Handling out of stock items has long been a challenge for online stores but in today’s COVID-19 pandemic, it is an even larger concern as so many businesses are running low on several products. There are multiple ways to look at “what is best” – is it what is best for Search Engines (SEO) or what is best for users (User Experience)? Is there a happy medium?

The User Perspective of Out of Stock

As a user, if you are looking for disinfecting wipes of a particular brand online, would you prefer if the only results you saw in Google were limited to stores that had your product in stock? What if a store is out of your product but has another namebrand in stock? Would you consider purchasing it? What if the store will have your product back in stock in just a few days? You would want a store to show up in Google under these conditions, right?

Users can influence what they see in Google (e.g. see nearby stores) by using the Shopping feature (even if you want to pick up your product in person!). If you were to search for disinfecting wipes at Google, you would click on shopping in the top navigation of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page),

Google Shopping navigation

then further narrow down your options including showing only items that are “nearby”,

available filters in google search

you could see which store near you has the disinfecting wipes in stock (theoretically). According to Google Shopping, a somewhat nearby pharmacy has this product in stock
Google says this item is in stock

Unfortunately, a call to said pharmacy confirmed that they do not have this product in stock so even this technique is not foolproof!

What is a Business to do When They Run Out of Product?

A business needs to keep their customers in mind first, and then search engines. There are several options:

Let Customers Know ASAP

Our colleague Hilary Little of Hilary Little Design & Ideation suggested not waiting until customers added the item to their basket before letting them know that you are lacking inventory. Seems obvious but hey she’s in the biz of creating fully responsive sites that will display perfectly on any device and products that are elegant, engaging and easy to use!

Do Not Delete the Page

  • From an SEO perspective, you do not want to delete that page (containing product that is out of stock) even if you are no longer planning to carry the product as it will still show up in Google and will lead to a “page not found” error which will likely send people back to Google rather than doing business with you.

Redirect (301 or 302)

  • If you are not planning to restock, you could consider doing a 301 redirect to an alternative product. If we are talking models of a specific product, it would be wise to mention that this model replaces the previous model of XXX so that people searching for XXX may land on the XXXX page which is the newer model. This happened to me recently when looking for Mach 2 razors… every website showed Mach 3 razors so it became evident that there was a new model out.
  • If you are planning to get the item back in stock, you could do a 302 (temporary) redirect to an alternative product but you risk irritating customers who were looking for a specific product…
  • Leave the out of product page as is and indicate product is out of stock and if possible, approximate date when it will be in stock.
    • Also link to alternative/similar products

Item Availability Schema

Get the Customer’s Contact Info

If the item is out of stock, the customer may be willing to turn over their contact information so that you will notify them when the product (or a similar product) is back in stock. This can be done by simply putting a form on the product page and capturing the customer’s name and email address (and of course giving them the opportunity to opt into other emails you send such as promotional offers). Just remember to take the form off the page once the product is back in stock! Retailers such as Canadian Tire use a similar feature to notify customers when a specific item is going to be on sale.

iHerb does this:

notify me when product is in stock

Ecommerce Automation

For a small business, manually placing a form on an out of stock product is the best way to go. We reached out to Michelle Weger of Venture Creative Collection, experts at ecommerce and automation, to get their take on how larger businesses could automate this process for multiple products that are constantly in and out of stock (think of any big box store). This is what Michelle had to say:

For businesses making $40k – $100k I would recommend an entry level paid extension option, such as Waitlist for WordPress.

For the more advanced eCommerce stores it is time to add data gathering and automation into the mix. An example of this is leveraging Infusionsoft inventory notifications combined with WooCommerce (WordPress) OR Shopify OR Big Commerce. This would be my suggestion for companies making $100k+ yearly in sales because there is an ongoing software fee, but the value you get from the data you accumulate is super helpful in making future marketing decisions.

It was fantastic to get this input from Michelle – clearly Venture Creative Collective are very keen on their customers getting an ROI and transforming websites from an expense to a money maker!

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