Out of Stock: Ways to Retain Customers in the Midst of Supply Chain Issues

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Craig Smith  |  Founder & CEO

As any eCommerce brand knows, the success of any holiday shopping season starts long before Black Friday. Retailers must be prepared ahead of time with a solid sales strategy that includes inventory management.  Stocking the right amount of items is critical to avoid having large amounts of out-of-stock products, especially during peak shopping times. But what happens when the supplies are out of their control?

If this sounds familiar, it’s because you’re in good company. In fact, according to the Institute for Supply Chain Management, 75% of surveyed businesses have experienced supply chain issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, 44% of 57% of the respondents are facing longer lead times for orders from Chinese suppliers.

Worries About Supply Chain

Consumers are worried about the supply chain. Take a look at these statistics from Oracle released in September 2021. These statistics express consumer behavior and perspectives in regards to current supply chain issues:

  • 81 percent of people are willing to pay a premium for smooth and timely delivery of their items.
  • 84 percent say delays would cause them to cancel their order and 80 percent say delays or shortages would even cause them to stop buying from a brand entirely.
  • 58 percent of people would stop buying from a brand after 1-3 delays or disruptions.
  • Most people (91 percent) understand that supply chains are complex, but 94 percent want more support from brands to help ease their worries.
  • People want brands to provide more regular updates about shipping status (63 percent), be more transparent on inventory (59 percent) and potential supply chain issues (54 percent), and offer refunds (56 percent) or discounts (52 percent) if items are delayed or cancelled.
  • 76 percent of people would trust and be more willing to buy from (78 percent) a company if they knew it used advanced technologies like artificial intelligence to manage its supply chain.

There’s a lot at stake this holiday season, especially when consumers want and expect items within 2-3 days if possible when buying online. It’s likely that problems could arise. Retailers need to be proactive in keeping customers informed about what is going on with their orders.  This includes sharing the reasons behind inventory shortages, what efforts are being made to resolve them, and how long customers might need to wait for an available item.

With this in mind, Trinity compiled a few ways to retain customers in the midst of supply chain issues. Let’s get started.

1. Add information on your site about current supply issues your brand is facing

Explain the problem (succinctly)

Communicate how the supply chain is affecting your brand directly. No need to get into supply chain management; just the nuts and bolts of why your brand is experiencing issues. (And don’t forget to mention these disruptions are not unique to your business.) While many people know there is a supply chain problem, many still don’t know why. Take a moment to explain it like H&M does below.

Explain what you’re doing to keep items as in stock as possible

Communicate to customers what’s being done behind the scenes to get your product into the hands of your customers as quickly as possible. This gives your brand an opportunity to express to consumers how seriously you’re taking this problem. And, it helps promote brand loyalty, too. See an example of how Bounty is connecting with customers about the delay in product availability.

Provide direction on what steps to take to mitigate wait time

Helping give users direction will help them stay on your site. For example, L.L.Bean provides recommendations for consumers that can help customers navigate long shipping times. Use this information to give shoppers an idea of what type of delays you’re experiencing. It also provides them an idea of what you suggest they do in the meantime.

2. Allow Users to Purchase “Out of Stock” Products by Increasing the Delivery Time

Temporary unavailable or out of stock items will leave users with no next step, and they might likely visit a competitor site instead. According to Baymard Institute, “listing a product as ‘out of stock’ when it’s simply temporarily unavailable leads to abandonments as users search elsewhere to purchase the item.” To avoid this with items that are just momentarily out of stock, consider nixing the “out of stock” language and present “Expected delivery date” language instead. Below is an example of good implementation of this principle from Lego.com. They allow you the ability to backorder while giving you a shipping day in the future.

By the way, if you’re not already, be sure to present an “estimated delivery date” in your boy box, since it could increase cart conversion as high as 12%.

3. Promote Alternatives for Out of Stock Items

Always give users a next step – even when something is out of stock. Be sure to add language around additional options. For example, take a look at Target’s “More to Consider” section that’s displayed when a user hits a head end. Instead of forcing your customer to change direction, provide them a next step in considering other, similar items.

4. Send customers an email explaining why items might be out of stock

Similar to the above mentioned #1 (Adding language on your site about supply chain issues), consider sending an email before the holiday season explaining why items might not be in stock. This is also a good chance to encourage shoppers to perhaps shop earlier than normal to help even out the demand. Take a look at this example email sent to L.L.Bean customers explaining their current issues:

5. Add “Notify Me When Available” button

When an item is temporarily unavailable, a very helpful addition is adding the capability for users to be notified when it comes back in stock. This brings a user back to your site. It also creates another touchpoint for communication and can include urgency to purchase. Ex: Good news! Photo frame is back in stock, but it might not last long! Back in stock emails convert at a significantly high rate (65.32%) according to Barilliance. If you need a primer on automated personalizations like back in stock emails, be sure to check out our free guide, “Automated Personalization to Explode eCommerce” here.

Here’s another example of how H&M uses this capability to send custom alerts to customers when their item comes back in stock.

Next Steps

The supply chain will continue to have difficulties during the busiest time of the year. Make sure you’re set for as much success as possible in communicating clearly to customers and providing options for them in less than ideal situations. In doing so, you’re mitigating dead ends for users and giving them alternative options instead of just navigating away from your page. As always, be sure to reach out with any questions. Happy holidays!

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