Conversion Optimization

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

Stock-outs are common in eCommerce. Yet, many online stores struggle to handle out-of-stock scenarios. Let’s explore solutions to rescue your out-of-stock revenue and drive more sales.

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

It could be artist-made merch by BTS or your favorite shampoo, the universal reaction to a product’s sold-out tag is disappointment.  

Global supply chains have started recovering from disruptions due to the pandemic. However, fluctuating shipping costs are causing frustrations in deliveries.   

The rule of eCommerce is 'never say never'. 

But there will be times you have to say no to customers. Just say it positively. 

Sounds contradictory? 

Sit tight and read on as we explore 3 possible scenarios and solutions. 

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How to create “out-of-stock” urgency to drive eCommerce conversions

Urgency in eCommerce is a tried and tested marketing strategy. However, most online stores still struggle to handle out-of-stock products for more sales. Let’s explore solutions to rescue your bottom-line 

Scenario #1 - Low inventory levels 

As an eCommerce business owner, you might be familiar with the market’s see-sawing demand and supply. 

Here are a few times online stores might know they will have low stock of products:

  • insufficient manufacturing capability (requires too many raw materials, etc)  
  • seasonal products (sunscreen sells out more during summers)
  • supply chain fluctuations (it isn’t easy to import products due to regulations)  

So how do you tell a customer a product is no longer available on the website?

1. Re-frame the messaging 

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

So you have low stock.  

Don’t let it sound negative. Flip the narrative.

Instead of sending out low stock alerts to drive sales, you can tag the product as exclusive. If there are at least 2-3 supplementary products in the same category, bundle them as limited edition or as gift hampers. 

It’s also the perfect time to gauge customer expectations and demand. If you have low inventory levels, add a CTA to let customers join the waitlist (also applies during scenario #2). 

Next, filter the waitlist according to addresses that are easier to deliver, saving on shipping costs. Furthermore, a waitlist indicates the demand for the product. You can plan to manufacture, procure or import the products, effectively decreasing guesswork.  

Just a reminder - these tactics will only work if you offer clarity to customers. 

Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Otherwise, customers will lose trust and you’ll end up damaging your brand’s reputation.    

2. Change the CTA to pre-order 

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

Instead of disabling the option to buy and having an email opt-in for stock alerts, change the call to action to a pre-order. 

Be clear about expected shipment dates, even if you’re not sure of the precise date.

If you’ve done a good job reframing the messaging of the out-of-stock situation, then a pre-order call to action can drive tons of sales.

You can offer out-of-stock notifications as a secondary CTA, but make it subtle. Furthermore, craft your messaging to clarify that pre-ordering means they will get the product. 

Also, make sure customers know that once the pre-order thresholds are full, only then notifications for the additional stock will be available, but no guarantees. 

Moreover, you can drive more conversions with a preorder bonus. These can be discount gift codes, complementary products, samples, or more benefits such as future opt-ins for other products.    

3. Use psychological triggers

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

On the website, there are several ways you can nudge customers to hit ‘buy now’. 

Types of nudges to add on the product page:

  • a product countdown to show how many customers have already purchased the product,
  • highlighted text or pop-ups that shows the product has low stock, or
  • the product is already in X number of carts  

These prompts will create a sense of FOMO and assure customers that the product's in demand and that it's a verified purchase.   

To fuel more excitement, slash the prices and include a time frame for purchase, something like Amazon’s lightning deal promotions.

Scenario #2 - Products are temporarily out-of-stock

Before we dive into the solutions, let’s talk about messaging again. 

Instead of announcing that the product is out-of-stock, take a pause. 

A better approach would be to craft messaging that the product is on backorder or have a focus on reloading your inventory. Yes, it means the same thing, but you can change the perception.

Don’t say out-of-stock.

Explain that due to high demand for the product, it's temporarily out of stock and you expect additional inventory by a certain date. Elaborate you're doing your best to keep up with demand and are thankful for so much excitement around the product.

In the messaging, say you’re out-of-stock because of:

  • seasonality (mittens in winter will sell out faster)
  • unexpected demand (esp if the product is trending or went viral)
  • manufacturing issues (totally understandable with the ongoing pandemic)

So, what can you do in the meanwhile?

1. Offer alternatives in shipping & deliveries  

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

So, you are temporarily out-of-stock and you have a messaging in place. Now, what?

If customers only see the out-of-stock message, they might assume the product is out-of-stock for good. 

Furthermore, research shows that most customers who habitually buy online will abandon the cart and go elsewhere to buy the product.   

So how can you not lose on sales? 

The good news is that you can still allow customers to place an order. 

