 80 stores, and will be rolled out to the rest of Asda's estate over the course of the year. Asda has also introduced night availability managers.

Last year, availability fell from around 97% to just under 96% as a result of Asda's failure to accurately read demand, and therefore supply, admitted Keith Nesbitt, Asda's director of retail change.

At the height of summer, there was a shortfall of more than 300,000 cases from top suppliers in ambient, and a similar number in fresh, he told delegates at the IGD Availability and Demand Planning Conference last week. He added that Asda had underestimated how successful its new promotional strategy would be.

"We started the year

okay, but at the end of the first quarter we started to see overall performance of inbound deliveries from suppliers deteriorate steeply.

"What did this mean for availability? At the end of the first quarter we started to see a decline and that continued through the summer to autumn. It was not a good year."

Replenishment, which is now carried out by teams rather than individuals working solo, had "improved overnight", said Nesbitt, while back-room inventory levels in one store had been reduced from 200 roll-cages to just 35.

As well as improving space planning and inventory accuracy in-store, Asda had worked with suppliers to improve demand forecasting.

By last Christmas, availability levels were the highest they had been for five years, claimed Nesbitt, and further improvements were expected this year.

"I think we will be heading towards 98% by the end of the year."