5 ways to manage the customer experience when items are out of stock

Anyone who’s ever shopped online knows how disappointing it is to find out that the item they desire is currently out of stock. As a brand, you have probably missed a sale, not to mention the customer may start looking elsewhere, meaning you lose out on potential sales from that particular customer. 


In a 2020 survey carried out by McKinsey, 29% of customers who had changed from one brand to another said they were motivated by constantly finding items out of stock.


Of course, you can’t magically prevent items from going out of stock. You can only make an educated guess as to how much demand there will be for an item and how many to buy in. Plus the supply chain is long and full of potential weak spots, meaning you can be taken by surprise when an item fails to turn up in your warehouse.  


Nonetheless, this experience can be managed and turned into a positive. Here are our five top tips for online brands when dealing with out of stock items.  


1) Let the customer know immediately

You should say on the listings page that the item is out of stock, rather than making the customer click through to a details page or checkout first. You can also move these products to the bottom of the listings page.


2) Alert the customer to out of stock options for any one product 

If an item is generally available, but some of its options or versions are currently not, you should make this clear from the moment the customer views the item. You can use a graphic to display which versions are available. Software is available which can track which items are available in your warehouse and which aren’t. 


3) Give customers a timeframe

Remember, items are only out of stock temporarily – if you’ve stopped selling them altogether, the listing should be removed. If you indicate when the item is expected to be back in stock, and give the customer the option of being notified when this happens, you are likely to retain their custom. The notification can also carry advertisements for further products, and you’ll have the customer’s contact details for use in other marketing operations. 


4) Pre-orders and reservations are key 

If an item is out of stock, letting the customer place a reservation or pre-order prevents the customer being frustrated twice over. You may think of reservations as applying to items which are yet to be released, but retailers often use them to capture business that would otherwise go elsewhere. 


5) ‘Back in stock’ is a selling point 

If a product has sold out, that implies popularity, even if it was more a stock management issue. You can use this to your advantage, sending out emails and marketing material about back in stock items, turning it into a marketing opportunity.