You might be thinking, hmm that sounds dubious 

Not if you know when the product will be back in stock. When customers are placing an order, make sure to communicate that the product will be delivered once the product is back in stock. 

Offer multiple shipping times and delivery dates so that customers understand that the product is not genuinely out-of-stock.     

Will this really work?

Take, for example, an online fashion store with a dress that’s extremely popular in purple, while other color variations of the dress are less in demand. 

Consequently, the purple dress is frequently out-of-stock online. However, customers know that the stock is regularly replenished by the manufacturer and they might only have to wait an extra day or two to get the product. 

In this case, the customer should be allowed to complete the checkout and the delivery time should simply be increased for the purple dress.

Alternatively, if the product is going to soon be back in stock and the customer needs to purchase it urgently, you can have the customers place an order and pick it up in-store. 

2. Don’t let customers see ‘page not found’ 

Once the product is out-of-stock, many eCommerce stores make the product page redundant.  

Google treats such pages as soft 404s. 

A 404 error occurs when a page is non-existent, meaning the page previously existed but has been removed. When someone attempts to visit the URL, it shows a “page not found” message. 

When it’s a soft 404 error, the error is conveyed to website visitors but not to Google crawl bots. However, soft 404 errors can impact your website’s ranking on SERPs. Because soft 404 URLs still appear in search results, customers may be directed to non-existent pages. This reflects poorly on your website and increases the bounce rate. 

So, how can you fix this?

Update the page content and CTA. You can add more information about the product, brand information, or recent credentials. Furthermore, you can have an email opt-in so customers can get back-in-stock email alerts or notifications. 

3. Redirect customers to relevant web pages  

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

Perhaps the product is going to be back in stock. Meanwhile, you have taken their contact information. 

Now what? Rather than losing your customer’s interest, offer recommendations based on their search queries or products in the same category to drive more sales. 

Scenario #3 - Products are permanently out-of-stock

1. Make customers explore other categories

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

Since the product is permanently out-of-stock, there’s no reason to frustrate customers and let them abandon the webpage. 

You can still keep their interest. 

See how Sephora’s webpage communicates that the product is permanently out-of-stock and recommends new products or categories. 

This means customers can find popular products and buy something else. Online stores can craft messaging that says the out-of-stock product is not popular anymore and instead there are newer versions or even other products that are trending. 

2. Handle redirections without harming page ranking 

Is everyone telling you to redirect out-of-stock product pages? 

But, which redirect should you apply? 

404 Redirect - This redirect is a server response code informing the website visitor and search engine that the web page cannot be found since it no longer exists. You can prompt customers to explore products that closely the URL or search query. 

301 redirect -  In case the product customers are looking for has a new or upgraded version. Then you can apply a 301 redirect which sends website visitors who have typed in the previous URL to the product’s current location in the eCommerce store. 

Compared to the 404 error code, which often only tells a website visitor that the webpage can't be found, the 301 redirect code sends visitors to an active page. This way, eCommerce store owners can offer customers a user positive experience and let them easily access the online storefront.

Unavailable after meta tag - If you happen to have too many out-of-stock webpages, then look towards the ‘unavailable_after META tag’.

In simpler terms, this tag tells Google in advance that the product page is going to be discontinued on a certain date. Google will show the product page in search results until the given expiry date. Approximately 24 hours after the expiration date, the product page will simply disappear from search results. 

Some common mistakes eCommerce stores make w.r.t. out-of-stock products

Recent data from Adobe shows that stock outs were up by 250% in October 2021, compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

While you can’t fail-proof out-of-stock strategies, here are some common mistakes that can hurt your sales.

Not communicating early - Some eCommerce stores don’t include messaging that helps customers understand the situation. Instead, they allow customers to add the product to the cart and then during checkout, indicate that the product is out-of-stock. This leads to poor user experience and customers will think twice before buying another product.                

Capturing information with no follow-up - Everyone will tell you to put an email opt-in. However, don’t go mute after that. You can keep these customers in the loop by recommending other products or new launches through email campaigns.  

Redirect without explanation - So your product is out-of-stock. Many eCommerce stores just slap a 404 redirect or redirect the product page to the home page. Some online stores just redirect to a similar product. While this is not a bad strategy, don’t redirect without an explanation. You can add text on the redirected webpage to indicate the path or search query.   

Don’t let out-of-stock stop you from making sales

Stock outs are frustrating for both eCommerce stores and customers. While the online store owner loses out on a guaranteed sale, the customer has a poor experience. 

As an eCommerce business owner, you need to avoid stock outs scenarios as much as you can. However, when they do happen, it’s important to relook your responses to create a positive experience for your customers. 

Happy selling!!

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