Simple Things You Can Do to Retain Customers During Stock-Outs

Simple Things You Can Do to Retain Customers During Stock-Outs

As a consumer, stock-outs are the worst. You find the perfect the Christmas present, order it weeks in advance to make sure it arrives before the holidays and then you receive the damn thing after Christmas without a single word from the company you ordered from about possible delays.

Stock-outs happen, fine. But why in the world didn’t you, the company, even try to contact me as soon as it became apparent that there are problems with my order?

I recently had a bad experience whereby my order was delayed by more than a month. Needless to say I was furious. But more with that fact that I was the one that initiated contact after a month rather than the company calling me to share the status of my order.

The thing is, a simple call or even an email informing me that there was a problem would have been enough to sort it out. I could have cancelled my order, got my money back and ordered from somewhere else.

Instead, they decided to keep me waiting and in the process lost a valuable customer. Not good.

We have talked about dealing with and preventing out-of-stock before, but that was more from a planning and inventory management side of things. This time around, we’re looking at it from a customer centric and design standpoint.

The Cost of Stock-Outs

Simple Things You Can Do To Retain Customers During Stock-Outs

Image via Accenture

Whenever we as customers are confronted with stock-outs, it’s easy to think that these problems only happen to us. But data shows that 63% of all online shoppers have dealt with out-of-stock issues.

It’s something that affects all merchants, regardless of their size.

In total, companies around the world lose $634 billion every single year due to stock-outs. That’s a lot of lost revenue and while it’s true that not all of it can be recovered, at least a good portion of it can.

The problem with stock-outs (and the reason customers leave you) is not that a given product is out-of-stock per se, it’s simply that merchants leave their customers hanging. They don’t communicate with them when there are problems. In fact, 53% of US consumers say that they have switched providers due to to poor service.

Stock-outs happen, that’s understandable. What is not understandable is merchants who know they’ve run out of a product, don't tell you they don't have it and keep you in the dark about what's going on.

That is just bad for everyone.

A much better solution is to be in constant contact with your customers, especially when there are problems. When you’re having issues fulfilling a particular order, be transparent and contact that customer to explain what is going on.

This approach works. Indeed it works so good that of the consumers who switched to another provider due to poor service, more than 80% said they could have been retained if the issues had been dealt with swiftly and on the first contact, not weeks and months later.

As the mistake is yours and has nothing to do with the customer, the solution can range from simply informing the customer that there’s going to be a longer wait period, and offering a coupon code -- all the way up to giving them their money back or arranging the item to be delivered by another company if the client is deemed by you to be valuable and important enough.

A Better Way

Imagine that a company contacts you to inform that unfortunately, your order is going to take a couple of days longer than anticipated. The reason? They have run out of what you ordered.

Moreover, to redeem themselves, they have made a new order under your name from a different supplier and it should arrive shortly.

Yes, I would be a little upset about the holdup, but I would also be impressed by their customer service. I would share it with all my friends and be a happy customer for years and years.

It’s true the company lost money upfront. But by making me feel special, they also ensured that I’ll buy from them again -- making them more money in the long run.

It’s a simple concept, people just want basic honesty and efforts from others they spend money with. As it is, we found research in our shopping cart abandonment article a year ago that 50% of people are worried about getting conned online, and that 2/3rds of shoppers are worried about companies abusing their personal details.

That’s probably the furthest thing from your mind when you’re trying to figure out how to fulfill an order, but these are the doubts that make a person’s mind race if they don’t hear from you. Communicate you’re trying to fulfill the order and then do it. If you can’t, offer a refund.

Another side of stock-outs is making sure that customers can clearly see and understand when a product is out of stock or simply running low. This approach will avoid frustration down the line.

Designing Your Way Out of Stock-Outs

Simple Things You Can Do To Retain Customers During Stock-Outs

Image via Ahrefs

When it comes to showing out of stock messages on your product pages, there are a number of different ways that it can be achieved. It all depends on what you sell and your product pages’ overall layout.

A great example of how a product page should not look is highlighted above. Make sure that all elements on your product pages are dynamically updated to avoid displaying conflicting messages on product availability.

ASOS utilizes a pull-down list when it comes to sizing information on shoes and the ones that are out-of-stock have a “Not available” message next to them on the list. A simple, clean solution that gives immediate information on availability:

Simple Things You Can Do To Retain Customers During Stock-Outs


Death Wish Coffee solves the same problem in a slightly different way. The company displays all sizes in a continuous line and the ones not available are simply crossed out:

Simple Things You Can Do To Retain Customers During Stock-Outs


Zappos takes a different approach altogether. While the shoe company also utilizes a pull-down list for sizing, instead of showing a “Not available” message on the line items, they instead let you choose the size you want and then display the following message via a popup:

Simple Things You Can Do To Retain Customers During Stock-Outs


This approach is interesting as they not only offer similar alternatives with a matching size, but they’ve also turned it into a lead-gen box by offering to send updates when the correct size is back in stock.

Which one of the approaches highlighted here is “the best” is hard to say without having any data to back it up. But it does show that the same goal can be achieved in many different ways and it pays to test out different solutions on your own site.

Another way to deal with stock-outs using design is letting your customers know when a particular product is running low. This notification is especially important during the coming holiday season when delivering orders on time is critical.

Letting your customers know that you're running low on particular product will make it easier for them to decide whether they really want a product or not.

As an example, ASOS displays a bright “Low in Stock” button on the product pages:

Simple Things You Can Do To Retain Customers During Stock-Outs


While Zappos goes one step further and actually includes the number of pairs left:

Simple Things You Can Do To Retain Customers During Stock-Outs

Final Thoughts

Stock-outs happen and they’re not always avoidable but at the very least whenever you run into problems fulfilling your orders, keep your customer in the loop.

You may lose this one sale, but at least they’ll come back to you in the future to buy from you again because you showed that you cared and contacted them. It’s always the simple things that make the biggest difference.