6 Great Ways to Handle Out of Stock Product Pages

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How many times have you visited a site to buy a specific product, but didn’t end up completing the purchase because the item was out of stock? In most cases, when this happens you’ll be inclined to visit the site’s competitors to get what you need. Out-of-stock products are a reality of any ecommerce business, but they don’t have to mean conceding the sale to another vendor.

You can use out-of-stock pages to promote another product or to engage with your consumers. While these pages may not have high conversion rates, you’ll still be missing opportunities if you don’t make use of them properly. Every page on your site has the potential to contribute to your search engine ranking and gain conversions.

This guide will discuss why you should avoid neglecting these pages and how redirecting out-of-stock pages affects your search engine rank. We will also look at six ways to repurpose these pages to save sales you might otherwise have lost, engage with your consumers, and keep customers open to the possibility of future purchases.

Let’s start!

Table of Contents

Why shouldn’t you turn these pages into “404” errors?

When a user sees an “Error 404” message, it means that the page cannot be found or has been deleted. If a specific product is out of stock, deleting the page is definitely not the way to go. Removing the page altogether will make putting it back when the product is back in stock more difficult.

Aside from this, if you turn a site into a 404 error you will also lose precious backlinks that help your site perform well in search rankings. A 404 page impacts your site’s search engine optimization (SEO) game, and even if you bring it back later, it will take time for the recreated product page to recover its lost SEO value.

Instead of removing the product page when an item is out of stock, you can use it as an opportunity to offer alternatives or modify the page for a better user experience. An out of stock item can still be a great way to drive the shopper towards another purchase.

If a consumer lands on your page after a Google search and sees a broken page, they will likely not click on one of your links again. Keeping these pages alive and thriving is a great way to retain and improve both your Google Ads conversions and organic search performance.

In the next section, we will look at a few ways to modify your product pages when an item is out of stock while retaining your place in the search rankings.

Out-of-stock pages and their relationship with SEO

There are three main types of out-of-stock pages on an ecommerce website. Each has a different relationship with the way search engines like Google will index them, which in turn impacts your SEO ranking.

The first type is the page for a product that is permanently unavailable, such as something that has been discontinued. Google will want you to turn these into 404 error pages, but as I mentioned earlier, this should always be the last option. Online stores should aim for redirects with a 301 (“moved permanently”) message if the page has quality backlinks. This will enable you to direct customers to the right place without harming your SEO.

The second type of out-of-stock product page indicates that the item is unavailable only temporarily, such as when you are waiting for more products from your supplier. You can keep these product URLs in their current state and just wait till the product is back in stock. Ensure that the page updates regularly to show the stock status and when it is expected back in. Google will continue to index that page, and once the item is back in stock, it will show it as such. We will look at a few more ways to optimize this kind of page in the next section.

The third type of out-of-stock page shows up when the product is permanently unavailable, but you have repurposed the product URL to show a new product category. Ecommerce store owners can simply build on the existing URL rather than worry about redirects.

6 ways to deal with out of stock products and save your sale

Out-of-stock product pages can be tricky to handle. While you don’t want to remove them, you also need to ensure that they aren’t too visible. After all, there’s no sense in drawing exces customer attention to products that you can’t currently provide. Instead of redirecting your customers or showing a message with a broken link, you can repurpose these pages to keep your shoppers’ attention.

In this section, we will look at six ways to deal with out-of-stock product pages to encourage the buyer to return. This will both boost your chances of closing a sale, and increase their lifetime value with your business as they will be encouraged to keep returning. These tips will improve your users’ experience with your site.

1. State if a product is unavailable permanently or temporarily

Out-of-stock products can fall into two categories: ones you do not currently have, and others you have discontinued for good. Your page should indicate which category is applicable to the product in question. This ensures that customers know whether to expect it to return or not.

Some sites also allow shoppers to save out-of-stock products in wishlists or receive a notification to let them know when items are available again. Instead of removing the page and creating a dead-end, this strategy ensures that you drive engagement with your users.

Source: Moz
Source: Moz

Take a look at the above out-of-stock product page which indicates that the products shown are not available at the moment. You’ll see a little heart sign on the top right corner of every image. Clicking that button allows the users to save the product for a future purchase, when it is available again.

Keeping the product on the page lets you keep the Google SEO benefits of the page, while allowing customers to save it for later encourages them to return and drives future sales.

2. Give alternative recommendations

You can also use the product page to offer alternatives to your users based on their preferences and customer behaviors. Since you already know what the shopper is interested in, segmenting and showing relevant products is a great way to drive purchases.

To do this, you can create recommended alternative product groups that are shown when one of the products is unavailable. These automated product groups can help you avoid losing out on a sale and keep the users interested in your brand.

It is usually not a good practice to redirect the users from your product page back to the home page. This increases the bounce rate as it adds in unnecessary additional steps for customers to take. It’s best to keep your shoppers moving forward by showing them more products to browse.

