How to Convert Customers When They Land on Sold-Out Product Pages

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If your business is partly or fully involved in e-commerce, it’s likely that you’ve experienced stock levels diminish, before ultimately running out altogether. At this point, a website will generally communicate a product as being “out of stock”.

Whilst this is not ideal, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem if a product is out of stock every now and again. What is imperative is that you’re effectively communicating this information to your potential customers. This article aims to uncover how, in fact, “out of stock” product pages can improve your conversion rates, by driving sales.

What happens when a product is out of stock?

So what happens when a visitor finds that their desired product is out of stock? According to the Global Out of Stock Crisis from GT Nexus, a staggering 65% of disappointed online shoppers lead to lost sales. So, when a customer is confronted with an out of stock product page, it’s important that you have some strategies in place to help retain customers and save them from exiting your site. Most frequently, browsers will find themselves redirected to the product’s category page, a similar product page or a 404 page, all of which can occur without any explanation.

What are the repercussions of an out-of-stock product page?

The best marketers will understand the 3 big knock-on effects that out-of-stock pages can have your website:

1. User experience (UX)

Online stores risk damaging their UX any time a customer feels a sense of frustration or disappointment on their site.

2. SEO

Additionally, search performance, more commonly referred to as SEO, can also suffer from out of stock product pages.

3. Sales

It makes sense that an expired product will have an impact on sales. Perhaps not all, but some visitors would have purchased your product had it been in stock, and will find an alternative website to complete their transaction.

What can I do to optimise my out-of-stock product page?

  1. Offer to notify a customer when the product is back in stock
  2. Suggest similar products
  3. Offer some form of discount or promotion on similar/related products or products in the same category.

Business owners should consider the most appropriate alternative for customers encountering an out of stock product page. Salvaging an opportunity from an expired product page is an impressive demonstration of your business’ agility and adaptability.

Your aim is to prevent a customer from abandoning your site altogether. Instead of frustrating browsers, here are 5 ways to actually convert customers when they land on expired product pages.

1. Use a 'live' stock count

The problem remains that out of stock products can be confusing for both the customer and the vendor. It’s not always straightforward for merchants who experience difficulties when replenishing stock. Perhaps your website underwent an unexpected demand, or faced some manufacturing problems. Whatever the hiccup, customers want to receive information fast, so giving customers as many details as possible regarding restock dates is essential.

A feature that has become increasingly popular is the ‘live’ stock count on product pages. This can be particularly useful when stock levels reach 10 items or less, and can even create scarcity and urgency for the customer (you can read more about scarcity tactics here). Your product count needs to align with how many units a customer can add to their basket. For example, if your website communicates a product as having “3 left”, the customer shouldn’t be able to add 5 units to their basket, for fear of damaging your website’s UX. Shopify merchants looking to set up a product countdown on their store can read more here.

2. Create an “Out of stock” sticker for your site

Websites aren’t just using individual product pages to advertise their products. Many sites now integrate complex banners for similar or suggested items throughout their site. When featuring products through multiple contact points on your website, make sure to consistently mark when an item is out of stock. One idea is using a text strip to prevent click throughs to expired products, just as Tessemae’s has done below. They have designed a simple and easy-to-read “SOLD OUT” sticker for all products that need to be replenished on their site.

3. Re-direct

eBay are a great example of a website who redirect customers smoothly and effectively. When a customer finds that a product is out of stock, eBay suggests not one but multiple related and relevant products. eBay’s tactic also appropriately aligns with the shopping habits of eBay customers (who browse the website which is comprised of individual and independent vendors.) By suggesting multiple related products, eBay is more likely to retain potential customers by offering an alternative to the out of stock item.

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4. Research

When making adjustments to out-of-stock pages, it's important to do your research in order to satisfy customers. Conducting research is essential when assessing if you are offering too many, or too few alternatives when customers face an expired product page. Understanding how customers use your website is advantageous when offering them an alternative option. Do users browse your website by brand, product, size, price, category or colour?

As a business owner, it’s useful to be able to suggest similar products that your customers have browsed. Whatever it is, ensure that you are redirecting customers based on their activity on your site. This is the easiest way to offer relevant options. Finally, when offering an alternative product that is more expensive than the sold-out product, consider offering some form of discount as an act of generosity to your customer, and some damage control to repair any negative experience your customer may have encountered.

5. Capture contact information

When a product is listed as out of stock, one of the most positive outcomes is that your business will capture a customer’s details. In fact it’s likely that a customer will handover their information if your website offers to personally notify the customer precisely when a product will be available. Dover Street Market do this really well. They clearly show the sizes and which ones are out of stock, and next each unavailable size, they have added a ‘notify me when back in stock’ link.

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Conversely, fashion e-commerce giant ASOS provides quite a poor user experience in terms of out of stock products. On a product page, users must click into the size field to view available stock. Even then, there is no option to be notified when the product is back in stock.

Dover Street Market provide a handy service for their customer, and depending on the circumstances, your customer may stop their search there and await a back in stock notification. Of course, any website which experiences a product as out of stock runs the risk that customers will head elsewhere to complete their transaction.

Nevertheless, when a potential customer gives you their email address, a business opportunity is conceived. Even if they do source a substitute product elsewhere, ensure that you notify customers when stock is replenished, and include other marketing material such as:

  • Alternative products suggestions
  • Alternative collections
  • Similar items
  • A promotion code to fulfil their purchase.

What happens when your product is permanently out of stock?

Dealing with discontinued product pages is another inevitability for business owners. So far, we have discussed a website owner’s options when a product becomes temporarily out of stock, but what happens when a product has sold out completely, and the product page expires? Here’s some alternative pages you can put in place:

The 404

The problem with 404 pages is their negative effects on your link equity, as well as the fact that search engines will recognise 404 gateways as random errors on your site. Having said that, if you’re a mid size website, a 404 isn’t always a terrible thing. If your product really isn’t returning to your store, creating a well-designed 404 page is a solution. Here are some tips for optimising your 404 page.

The 301

Alternatively, 301 pages are a good option - particularly for SEO, and when hoping to redirect customers away from an expired product page. In both instances, (404 and 301) customising your pages will only impact your user experience positively. A 301 page also demonstrates that your website is actively maintained on search engines, and, by installing a simple 301 redirect, this will prevent you from losing link equity that you have been working towards.

META tag “unavailable_after”

If your website has a huge number of pages, preparing an “unavailable_after” tag will stop expired pages from clogging up search results. If you know that your product page will expire on a certain date, tell Google, and it will only show your product page up until the expiry date that you have set. Google will also automatically remove your product page from their search results within 24 hours.

Out of stock and out of ideas?

Elkfox are here to help you make the most out of our Shopify store. We can assist you with making the most of your site even when a product becomes out of stock. Get in touch to find out more about our services and optimising your website.