Andrew Raso September 21, 2020

One of the major letdowns for website visitors is when they decide to buy a product and add it to their shopping cart only to find out at the checkout that it’s temporarily out of stock. When their order doesn’t get through, it leads to frustration — and that inevitably leads to losing customers for good.

For businesses looking to deliver exceptional customer experience and grow ecommerce sales, it’s crucial to have the right strategy and procedure in place to ensure everyone’s in the loop when a product is unavailable. This way a website is in a much better position to communicate to their visitors about out of stock products, therefore improving the overall shopping experience.

This article explains some common questions and answers for dealing with temporarily out of stock pages and its SEO impact.


What to do if a product is Out of Stock?

When it comes to dealing with out of stock products on your website, there are various methods and strategies that are widely used.

However, websites need to keep in mind the nature of their business, the variety of the products they offer, and the type of experience their target audience expects.

For instance, if the business is selling to a general audience, it might be enough to simply display an ‘out of stock’ label in the product listings.

On the other hand, if a business is a luxury brand where the customers expect premium experience, they may need to find out a more sophisticated way to communicate the absence of a product or may choose to not show the product page at all.

Below, we’ve dived into crucial considerations when picking the best strategy.


1. Don’t Remove the Item Completely

The biggest challenge in terms of handling out of stock products is to manage the SEO of product pages. If you completely remove them, it’s quite likely that Google and other search engines will delist them and the website will have to invest in SEO once again when the products are made available.

Moreover, it will also create unpleasant and unwanted experiences for customers and visitors who might have bookmarked the page or added the product to their wish list as they find out that the product page is no longer available. This can seriously affect the website’s conversion rate.

Permanent removal of the page is only an option when the website has decided to discontinue the product permanently or the product has been replaced with an alternative.

When removing a page or managing out of stock product pages, businesses need to take SEO considerations into account to ensure they don’t lose all the reputation and worth their web pages have gained.


2. Be transparent about the item availability

Many websites believe that it’s not a great reflection on their reputation to show ‘out of stock’ label. Alternatively, less focus on online inventory management often leads to poor customer experiences. This leaves a poor impression of the brand as well as the business — and customers are more likely to prefer the competition that is more transparent about their product availability.

When a customer is in need of a product or is excited to buy something, finding out ‘out of stock’ message right at the end turns out to be a huge disappointment. Avoiding these kinds of situations is essential.

Similarly, some websites redirect their visitors to another item page which is a close alternative. In a few cases, this might be the best option available but generally, it is construed as deception. Sometimes the websites will redirect the visitor to their home page if the item is unavailable which is another poor practice. This doesn’t only disrupt their shopping flow but adds to the poor experience they are already having. That’s why it is important to deal with temporary out of stock product pages with exceptional strategies.


When to use redirection methods?

When the product is temporarily unavailable and the website still wants it to continue to rank, they usually go for different strategies including redirecting the visitors to an alternative page.

Some of the most popular options include the following:

1. 404 Not Found

It is highly recommended to not use these 404 pages. Temporary unavailability of a product means they will be back in stock sooner rather than later.

Since search engines take time to acknowledge the changes made on a certain web page, removing and adding the product page may send confusing signals to the search engine and it may show a broken link when in reality the item has been made available once again. This is why it’s not a good idea.

2. 301 Permanent Redirect

Unless the manufacturer has replaced the product with a newer alternative or the website is now offering an alternative product, it’s not a good strategy to use 301 permanent redirects for the same reasons as 404 not found.

Google and other search engines will take time to realise the changes and the visitor may not get the correct real-time information.

3. 302 Temporary Redirect

If you have quite an identical product, this strategy might work. However, if the alternative differs in substantial ways then redirecting a visitor to another product page can backfire as they may consider it as a deceptive practice.

This is also likely to reduce the chances of conversion as the visitor wasn’t interested in that product to begin with. Temporary redirects should be used with caution, keeping visitors’ expectations in mind.


Managing ETAs during Temporary Out of Stock products

One of the critical aspects of dealing with out of stock products is to have an adequate and well thought out system in place that can identify the shortage and place a reorder on a timely basis.

This will limit the chances of product shortages and at the very least reduce the estimated time of arrival (ETA). Some products may take longer than others to arrive so that should be taken into account in terms of calculating ETA.

This will also enable websites to let their customers know about the estimated time of arrival and when they can buy the products they are looking for. It results in great customer experience as they can see how organised and result-oriented your business is. When it comes to handling out of stock product pages, there are two primary objectives.

If a website has a large number of out of stock pages, they will have a higher bounce rate which can severely affect the SEO rankings of the website. This is why it is important to manage the stocks carefully and ensure the inventory doesn’t run out.

If the business cannot offer the product the customer is looking for then it needs to give an option to the customer that is acceptable for them. They can either suggest a viable alternative item or ask them to wait for a few days until the item is restocked. Adding an incentive can work in such cases.

How to handle the internal search?

As already discussed above, we don’t recommend blocking or delisting the out of stock product pages. For the sake of maintaining momentum with your SEO, and prioritising a positive customer experience, there are many ways businesses can better manage this situation.

Below are two viable options to consider.

1. Enable customers to filter Temporarily Out of Stock products

Many brands and websites take pride in their diverse and extensive variety of products. Naturally, they are hesitant to remove those product pages that are temporarily unavailable or out of stock. One of the options to work around this issue is to give website users the option to filter out all the out of stock products.

This way a brand will be able to list all the product variety they have while still enabling the visitor to find out which products are available and which aren’t. More importantly, the website has the option to make these filters unavailable to the Google and other search engine bots so it doesn’t affect page optimisation and reputation.