Source: Ecommerce Illustrated
Source: Ecommerce Illustrated

Take a look at what beauty brand Sephora has done with its out-of-stock product page (above). The page offers links to different product categories. Sephora knows it has a chance to highlight its bestsellers and broad range of brands, and takes full advantage of that opportunity. It’s a smart trick that encourages the users to explore the site further.

Another option that can work well is to use customer service chatbots to answer customer questions about stock availability and recommend alternatives based on customer needs. Sephora also utilizes chatbots to recommend products to great effect:

Source: Sapient
Source: Sapient

If customers can find other products that meet their needs quickly and easily, they’re far more likely to push through with a purchase.

3. Inform your customer about the product’s return

For products that are only temporarily out of stock, your ecommerce platform can seize the opportunity to add the customer to your email list. Instead of redirecting to another product page or offering alternatives, you can ask for your users’ email addresses and send them a notification when the item is back in stock.

Apparel retailer Rainbows and Sprinkles allows users to sign up for an email notification when their desired product is back in stock:

Doing this helps you expand your subscriber base and encourages future purchases. It also helps you ensure that visitors will come back by using their inbox as a promotional tool.

According to a study on the effect of out-of-stock pages, 58% of disappointed shoppers became lost sales, which means they bought from another seller or did not buy the item at all. Email marketing helps you counteract this trend as it gives you a way to reach out to potential customers when the unavailable product is back in stock.

Source: Bluestout
Source: Bluestout

Retailer Bellroy (above) also takes this approach to capture its visitors’ email addresses and notify them when the product becomes available. However, Bellroy goes a step further by including a link to the retailer page, allowing customers to find the product from another stockist so the company doesn’t lose the sale. Giving these alternatives helps the user move along the customer journey and keeps them from adding to the website’s bounce rate.

4. Limit out-of-stock page visibility

One way to deal with an out-of-stock item is to push the product listing to the bottom of the searches or page. If you limit its visibility, there will be fewer clicks on the listing, resulting in fewer disappointed customers. It’s a simple “out of sight, out of mind” approach.

Keeping track of your inventory to make these changes automatically can be tricky. Businesses with multiple product lines usually use inventory tracking and management software that allows retailers to forecast product shortages. If you have the funds and infrastructure to do this, it’s a great way to get ahead of the game when a product looks like it’s going to go out of stock.

5. Show the availability status clearly

Another way to avoid disappointing your customers is to mark unavailable products on the category search pages themselves. Doing this ensures that people do not click through to the unavailable product’s page (or if they do, it’s only to check if or when it will be available again).

By indicating a product’s availability right away, you open the customer to the possibility of going to a product page with a higher conversion rate instead of a dead-end page.

Source: Easyship
Source: Easyship

Take a look at the page from Joules, which indicates the out-of-stock products on the search page. The user is likely to move to the next product category available and will not waste time looking at out-of-stock items.

Sometimes, certain product sizes or variants are not in stock. In addition to indicating if the product is available as a whole, you may also include the availability of each size or variant separately. Here’s how clothing retailer Dorothy Perkins does just that:

In short, this practice saves your customers time and effort. And that will make them more likely to stick around!

6. Offer pre-orders and increased shipping time

You can also offer pre-orders for products that aren’t currently available, but will be available in the near future. Doing this gives your customers something to look forward to. This strategy also secures the sale even though the product is not yet on hand.

Offering a longer shipping time or pre-order option is another effective way of securing the sale immediately. As long as you are up-front about the product availability, your customers may be willing to wait a bit longer than usual. Here’s an example from tech retailer Scan:

If you choose to offer pre-orders or longer shipping times, make sure you provide the consumers with all the information they will need to make an informed decision. Keep an eye on your order fulfillment track record for the product and ensure that you give the consumers an honest time frame when the order can ship.

While out-of-stock items are disappointing, unfulfilled orders have a worse impact on your customer relationships. It’s always best to provide proactive customer service rather than making customers chase you about a missing order.

In Closing

An out-of-stock item doesn’t have to lead to a lost sale or disappointed customer. Ensure that you do not delete or modify these pages without considering the potential loss of their SEO value. Otherwise, you might damage your place in the search rankings.

Other than redirecting the user to another page, you can also modify the content of the product page to drive sales. Try to limit the visibility of products that are not available, or give your customers the opportunity to get informed when the product is back in stock by joining your email list. You can also use pre-orders and longer shipping times to encourage customers who are willing to wait to put their order in.

These strategies will help you repurpose your out-of-stock product pages to drive conversion and engagement. Try them on your own ecommerce site and tell us how they work for your brand!

Author Bio: Jimmy Rodriguez is the COO and co-founder of Shift4Shop, an ecommerce software to build SEO-friendly online stores. He’s dedicated to helping internet retailers succeed online by developing digital marketing strategies and optimized shopping experiences that drive conversions and improve business performance.

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