You have worked so hard to build the kind of brand that inspires loyalty in customers. But not everything is within your control. In the past few months, many industries have been affected by supply-chain issues. That creates the frustrating scenario: a prospective customer lands on your website, sees a product they want, but faces the words “Out of Stock” when they try to buy.
For brands that prioritize customer experience (CX), that creates precisely the kind of negative emotions you work hard to avoid. But a global pandemic creates problems a brand’s good intentions can’t solve. So how do you manage expectations and keep prospects happy with your brand, even when those three dreaded words—out of stock—are inevitable? A few best practices can go a long way.
1) Be upfront and honest.
Setting expectations is a big part of keeping customers happy. If someone knows an item will take over a week to ship at the time they place it, they won’t mind the wait. But if they expect to receive their order within a few days and it takes a month, they’ll be disappointed.
If you know that shipping times are slower than usual, or that some items will take longer to re-stock than customers are used to, put that information right there front and center on your website. Honesty can go a long way to making an inconvenience feel like less of a big deal.
2) Be careful to only promote what you have.
Have you ever clicked on the link in an email promotion or an ad, only to find the item is out of stock? The company managed to successfully get you interested in their product, only to dash your hopes once you’d already decided you wanted it! Don’t put customers in that position.
Be careful that your advertising and marketing campaigns don’t push products that are unavailable. That’s a surefire recipe for upset customers, and one that makes your company look sloppy.
3) Provide what information you can proactively.
You may be dealing with some unknowns, but share what information you do have before being prompted. If you can make a reasonable estimate as to when a product will be back in stock, say so. But avoid overly ambitious guesses—you don’t want to tell people products will be back in November, and then leave them waiting until February.
Customers also appreciate transparency and will often give brands leeway if they understand why an issue is occurring. So be upfront. If your products are unavailable because of Covid-19, tell people what’s going on. Moxi Skates has a message right on their product page explaining that their manufacturers are playing catch-up from when factories had to shut down. That’s a reason customers will understand, even if it means having to wait on the items they want.
4) Provide recommendations for similar items.
So a visitor can’t buy the exact winter coat they had their eyes on. That’s a bummer, but much less of one if you have something similar in your inventory that they can buy right now. Include a recommendation engine on your website that points visitors to items similar to the one they’re looking at. When a product’s out of stock, it makes it easier for them to find alternatives. You may end up pointing a customer toward something they like just as much as the product they can’t have, which means they still get their product and you keep the sale.
5) Give customers a way to sign up for alerts.
For the customers that really want the specific item that’s out of stock, make it easy for them to come back for it as soon as it’s available! Let them sign up for the waitlist so they get an email once it is in stock again. They get a reminder of the item they want, and you manage to keep the customer.
6) Alert customers to scarcity before you run out.
Letting customers know when you’re running low on an item accomplishes a couple of things:
- It creates a scarcity mindset. If they know there are only a few of a product they want left in stock, and it may take a while to get more, they’ll know they need to order now. Customers that might otherwise drag their feet will prioritize getting that order in sooner rather than later.
- It sets expectations. If you email customers that have shown an interest in an item to let them know it’s nearly out and they choose not to place an order right then, they won’t blame you if they visit the website looking for it in a week or two.
Keeping customers in the loop can help you avoid disappointment, and ensure the customers that want the product the most have first dibs on it.
7) Make it easy for customers to get in touch.
So many of the worst customer service experiences aren’t about a problem with the product or service itself. They’re about how a company handles it. One of the biggest sins you can commit as a brand is making it difficult for customers with concerns to get in touch. If customers have to work to find contact information, and are forced to face long response times, it won’t matter much what else you’ve done to earn their loyalty.
One frustrating failed attempt to get information from your company can be enough to send customers to a competitor. So make sure they have an easy way to contact you with questions and concerns. Better yet, give them a few ways—a phone number, an email address, live chat and social media channels. Having multiple ways to reach a human shows customers that you care about helping, and will be accessible to them when needed.
8) Consider premium discounts and coupons.
For returning customers that you want to be sure and keep, give them a reason to come back. Even if they can’t get all the items they want as fast as they may be used to, show them you care about keeping their business with special coupons or discounts. You can frame the offers as gratitude for sticking with you through Covid-19 shortages, or simply as appreciation for their loyalty. Either way, many customers will be happy to make a new purchase with you if you give them that extra incentive to.
9) Keep your brand values front and center.
Before the pandemic started, we were already seeing a growing trend of consumers choosing brands that aligned with their values. For a certain portion of the population, product availability and convenience aren’t their top concerns. They want to know if your brand is finding ways to give back to the community, and if you’re taking steps to keep your employees and customers safe.
Don’t shy away from telling customers outright what you care about, and what steps you’re taking as a business to make sure your actions match your stated priorities.
10) Be willing to apologize and make things right.
Even if you do your best to do everything right, you may still end up with disappointed customers for reasons outside of your control—inventory you were sure would come in last month took longer, or shipments faced delays after they left your warehouse. You can make those disappointments right by updating your customers with current information as soon as you have it and providing a proactive apology. And consider a nice discount or partial refund to really sweeten the deal—most customers will be more than happy with you if you match your apology to something tangible.
Control What You Can
No business wants customers to land on a page with “Out of Stock” blaring across the top, but even brands with impeccable planning skills can face inventory issues during something as unpredictable as a pandemic. You don’t have to lose customers over it. By working to keep them happy in the face of product shortages, you can keep many of your customers loyal—so they’re still around when you get product shortages back under control.