Remember-Every mistake a user makes is not because he is stupid, but because your website is that bad! - Peep Laja
Running an ecommerce store is not an easy task.Your entire day is spent on optimizing your website, improving the user experience , looking out for new marketing channels & luring customers to buy what you are offering. You break a lot of sweat in creating pages for your products which will make the products irresistible to the people out there.
Now imagine what happens when, for some reason, the product that you have carefully created is not available to your visitors when they want to buy it? Your visitor is facing a dead end and it could possibly mean the death of your conversion from that customer.
A recent study estimated that retailers around the world are losing a staggering amount of $1.75 trillion annually to ‘out of stock products’, ‘overstocking’ and ‘needless returns’. This is a huge number and the consequence of this can be very costly for the retailers. While more than 80% of the shoppers have been faced disappointment due to out of stocks, the online shoppers are not far behind. Based on an original report, more than 65% of online shoppers have come face-to-face with out of stock products only to return back disappointed.
While there is no rule that an out of stock page or unavailable items have to be dealt in a particular way, it is always good to have an action plan for when things go out of hand. But before we jump straight into what you need to do when we face this issue, it is important that you know what not to do first. So here are a few critical things you should completely avoid when dealing with unavailable products.
Is the product "Out of Stock" or truly "Unavailable"?
Shopping at a brick & mortar store is a completely different experience when compared to the same on an online store.
A customer visiting a brick & mortar store usually knows what exactly he is looking for and expects to be able to leave the store having purchased the product. On the other hand, a customer in an online store knows that there is a time delay and he cannot expect the product right away at his doorstep! Depending on the shipping method, the ordered product might arrive in a couple of hours or several weeks. Someone might have saved your product in their cart or bookmarked your product page in order to purchase it later. And having those pages removed because they are out of stock leads to your customer assuming that the product is truly unavailable. This leads them to other online stores where they can find the product they are looking for. So why do you want to drive your customers away?
Also, every time you remove and add a product page, you are wasting quite a bit of time, effort & resources of your team for a simple repetitive task. And of course, there are the SEO factors which you need to take care of because removing an item from your store also means that it is completely gone from the Google's index and anybody who lands on that page will be greeted by a "page not found".
Confusion & Frustration
Lack of clear information about the availability of your products can lead to a lot of confusion. Imagine a situation where a customer adds a product to the cart, completes the checkout form, only to find that the product is not available as it is out of stock. The customer is bound to be frustrated. It is this kind of bad customer experiences which result in site abandonment.
Take a look at this well designed "out of stock" notification from Mi.
Most shoppers will certainly see the notification clearly and the fact that they can be notified when the product is back, is something which can help the company retain its customers.
As an online store owner, in order to avoid your customers bumping into a wall (404 page to be precise) you might be tempted to redirect the users to their home page. I must warn you that this is a very poor way of handling an out of stock product page. This can disturb the user flow and experience which can ultimately lead to site abandonment. For example, if a user searching for a particular utensil finds the product on Google. But since you do not have it in stock, the user will be redirected to the home page and he has to start the search all over again!! And if this product is a very specific one, it is obvious that the navigation on your site is bound to be longer. This just frustrates the user and if he finds that after all the work, the product is unavailable, it is just goodbye to your site and sales.
Now that you know what to avoid, let us talk in detail about what steps you need to take to retain your visitors even when they can’t get exactly what they want on your online store.
As an owner of an ecommerce online business, you need to understand that more the information you give about your products & services to the users, the better it is for your store. This includes out of stock, permanently unavailable and other types of products as well. If a product is out of stock, use those exact words rather than bluntly mentioning that the product is "sold out".
For temporarily sold out products, try and provide the users with as much information about when the product will be available and also give them an option where they can opt to be notified via an email or a text message when the product is back. Also, if any of your product is permanently unavailable, make it clear to the users and do not let them just hang there with half information.
Suggest Comparable Products
Dead ends for product pages are usually responsible for killing your sales. But there are a number of ways you can encourage your users to stick around instead of a blank page which says "sorry we cannot find what you have" or "the product you are looking for is out of stock". Most of the online giants follow a common practice of cross-selling related items by leading their visitors to pages which have similar products that they are looking for. Ensure to follow this standard practice to draw attention away from the out of stock products and interesting the users in something similar. You can use this strategy based on the recent search items in the same category, popular items, and other similar products which fall under the same category but are of a different brand or colour.
Another method which you can use to help increase your sales is to set up a notification service in which the customers can register their email address to get notified when the product they are looking for is back in stock. It is true that you might not be completely successful in retaining your visitors and they might have already moved on to another store, but there is still a slight chance and it might turn out to be good for you.
While the best course of action is to a adopt these strategies in your online business, it is also important to determine the size at which you operate in, as Google takes "out of stock" and "product not available" pages quite seriously. In a video, Matt Cutts from Google explains that size of an online store is an important factor, and the strategy you draw should revolve around the same. Further, he also talks about how different categories of businesses need to handle such pages.
A small eCommerce site which sells designed pottery items can show their customers that an item of a particular design is currently unavailable and redirect their customers to items with a relatable design. Also, they can mention that the requested item can be designed in the meantime and can provide them with the estimated manufacturing time required.
A medium-sized eCommerce site which has thousands of products can inform the users about the date when the requested out of stock product will be available. As the owner of a medium-sized business, you will have a fair idea of when the product will be back in stock, thus allowing you to give them an option of pre-ordering the product.
For a large eCommerce website with hundreds & thousands of products and pages, a date can be set when the page will expire by using a meta tag "Unavailable after" a particular date. Using this, when a product is added, you can easily determine the date when the page will expire based on an auction date or a simple go-stale date. This tag will provide the information that will be used by Google as a removal request.