E-Commerce Optimization: The Dos and Don’ts of Handling Out-of-Stock Products
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You can’t expect to keep all of your e-commerce store’s available products in stock indefinitely. Whether from supply constraints or excessive demand, you’ll probably have to temporarily stop selling certain products. According to an Adobe study, shoppers encounter billions of out-of-stock products each month when shopping online. While some products will inevitably sell out, you can handle them in several ways.
Do Remove the Add-to-Cart Button
When your e-commerce store sells out of a product, you should disable the cart functionality for it. Removing the add-to-cart button from the product page will prevent shoppers from trying to buy the product. They’ll notice that the product is out of stock, so they won’t try to buy it.
You can keep the product page up so that shoppers can research the product. By removing the add-to-cart button, however, shoppers will see that the product is temporarily out of stock. They won’t waste time trying to add the product to their cart or otherwise buying it.
Don’t Serve 404 Errors
Avoid serving 404 errors for out-of-stock products. A 404 error is a type of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) response code. It indicates the server was unable to fulfill the client’s request. Shoppers and other users who visit your e-commerce store are clients. Shoppers who click a link to a product page that doesn’t exist will likely see a 404 error. Your server won’t be able to fulfill their requests because there’s no page at the requested URL, so your server will send them a 404 error.
Serving 404 errors for out-of-stock products sends the message that those product pages no longer exist. Shoppers will assume that you’ve deleted the product pages and, thus, have permanently stopped selling those products on your e-commerce store. Search engines can encounter 404 errors as well. If you serve 404 errors for out-of-stock products, search engines may remove those product pages from their indexes.
Do Offer In-Stock Notifications
You can offer in-stock notifications for out-of-stock products. Also known as back-in-stock notifications, they will remind shoppers when the products are back in stock. If a shopper wants to buy an out-of-stock product and is willing to wait for it, he or she can click an in-stock notification button on the product page.
In-stock notifications are typically powered by e-commerce platform apps or plugins. For WooCommerce, you can use the Back in Stock Notifications plugin or the Back in Stock Notifier plugin. For Shopify, the Back in Stock app and the ReStock app support in-stock notifications. Shoppers won’t be able to add out-of-stock products to their cart, but using one of these plugins or apps will allow them to receive notifications when the products are back in stock.
Don’t Block Search Engine Bots
Avoid blocking search engine bots from crawling pages for out-of-stock products. Search engines only index and rank product pages that they crawl. If you block search engine bots from crawling pages for out-of-stock products, they may delist them.
Delisted pages won’t appear for any keyword or any position in the search results. By allowing search engines to crawl out-of-stock product pages, they won’t delist them. The product pages will continue to rank while attracting the visibility of search engine users; users just won’t be able to buy the featured products after clicking them.
The URL inspection tool will allow you to check the crawling status of pages. It’s available in Search Console. After adding your e-commerce store to Search Console, click “URL Inspection” on the main menu. You can then enter the URL of a product page to determine whether Google is able to crawl it.
Do Update Structured Data
If your e-commerce store features structured data, you should update it for out-of-stock products. Google supports different types of structured data, including product. You can use the product structured data to specify whether a product is in stock or out of stock.
You’ll need to use the availability property with the product structured data. As the name suggests, the availability property conveys the availability of a product. You can use it with the product structured data to let Google know when a product is out of stock. And you can revert the product structured data to its original format when the product is back in stock.
Updating structured data with product availability information promotes a better experience for shoppers. Google may show this availability information in product page listings. If a product is out of stock, shoppers may see an “out-of-stock” label. But you’ll need to update the structured data with the appropriate availability information.
Don’t Redirect to Other Product Pages
There’s no point in redirecting out-of-stock products pages to other product pages. Shoppers who select a product link on the navigation menu expect to see that product on the following page. If the navigation link redirects them to an entirely different product page, shoppers will be confused.
Instead of redirecting them to other product pages, include a section of related products at bottom of out-of-stock product pages. You can show in-stock products in this section that are related to the out-of-the-stock products featured on the pages. After seeing that the product is out of stock, shoppers may visit one of the related products in this section.
Do Consider a Backup Supplier
Depending on how often you experience out-of-stock products, you may want to consider a backup supplier. A backup supplier, of course, can you help restock products more quickly. If you’re running low on a product, you can reach out to a backup supplier.
A backup supplier is a secondary product supplier. You’ll typically only use them when your primary supplier is unable to deliver. Maybe your primary supplier is experiencing a logistical bottleneck, or perhaps it’s swamped with merchant orders. Regardless, if your primary supplier can’t send new product units in a timely manner, you can order them from a backup supplier.
Out-of-stock products are inevitable. They will become more common, in fact, as your e-commerce store grows and acquires more customers. Fortunately, you can handle out-of-stock products by following the dos and don’ts.
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Last Updated in April 2022 by Lukasz Zelezny