Product Out-of-Stock Checklist

Both your business and your customer suffer when products are out of stock.
How can you minimize the damage?

You may have caught our recent post Saving Sales for Out of Stock Items, which described an example from Staples of merchandising recommended alternative products when an item in a user’s cart is out of stock (OOS).

Saved shopping carts are not the only thing affected by stock-outs. Every element of your online marketing needs to be considered and tweaked to ensure customers have the best experience and you save the most dollars.

SEO

Though many online merchants do this, removing permanently out of stock products from your website is not an option if you value SEO.

Each item you delete potentially wipes out deep links from other websites, blogs and social networks, which do help your domain’s overall “authority” with search engines. In fact, popular products that have sold out are the most likely to have attracted attention from external sites. Consider sites that turn over thousands of products per year – the aggregate loss can majorly impact SEO.

Search engines sometimes take a while to clean out “not found” pages from their indices, so you may get referrals that hit a dead end page.

You have 2 options to handle discontinued product pages: use a 301 (permanent) redirect to another page, or leave the page in tact with messaging that the product is out of stock.

A redirect will preserve most of the “link juice” from external websites, and you can aim it at the replacement product (no bait and switch!) or to the nearest product category. It also builds up the PageRank of the category you aim it to, helping it to rank higher in search engines. This is preferred over redirecting to your home page, as it’s easier for a customer to find an alternative item from a category page.

You’ll want to suppress the old product pages from categories for best usability. Linking customer reviews to public buyer profiles is a smart way to ensure they stay in your site architecture.

However, redirecting to a category page can confuse a customer, who expected to land on the product page. Keeping the product page avoids this problem. It also ensures you receive traffic for the long-tail keywords (like model numbers) that are so valuable.

The best way to optimize such a page is to clearly identify the item is out of stock (a label over the product image will surely be noticed), and show alternative or replacement products clearly.

Pay Per Click

Perhaps nothing hits your marketing budget’s efficiency harder than a leak in your PPC faucet. Not only are you missing out on sales, you’re paying Google to send you traffic to a sold out product. Having the right processes in place to catch OOS products and pause keywords is important.

George Michie from Rimm-Kaufman Group shared with Get Elastic his paid search management firm’s process for handing temporarily OOS products. RKG uses couples a system that flags products when they drop out of inventory or a data feed with a URL-checking tool that identifies landing pages with page load error messages or “out of stock” status.

Bidding on permanently out of stock items (like discontinued model numbers or software versions) can still be profitable, so long as you offer substitute product(s) and inform/merchandise your landing page accordingly.

If a product is gone for good, it’s best to remove or permanently pause keywords pointing to the product page. In some cases, keywords may be effectively applied to other Ad Groups.

Affiliate / Data Feeds

Like pay-per-click, permanently out of stock items should be pulled from shopping engine and other affiliate data feeds.

Email

A successful email campaign can often result in a featured product selling out. There are a couple creative ways of handling this problem.

You might add an “email me when this item is back in stock” feature to your product pages for those who click through. (Again, suggesting alternative products on the landing page helps).

Or, you could dynamically update your email creative to reflect a product’s availability.

A side effect is this creates urgency for your other featured products. It suggests products are at a high risk of selling out.

If you haven’t created an out-of-stock salvage plan, now’s the time. Make sure none of the marketing resources you’ve invested ever go to waste.


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