Guide To Maximizing E-Commerce Sales For The Holiday Season


In ecommerce, your approach to stock limitations has a significant impact on sales and the user experience.

If you want to maximise profits while keeping customers happy, read our best-practice guide to dealing with low-stock, temporarily out-of-stock and discontinued items on your retail site.

Low-stock items

Reserve basketed stock

Customers don’t expect items to be taken from their virtual cart, so you should always reserve basketed stock. However, the prevalence of cart abandonment means you can’t let customers reserve products indefinitely.

Choose a time limit that suits your business, and let customers know when they must check out by. It’s a strategy that helps Ticketmaster sell out shows in minutes.

As longer-term reservations approach expiry, consider sending cart abandoners a did you forget something email to prompt purchase.

Provide low-stock warnings

While customers think about purchasing a product, it may go out of stock. This is extremely frustrating if they do decide to buy.

By providing low-stock notifications, you warn visitors that items could soon be unavailable. That means less annoyance if they do end up missing the boat, and encourages customers to make their purchase quickly.

Firebox has a Last Chance category, and uses low-stock warnings that effectively create a sense of urgency.


Temporarily out-of-stock items

Offer delayed delivery

If you know when an item will be back in stock, state the expected delivery time rather than giving a blunt out of stock warning. Many customers are willing to wait, as long as they know what they’re in for upfront — Apple is one brand to take advantage of this.


Recommend similar products

Recommending products can be a great way to boost the conversion rate and average order value on your site. And if you suggest similar rather than complementary items — other tablets rather than cases on an iPad page, for example — you’ve got a great out-of-stock safety net.

John Lewis employs this tactic in a you might also like section. Clothes shoppers who discover their size is sold out are immediately tempted by similar alternatives. They’re far more likely to stay onsite and make a purchase than someone who hit a dead end.


Keep variants on one page

When a shopper’s first choice is out of stock, a product variant is even more likely to appeal than a similar item. List all options on the same page so it’s quick and easy for customers to find and buy the next-best thing.

Marks and Spencer does a great job of this, showing customers which sizes and colours are in stock at a glance.


Inform customers when items are back in stock

Sometimes, an alternative just won’t do. Many customers will have their heart set on a particular product, and if it’s out of stock, they’ll leave your site disappointed — or keep returning in the hopes of it being back up for sale.

Neither of these is a positive user experience.

One solution is to provide an expected restock date, so customers know when to check back.

Another is to create a stock notification system like Hotel Chocolat’s, which sends an email alert to signed-up users when a product becomes available.

At the form submission stage, consider taking advantage of the data capture opportunity by providing an opt-in checkbox for marketing communications.

In the notification email, provide a link straight to the freshly restocked product for convenience. And think about redeeming your brand with an exclusive discount code that thanks customers for their patience — it should enhance your image and boost the conversion rate.

Let customers check in-store stock

If you have bricks-and-mortar stores, integrating your stock management systems will enable site visitors to check in-store stock levels.

Pets At Home offers a click and collect service to help customers get their hands on products despite a lack of online stock.


Warn customers early

It’s frustrating for users to click through to a product page, only then to find out that it’s out of stock. Warning shoppers as early as possible will help reduce disappointment.

At category and search levels, The Body Shop streamlines shopping by revealing which products are available and which aren’t.


Another option is hiding temporarily unavailable products. However, beware that this will prevent users from checking in-store stock, consulting restock dates, signing up for stock notifications, or adding products to their wish list for purchase at a later date.

You might be able to get around this issue with an availability filter like Amazon’s.


Discontinued products

Delete internal links

If a product is never coming back in stock, remove all internal links pointing to the page. Its presence in onsite search results and category pages will only serve to frustrate visitors.

Amend the page

Deleting and 404ing expired content will provide a poor user experience for anyone who lands on the page, perhaps by clicking an old backlink or bookmark. It will also forfeit any associated link equity.

Instead, set up a 301 redirect to a relevant, permanent page.

In an effort to rescue potential sales, Reiss redirects traffic from its out-of-season Lace Ainsley Dress page to its perennial Black Lace Dresses page. This could be improved with a warning message that advises visitors why they were redirected.


Alternatively, adopt Net-A-Porter’s approach: adapt the page so it’s clear the item is discontinued, and provide other product and navigation options that help keep the visitor onsite.


Key things to remember

  • Low-stock warnings help reduce frustration and prompt purchasing
  • Basketed items should be reserved for a strategic amount of time
  • Sales lost due to stock issues can be rescued by on-page product recommendations
  • Customers will come back to purchase restocked products if you make it easy enough
  • Discontinued-product pages should be 301ed, or hidden and adapted for long-term use

Need help creating an ecommerce site that helps you manage stock and maximise sales? We can help.


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