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What's Your Digital Customer Experience Strategy for Out-of-Stock Products?

6 minute read
Chad S. White avatar
Brands need a multi-pronged approach that spans web, messaging, infrastructure and loyalty to handle out-of-stock products.

The pandemic, geopolitics and war have snarled global supply chains, frustrating customers and causing record levels of brand switching and retailer switching. With problems unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, brands need nimble marketing strategies that maximize customer retention and minimize poor experiences.

To accomplish this, brands need a multi-pronged approach that spans web, messaging, infrastructure and loyalty. 

Rejuvenate Your Web Strategies

Out-of-stock messaging on websites rose 325% in October 2021 compared to October 2019, according to Adobe. Don’t allow an out-of-stock product page to become a dead end. Here are some to strategies to consider to help deal with that:

  • Present next-best product for out-of-stock items. Redirect the interest in that product to other products that are in-stock. Many companies present items that are “Products related to this item,” “Frequently bought together,” or the like. For out-of-stock items, consider elevating these recommendations on the product page. 
  • Redirect permanent out-of-stocks. For unique items that have sold and other items that you don’t expect to stock again, consider redirecting the URL to another item that you have available. Add a banner to the top of the page with a concise message making it clear that it’s a redirect and why.
  • Change how out-of-stocks are handled in search results. For permanent out-of-stocks, consider removing them from search results. For temporary out-of-stocks, consider making them un-selectable in site search results. Those two actions will help keep your customers focused on items that they can actually buy.
  • Offer back-in-stock notification signups. If you expect a product to be restocked in the near future, allow web and app visitors to sign up to receive a one-time back-in-stock notification via email, SMS, mobile push or another channel. This can stop brand-loyal shoppers from looking to other companies to get the product.

If done thoughtfully, the notification signup process can also be used to collect promotional opt-ins.

And for people who don’t opt in during that signup, you can use the notification itself to plug the promotional opt-in again — although the primary focus of the message should be the back-in-stock notification.

Related Article: Can Your Website Still Be the Backbone of Your Digital Experience?

Messaging Strategies: Lessening Impact of Out-of-Stocks

Use your campaigns to direct your subscribers toward in-stock products to lessen the impact of out-of-stocks. Here are some to consider:

  • Back-in-stock notifications as browse abandonment emails. In addition to allowing shoppers to sign up for back-in-stock notifications, look for opportunities to send them to subscribers proactively. For example, if an email subscriber is browsing your website and then abandons while on a page for a product that’s out-of-stock, it’s a reasonable assumption that the product’s unavailability might have caused that abandonment. That makes that subscriber a good candidate to receive a back-to-stock notification, even though they didn’t explicitly request it.
  • Back-in-stock signups as progressive profiling. When a subscriber signs up to be notified when a product is available again, consider taking that as a signal that the subscriber is interested in that product’s category. Use that signal as your cue to personalize your promotional emails with other products from that category — at least until the product they were interested in is back in stock.
  • Clear in-stock messaging. In your promotional messaging, lean into trumpeting when products have good availability. Retailers did this a lot during the 2021 holiday season, when “in stock,” “ready to ship,” and “new releases” were common in subject lines. Highlighting what’s in stock steers folks away from what’s not. Of course, highlighting items that are in danger of selling out can also be a powerful sales booster.
  • Push store visits. Now that pandemic restrictions have eased and consumers are becoming more comfortable with returning to stores, consider promoting in-store sales and using more in-store-only coupons to drive customers to stores, where out-of-stocks can have less of an impact. In a store, shoppers have easy access to alternatives that they can get immediately, since they’re already there. In other instances, out-of-stock items are largely invisible, as their shelf space is given to other products.

Related Article: 5 Truths About Inactive Email Subscribers

Infrastructure Enablement: CDPs and Live Inventory Data

Some of the strategies mentioned above are difficult if your messaging platforms don’t have access to live inventory data. Many of our clients are fixing that disconnect by using a customer data platform (CDP) to connect with their order management systems to fuel real-time inventory messaging.

Whatever approach you use, finding a durable, scalable solution to this disconnect is a worthwhile investment considering the outlook for supply chains.

Learning Opportunities

Loyalty Programs Build Communities Around Values, Engagement

Out-of-stocks have prompted high levels of brand switching. According to McKinsey & Co. research, when US consumers experience an out-of-stock item, only 13% wait for it to come back in stock. Meanwhile, 39% switch to a different product brand, and 32% switch retailers.

That has both brands and retailers turning to loyalty programs to try to retain their customers as much as possible. Because of the renewed focus, the global market for loyalty management platforms is expected to more than double by 2026 to $18.2 billion, according to MarketsandMarkets Research.

But the loyalty programs that are going to be the most successful won’t be the traditional transaction-oriented programs, says Emily Rudin, senior director of Loyalty product strategy & growth for Oracle CrowdTwist. 

“If you have a spend-to-get program, it’s time to rethink that program,” she says. “First, younger generations aren’t motivated by price in the way that older generations were. And second, copycat programs of competitors don’t work anymore, so be unique to your brand.”

The next generation of loyalty programs is focused on building communities around values and engagement. Instead of only being rewarded for purchases, members are rewarded for watching videos, reading articles and taking polls and surveys, among other things. Those polls and surveys serve as great progressive profiling vehicles, giving you valuable insights that you can use to personalized and target your messaging to respondents.

Using as many of these strategies as is appropriate will help take the edge off supply chain problems, which are expected to last — and could become significantly worse if geopolitical instabilities and war spread.

About the author

Chad S. White

Chad S. White is the author of Email Marketing Rules and Head of Research for Oracle Marketing Consulting, a global full-service digital marketing agency inside of Oracle.

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