Out-of-Stock Doesn't Mean You Have to Lose the Sale

An eMarketer article reports that a survey conducted in May 2007 by the e-tailing group and BetweenMarkets asks online shoppers what they do when a merchant is out-of-stock on the item they want to buy. Almost half reported that they go to a competitor website for the same or similar product. However, 25% will sign-up for an email alert that notifies them when the item becomes available. An additional 31% will check back later. It would be interesting to know how many of those 31% would sign up for email alerts if they were available.

Online shoppers crave convenience. If a consumer has spent time finding what they want, at the right price, from a retailer they trust, only to discover that the product is out-of-stock, it’s frustrating to have to start the search all over again. By contrast, it’s easy to sign up for an email alert. If the item is exclusive to your brand the shopper may make a mental note to check back later. But what if they forget? Email alerts allow you to remind them!

If you don’t have email inventory alerts, you may be missing a great opportunity to re-capture revenue. With 83% of online retailers offering real-time inventory information on their sites, for most merchants, giving shoppers the option for an email alert shouldn’t be a major implementation. And once it’s set-up, the automated emails take care of themselves with little incremental work for your marketing or creative teams. The email could also include up sells for products the customer may also like or links to sign-up for your other email offerings. Possibilities abound!

Of course, one quick word of caution. It’s never a good experience to set expectations you can’t fulfill, especially with email. If you have unpredictable inventory or other issues that might make it hard for you to send these emails as you promise, you’ll do more harm than good. Of course, there are usually work-arounds for most situations. For example, if an item doesn’t come back in stock within a certain period of time you could send an email that informs the customer of that fact and then offers them alternatives. Like all email initiatives, think through all the scenarios and build in contingencies.

According to the survey, 68% of respondents would leave a site after three out-of-stock experiences. Adding an email inventory alert might just pull them back and turn them into loyal, repeat customers.

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