Stock is a major issue for many businesses right now, both online and local. Certain items are running low due to demand and others due to difficulty importing items needed to produce products.
For those running digital store fronts, this presents a number of problems. Most importantly, customers are going to build a certain perception of a brand if they can’t fulfil their orders.
While I wish I could tell you there is a better way to get stock back up to meet demand, that is an issue that is industry specific. What I can offer are some ways to optimise your out of stock page, giving customers a better image of your brand as you work to resupply your store.
A global problem
The first thing you should keep in mind is that this is a problem facing many, many businesses, both online and offline. Customers are aware of this fact, as well. A global pandemic is an unexpected and challenging issue that will be pushing many to find creative solutions to a lack of availability.
For example, in Salt Lake City, USA, a number of distilleries that usually produce rum and vodka have instead turned their efforts to producing hand sanitiser that can be bought in bulk to distribute through the community. As stores are unable to restock these items, the change in business model has been necessary, not lucrative. But it changed the perception of the companies themselves and, in the long run, will improve their brand image on a local level.
Supermarkets are providing products like toilet paper and paper towels, as well as emergency items like over-the-counter medicine, on a limited basis per customer to protect from hoarding and price gouging. This includes through online sales, which lists those items as being limited availability or limit X to show they are supporting their community from those who are taking advantage through reselling.
Customers, too, have been adjusting their expectations. They are more likely to be understanding…for now. As this crisis continues, if people become more desperate, that understanding is going to diminish. It is critical to get on top of your brand promise right now and that includes every trick in the book to mitigate aggravation.
Maintaining SEO ranking with out of stock pages
Another matter of concern is maintaining ranking on these pages while you are out of stock. That is a valid worry but easy enough to deal with. Unlike when you have a page that is not going to be in production, we know that eventually these products are going to be back on the shelves and available.
Avoid anything that suggests otherwise. I have seen a few storefronts going to a 404 and I get the impulse. Rather than showing that they are lacking something, they are removing the page altogether. The problem with using a 404 is that your customers won’t know if the website is down or if they will be able to purchase those items in the future. The unknown is poison in this climate. Don’t make users guess.
Using 301 redirects
Some are also using redirects to keep customers on the website. I have only seen this done effectively once and it was admittedly clever. The redirect (301) took the customer from the out of stock products to a separate page where they could sign up for an email or text message when it was back in stock. Instead of just trying to distract, it offers an alternate solution that also drives leads.
Be careful with using this option though. It only makes sense if the products are really interchangeable. Otherwise, it will cause confusion.
A much better and more transparent way is to clearly state that the product is currently out of stock and from there:
- Invite them to opt-in to be alerted when the product is back in stock
- List closely related items which may be of interest in the meantime:
This method will allow you to identify higher-priority items. You will also be able to up your sales once you have products available again. It will also retain your product page rankings as it will still be there.
Remember that even in rough times we want to simplify the customer experience as much as possible.
As you can see, two of the above options allow you to maintain SEO rankings while providing solutions and one does not. For additional support on Google, you can always throw in a schema that reports on items that are in or out of stock from the results page. I am torn on this one: on one hand, it makes it easy for the customer. On the other, it isn’t likely to generate a click.
If you do have an “In stock” schema, switching it to out-of-stock when a product is no longer available is a simple act of honesty and transparency. Here are a few product inventory plugins that offer this functionality.
Stock availability ETAs
You might not know when you will be getting your stock back and this is, by no means, a necessity. But if you are fortunate enough to know the date you will be re-upping your supplies, this is an excellent way to keep customers happy.
Even if it is an estimation (for example, “Back in stock between 5th April and 15th April”). Sure, it isn’t an exact date but they will know they can come in during those days and possibly find what they are looking for.
I would suggest using a combination of this tactic with the quick-form for being alerted when you are back in stock. That way you make it easier for customers to find out but have an alternative for those who don’t want to get emails.
Whichever method (or combination of methods) you choose, make sure to monitor your sales funnel and adjust your tactics. Finteza allows you to analyse your conversions as well as serve personalised offers through their retargeting option:
Unavailable product FAQ
This is only a good idea for so called “essential products”, those that may be required by a consumer in order to sustain health or life. Take some time to try and be helpful:
- Suggest alternatives
- Reference DIY options
- Provide some tips on where these items can be found locally, etc.
To get some inspiration on what to cover on your pages featuring temporarily unavailable essential products, use Text Optimizer that extracts popular concepts and questions from Google’s search results:
Announce availability on social media
Finally, in these trying times, make sure to announce to the world when you have those out-of-stock items back in stock. Apart from making it easier for your current customers to know when they can complete their purchase, this will attract a lot more new customers.
To make this possible, include your product management and customer support teams into building your social media editorial calendar. Content Cal is a collaborative social media sharing dashboard allowing business owners to unite their whole companies around creating a social media calendar:
ContentCal allows your product management, sales and customer sales teams to create social media updates for your social media manager to schedule them to go live.
Be consistent. And patient.
This is a hard time for a lot of businesses and being anxious about running low on products is normal. But don’t worry, you can still maintain a positive image with your customer base, even when you are struggling to fill orders.
Be consistent with communication and your navigation. Offer solutions where you can. Make it easy for customers to monitor your website to find what they need. Soon, this will all be over and you will have some new skills under your belt in case something happens in the future.
Do you have any tips on maintaining and optimising a solid out of stock page on your online storefront? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org