out-of-stock pages

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are nearly upon us, so your holiday campaigns have likely been set for months. At this critical time of year, your campaigns are aimed at converting as much of your increased traffic as possible. Yet no matter how much time and effort have gone into planning inventory levels, you can’t plan for every potential situation. It’s likely that at some point during the holiday shopping season, some of your inventory will go out of stock.

Particularly during this time of year, an out-of-stock page can be dangerous. A visitor that is ready to buy can be quick to leave your site when he encounters an out-of-stock page – resulting in a lost conversion for you. While out-of-stock inventory is inevitable, you want to be able to minimize the damage in the moment.

In this blog post, I’ll outline the steps you can take to make sure out-of-stock inventory doesn’t undermine all the work you’ve put into your holiday campaigns. These tips are also helpful throughout the rest of the year as well.

Remove Out-of-Stock Inventory from All Recommendations

The most important and timely thing to do when an item goes out of stock is to stop recommending it across channels. This seems obvious (of course you don’t want to recommend an item that isn’t in stock) but not every recommendation engine allows you to do this. If a person sees and clicks through on a recommendation only to discover it is out of stock, she will undoubtedly be annoyed, hurting your brand reputation. By removing out-of-stock items in real time, you avoid such potential damage.

When I say that you shouldn’t recommend an out-of-stock item, I mean it shouldn’t appear in recommendations anywhere across your site or app – on your homepage, PDPs, cart page, and beyond. It should also be removed from any recommendations in emails, including those that were sent before it went out of stock! How do you do that? Product recommendations in your emails should be determined and presented at open time, rather than at send time. That way, a recipient who opens your email will see relevant, in-stock items only. Essentially, anywhere that you offer a person recommended items should no longer include the out-of-stock product until it is back in stock.

Provide Personalized Suggestions on Out-of-Stock Page

Even if you have stopped recommending an item across channels, visitors can still find their way to an out-of-stock page through search or other channels. In that case, it’s important to show the visitor something relevant so the out-of-stock page doesn’t become a dead end.

Personalized recommendations are a must-have for out-of-stock pages. The type of recommendations you display will depend on the nature of your products and customers, but at the core, they should be as individually relevant as possible. If the person has spent any time on your site during that session or at some point in the past, you should be able to infer her favorite brands and categories and the price points she is most comfortable with.

Some sites may opt to show similar items to the out-of-stock one to encourage shoppers to find something else they may like. Others may choose to show complementary items that can pair well with the product or category being viewed instead of (or in addition to) similar products. You could show trending products to first-time visitors you know nothing about, or you could display a personalized selection of products to regular customers you know a lot about. It just depends on your business. For more ideas on the type of recommendations you can deliver, download the eBook, The Future of Product Recommendations. Regardless of what you choose to do on your out-of-stock pages, it’s a good idea to provide a link back to the category page to encourage deeper exploration of the site.

It might also be a good idea to play around with the placement of the recommendations through testing. Your recommendations are likely shown in a particular place on the PDP for an in-stock item, but consider moving them up on the page for an out-of-stock item. You could place them above the product image on out-of-stock pages, or any other place that will make them stand out to catch the attention of the visitor.

Remind Shoppers of Any Qualifying Promotions or Points

At this point, you have limited the number of visitors that see an out-of-stock page and shown the visitors that do see the page personalized recommendations that will catch their attention. You can also use this space to remind them of any incentives. You will likely have some kind of holiday promotion running, and some visitors may also have loyalty points or status that can be applied to a purchase.

A message that encourages visitors to keep shopping because they are qualified for various promotions or points could go a long way to encouraging them to stay on the site beyond that one out-of-stock page — particularly for anyone that came into the site directly to that out-of-stock PDP and may not be aware of any current promotions. While it is generally advisable not to rely on promotions exclusively, it can be effective when combined with personalized recommendations.

Final Thoughts

Like all retailers during this time of year, you’ve spent a lot of time and effort on your holiday campaigns. But have you considered the impact to a shopper’s experience when she lands on an out-of-stock page? Are those pages dead ends? Or do they provide personalized recommendations and messaging that encourage shoppers to stay on the site and continue shopping?