The “out of stock” online experience is frustrating—and it’s on the rise. Adobe estimates that out-of-stock messages surged more than 250% compared to the pre-pandemic period. This can be a major blow to your brand and business. According to a Netstock survey, “43% of consumers indicated they are more likely to ditch a product after experiencing two or more stock-outs.” You can blame the supply chain, but that’s not going to solve this issue. So, what can your brand do to nurture the customer relationship and quell frustration as you deal with the reality of supply chain issues?

You need to focus on prioritizing your digital experience to optimize the out-of-stock experience.

Listen to What Your Customers are Saying

A frustrated person uses a laptop

Optimizing the out-of-stock digital experience starts with your customers. A customer-led strategy for this involves constant customer feedback along their entire digital journey with your brand—especially where they’re likely to encounter an “out of stock” roadblock. A couple of ways to do this include:

  1. Implementing VoC (Voice of the Customer) interactions: Learn what customers look for and where they go when faced with an “out of stock” scenario. This will help you show similar items you have in stock. You could give them a notification option to alert them when the item they desire is back in stock.
  2. Creating customer feedback loops: Establish a baseline and measure customer satisfaction and loyalty by including Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) questions. A baseline will guide your team towards positive changes to the digital experience. It also allows you to measure and evaluate the customer impact of digital experience changes your team makes.
Screenshot of a "net promoter score" survey
Image credit: surveymonkey.com

You need to keep a finger on the pulse of your customers to ensure that you’re continuing to align with their expectations. These strategies will help you know your customer better and reshape their engagement when their journey with your brand encounters a roadblock.

Use Experimentation to Drive a Better “Out of Stock” Digital Experience

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Guessing and intuition do not help when optimizing digital experiences. This is especially true as brands wrestle with the “out of stock” challenge. Brands that deploy a continuous test-and-learn approach will be the ones to keep their customers and sell more products and services. Experimentation helps you identify which approach(es) will work best for your customers

Case in point, Quantum Metric recently published a case study for Bass Pro Shops highlighting the value of experimentation in improving the out-of-stock experience. Specifically, Bass Pro Shops tested giving customers an option to view similar products. The 8% increase in their conversion rate from their A/B test showed that “when customers are offered alternate items when the one they are looking for is out-of-stock, they are less likely to leave Bass Pro Shops’ website.”

This is just one company and one test, but the impact of the effort on conversions was significant.

Here are some experimentation approaches to consider as you focus on digital experience optimization:

  1. Communication clarity: Build tests that focus on letting the customer know about out-of-stock items sooner in the process, and when the items are expected to be back in stock and ready for purchase.
  2. Communication options: When a product is out of stock, let the customer choose to get notified or look at other similar items other customers have chosen in the same category.
  3. Alternative products: Give recommendations that help keep the buy process in play and help customers feel their journey was not a waste of time.

No matter which experiments you choose, execution is key. You must measure the impact of the changes you make to the digital experience to advance customer satisfaction and retention. For example, customer feedback may reveal that your customers want better messaging around out-of-stock items, but further testing is required to know which messaging resonates best and ultimately, impacts your business metrics.

Those brands that leverage digital experience experimentation will be the ones who keep and expand their customer base in the digital world.

Don’t Forget About SEO

A person shops online using a laptop

The digital experience with your brand isn’t bound just to your digital world—it also extends to the world of search. The experience starts before your customer reaches your product page. SEO improvement efforts can deliver clarity in the customer journey even before the customer heads to your website. For example, teams can leverage product schema and offer markups to allow product pages to provide this clarity in the search engine results pages.

Screenshot of "out of stock" notice in search

Indexing strategies come into play at this point. Do you index product pages with out-of-stock items? It depends on how long you expect the product to be unavailable. If the product will be back soon, it’s best to keep it indexed, as long as you make sure you have the means to engage those customers with other recommendations and alternatives. If your business is expecting products to be out for an extended period, it may make sense to noindex those product pages. However, due to the potential long-term impact on SEO, it’s critical you stay on top of availability and act fast with updates once the products are back in stock.

SEO done right can help you avoid setting your customers up for disappointment. Moreover, when you pair your SEO efforts with on-site experimentation, you are ensuring your customers have an optimized experience even if they happen to make their way to an out-of-stock page.

Improving the Out-of-Stock Experience Requires a Multi-Pronged Approach

A person shops online using a smartphone

Brands today compete for customers based on the quality of their digital experience. This is amplified when your customers experience frequent out-of-stock challenges. Putting customers first by listening to their feedback, being transparent with them along their entire journey, and testing potential improvements to the digital experience are essential components of brand success on the digital stage. How brands choose to optimize this experience will have long-lasting effects on customer satisfaction, revenue generation, and brand loyalty.

The brands that win the hearts and minds of customers will be the ones that embrace continuous digital experience optimization across every point of interaction. If your brand is struggling to improve the out-of-stock experience, we’re here to help. Get in touch with us today to start delivering a better experience to your customers—no matter what challenges the supply chain throws your way.