Online Retailers: Out of Stock Best Practice

How to Get More Customers

You’re an online retailer.  What do you do when you have run out of stock of an item that you stock in your online store?  Do you keep the details on your site to show what you are capable of doing?  Or to show how popular your products are to encourage cutomers to get in and order quicky?

Or do you remove it straight away and not risk your customer’s frustration at being unable to purchase it?

Or perhaps you don’t update your site that often and taking it down is a chore that happens rarely?

A recent visit to Lorna Jane website highlighted another way to tackle the issue.  They call it the LJ Angel Service.  If a product is unavailable, you can now fill in a form to request the item and an ‘Angel’ will let you know when it’s back in stock.

This is clever for several reasons (although I’m not so sure about the ‘Angel’ bit – are they call that because you can’t get annoyed with a divine creature?).  The first reason is that the potential customer feels like they will still be able to get the product.  So their disappointment is muted because although they can’t get it straight away the act of filling in a form gives them confidence that they will eventually be able to get what they want.  Or at the least, find out why they can’t get it.

It’s also clever because the company can use product requests to gauge their next production run and indeed, whether there is enough demand to bother ordering more.  If there is a lot of product requests then they can investigate speeding up the arrival of new stock, knowing they have a decent amount of hot prospects ready to purchase.

Another reason why it’s a smart strategy is that in order to request a particular product, the prospect has to enter their contact details.  So if more stock of the product isn’t going to be made available then one of the ‘Angels’ can perhaps suggest another product that is similar to the one originally requested.  In other words, they get another opportunity to make a sale and future sales if the customer feels they have been offered superior service.

But that’s the thing.  There is little point having a follow up system if the customer fills in the form and never hears from Lorna Jane about that item.  In some ways that would be worse than not having the form at all because the customer has taken the time to fill out the form and expects to be contacted about it, whether the stock is eventually available or not.

How do other online retailers handle out of stock?  How do you handle it? What could you do better?