Conversion Optimization

Making “Out of Stock” Products a Conversion Driver

Out of stock products 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

The average out-of-stock rate stands at 8%. And eCommerce brands still fail to find their way around this problem. 

While poor inventory management and supply chain delays are blamed, there’s one thing brands fail to fix—lack of preparedness when faced with various stockout scenarios.

To take this problem head on, here are 3 common scenarios plus their solutions. 

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

Scenario #1 - Low inventory levels 

Scenario #2 - Out of stock products

Scenario #3 - Permanently out-of-stock products

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

How to create “out-of-stock products" 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 fluctuating 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 out-of-stock products messaging

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

Instead of a plain out of stock message, drive buzz. Start by: 

Tagging the product as exclusive using a product badge.

Featuring 2-3 supplementary products belonging to the same category—create gift bundles or limited edition products. 

Gauging product demand by asking customers to join the waitlist in case of low inventory (applies during scenario #2)

Next, filter the waitlist according to addresses that are easier to deliver: saves you shipping costs.

Use your waitlist to build your list of initial customers, seek feedback and improve your products.

You can manufacture, procure or import the products based on hard data.   

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.

Offer out-of-stock product notifications as a secondary CTA, but make it subtle. Inform your customers that additional stock notifications will be sent once the pre-order thresholds are full.

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 out of stock 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
  • 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 - Temporary out-of-stock products

Tell your customers that due to high demand, temporary out of stock products are in backorder and will be available by a certain date. Convey you're doing your best to keep up with demand and are thankful for the response.

Temporary out-of-stock products are perceived well, when you include the following reasons: 

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)

 In the meanwhile, you can:

1. Offer alternatives in shipping & deliveries  

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

To reduce cart abandonment, start by:   

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

Writing a message on your product pages saying that a particular variant or color has high demand. Next, assure the customer that the product will be delivered by a certain date.

Allowing the customer to complete the checkout and communicate the tentative shipping timeline. As an alternative, allow customers to either pick up their order in-store or opt for curbside pickup. This helps them save shipping costs. 

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. Since soft 404 URLs still appear in search results, customers may be directed to non-existent pages. Unfortunately, this 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? Offer recommendations based on their search queries or products in the same category to drive more sales. 

Scenario #3 - Permanently out-of-stock products

1. Make customers explore other categories

Making “out of stock” products a conversion driver

Even while having permanently out-of-stock products, you can still convert visitors.

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 making product discovery easier.

Feature a message saying that out-of-stock products are no longer in demand. Instead mention that there are upgraded versions available. 

2. Handle redirections without harming page ranking 

Choosing which redirect to apply for out-of-stock product pages is challenging.

Here are the type of redirects and how they work:

a. 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 match the URL or search query. 

b. 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.

c. 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

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

Not communicating early 

A sizable number of eCommerce brands don’t feature out of stock messages on their product pages. Customers only come to know once they reach the checkout. 

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 

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 products 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. 

This leads to another pressing problem.

98% of visitors who visit an eCommerce site—drop off without buying anything.

Why: user experience issues that cause friction for visitors.

And this is the problem Convertcart solves.

We've helped 500+ eCommerce stores (in the US) improve user experience—and 2X their conversions.

How we can help you:

Our conversion experts can audit your site—identify UX issues, and suggest changes to improve conversions.

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