How to manage your product unavailability without damaging your organic search

Written by Karl Chevalier: Senior digital executive.
· 4 minute read

Out of stock products shouldn’t lead to missed sales. Here’s how you can turn an out of stock product into an opportunity.

For many ecommerce sites, having out of stock products can be a real headache. Not only can stock level management be time-consuming, it’s not always something you’ll have complete control over.  Therefore it’s important to make sure you have the correct procedures in place to ensure your online efforts aren’t affected.

When a product is unavailable, it can cause users to do one of two things:

Exit the site: This is the most likely outcome if your website isn’t optimised to retain users. In fact, it can lead you to completely miss out on making a sale. The user may go to a different website or move to a different sales channel, i.e buy from a brick and mortar store.

Stay on the site: If a potential customer knows what they are looking for and that particular product is out of stock, it’s unlikely they’ll stay on the site. However, if you’re lucky they may choose to purchase a slightly different product, perhaps choosing a different colour or brand.

How much are you losing?

To understand the scale of the problem, we first need to look at what data you have available. To do this, we first need to check Google Analytics for the display page and information about the product (product name and code) which will indicate the product availability. Once you implement this as a report about the products, you will then see how many chances to sell you are missing out on. To understand how much revenue this equates to, simply add the price of the missing product and multiply it by the average ecommerce conversion rate of your site.

Once you have established how much money you are losing from having products appear out of stock, it’s time to establish a way to manage this.

Seasonal Product Categories

One of the first issues that many online retailers have in common, despite what products they sell, is seasonal product categories. Many online retailers will create a variety of seasonal categories such as ‘Christmas gifts’ or ‘Black Friday deals’. These categories may only convert once per year, yet deleting them and re-creating them each year might not be the wisest of moves.

Instead, changing these product pages or categories into information hubs makes sense. It allows time to continually build visibility for these categories in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS). You can then simply add products to this category when the time comes, benefiting from the increased search visibility these pages now have and yielding increased sales.

Discontinued Products

Discontinued products present an unfortunate situation but with an easy solution. Unlike products that have simply run out of stock, you know that this product isn’t likely to return any time soon, due to the manufacturer withdrawing it or something else out of your control. If this product is generating traffic to your site, that traffic is valuable and shouldn’t be neglected, despite it going to a discontinued page.

One option is to redirect the page to a similar product in the hope that the user will find the new product just as appealing. However, the problem with this solution is that eventually the traffic you were generating for this product will soon be lost, as the link the in SERPs will eventually disappear or be replaced with the new product you directed it to. The better solution is to keep the page live and recommend an alternative instead. This way you retain the URL in the SERPS which will be gathering traffic to your site, and you also manage to give your user a product alternative.

Temporary product unavailability

It’s likely that over time you will encounter multiple instances where a product is out of stock for a period of time. If you sell products that can be bought elsewhere, it’s important to try and retain a sale even if your product is unavailable at that time. If a user has searched for a product and arrived at your site it’s important you do everything you can to attract the sale, and stop the user from going elsewhere. Here are three examples of how this can be achieved:

Make it clear immediately when the product will be back in stock. If your product is cheaper than competitors, clearly showing when the product will be available again might encourage some users to wait. This is particularly true if you offer a certain size or colour of a product that other retailers don’t, or is hard to find.

Offer a discount for those who are willing to wait. If you can afford it within your margins, you could perhaps offer a discount code to people who are willing to wait for the product to come back into stock. To do this effectively, you could add a signup form to your site whereby a user can input their email address, receive a 5-10% discount and also be informed when the product will be back in stock. Not only will this help you secure the sale, but it will also let you grab a user’s email address which can be used for email marketing at a later date.

Let people purchase the product before it comes back in stock. Even though the product is out of stock, this doesn’t mean people can’t give you their money now and receive the product later. By giving customers the option to buy it now anyway, you may encourage more sales and help the customer to avoid forgetting the order.