2. De-Prioritise Out of Stock items

Another way to get around the search engine ranking issue is to continue to list all the products including the ones that are out of stock, but push them down to the bottom of the search results. The filters will still work and can show the customers what they are looking for but they will know if the product is out of stock.

Moreover, it gives website the chance to display available products first while pushing down the temporarily unavailable. Apart from that, the search engine bot still gets access to the listed pages which means the optimisation remains intact.


How to tell a customer an item is Out of Stock?

1. Tell customers the precise situation

Just mentioning on the product page that the item has gone out of stock doesn’t tell the customer the entire story. They don’t know whether the product they want to buy will be restocked and when.

This is why it’s important for businesses to ensure that the customers know the whole situation instead of just a simple ‘out of stock’ tag on the web page. This could be covered through different methods including the following.

  • Temporary Unavailability – If the business is fairly sure that the product will be restocked shortly in a matter of days or weeks, they can mention ‘Temporarily Unavailable’ on the product page. To add more value to the page, they can also add ETA and a ‘Notify Me’ option so customers can return when the product is restocked.
  • Indefinitely Unavailable – On the other hand, you can use the ‘Indefinitely Unavailable’ if the procurement department doesn’t know for sure when the product’s stock will arrive or are aware of the fact that it may take longer than a month. Customers can be redirected to a page of an identical product to reduce drops in conversion rate.
  • Discontinued – If the product is no longer available from the manufacturer or they have replaced it with a newer version, a website can mention ‘Discontinued’ or ‘Permanently Unavailable’ on the product page. Adding a redirect here could be useful so the customer can buy something that is similar in terms of functionality.


2. Use different visual techniques to demonstrate product unavailability

Many times websites simply put a single ‘out of stock’ message that is barely legible or noticeable. It is similar to not putting up the message at all.

Instead of taking the subtle approach, the design and content of the ‘out of stock’ product pages make it as obvious and transparent as possible. This ensures your customers don’t get disappointed and the business could still convert them.

Some effective methods include:

  • Grey Out the Product Images – One of the most popular ways to show a certain product’s unavailability is to grey out the product image along with the relevant message. This visual cue gives a customer the clear idea that they cannot purchase the product at this moment and it might be available later on. Try to automate this process, otherwise, the business will have to manually edit hundreds of product images.
  • Show a Customised ‘Out of Stock’ Message – Another way to get the attention of the customer is to use a customised out of a stock message which clearly outlines the unavailability of the item. Websites can use a combination of quirky and unique design, copy, and visuals to let the visitors know they can’t buy the product at this time. Try to add value to the message so the business can retain conversions.
  • Specify Availability on Mouseover – If a certain product is available in different colours, sizes, or varieties, the best way to show unavailability is to use the mouseover functionality. When the visitor moves their cursor or clicks on a particular variant, the product image and page can show the availability of the product.
  • Use Icons or Visuals to Show Availability – One more effective way to display products is to assign certain icons to them by categorising them into available and unavailable SKUs. Signs like ‘X’ or red dot can be used to show a certain product is currently out of stock while a green dot can specify its availability. These minor UX features can improve the overall experience for the visitors and they might search for alternative products by themselves.
  • Disable the Cart Button – Another visual method to notify customers about product’s unavailability is to disable the cart button. It can be greyed out like the product image to show that the ‘Add to Cart’ will not work for this product. The website can include a message about when the product will be available and whether the customer wants to be notified or not. If yes, ask for their e-mail address which can help the customer place the order in the future.


3. Add a ‘Notify Me’ button on the page

Many times customers are brand conscious and loyal to a website. This means that they prefer to shop there. This is why it is a good idea to add a ‘Notify Me When the Product is Available’ on a product page that is currently unavailable.

This will allow the business to not lose a sale as they have the option to send an email when the product becomes available. The website can also offer an incentive to ensure the customer buys from them.


4. Don’t show the Out of Stock products at all

Although we have mentioned above that this isn’t a good idea for SEO reasons, there are certain situations where removing the product page makes sense. When the business is selling seasonal products or cheap commodities such as casual jewellery or t-shirts where variety keeps changing, it is better to remove the page altogether when the stock runs out.

This is done when the business knows that the exact same product won’t be coming back into the stock at all or will take months to restock. In those instances, removing the page makes for better customer experience for visitors, especially returning customers who won’t have to see the ‘Out of Stock’ page over and over again.


5. Provide an ETA for Out of Stock products

One of the leading principles of business is to offer transparency and ensure certainty for your customers whether it is good for the business or not. It helps create reputation and credibility in the long run which is helpful in developing a sustainable brand.

When the product is out of stock, it is the website’s responsibility to find out how long it will take to restock the inventory and how soon they will be able to ship the product to their customers. Having a specific deadline means the loyal customers will be more likely to stay reducing the drop in conversion rate.


6. Push Out of Stock products to the bottom of the search results

Another way to deal with out of stock products is to de-prioritise the items that are not currently available. It means that you override the search filter and push down all the unavailable products to the bottom so the customers only see those items that are currently available and which they can buy.

This also helps the website to keep their pages online and indexed for SEO purposes.


7. Suggest identical or alternative products

If the website receives a general audience which is more likely to go elsewhere, it is a better idea to pitch them an identical or alternative product.

Instead of letting them go elsewhere, your website can make product suggestions that have similar design, features, and functions at a similar price. These suggestions should be selected manually by the business as they can pick better options as compared to a bot or an algorithm.

Do not use this option if your target audience is quite specific about their shopping preferences and are brand conscious as this may backfire.


8. Share related products on a similar page

When a customer has made a purchase decision, they are more likely to buy in that moment. That’s an opportunity for conversion that a website shouldn’t miss. One option is to list down a selected variety of products that are quite similar to the product that the visitor is exploring in terms of design and features.

Make sure that products suggested by the business deliver the same quality at the same price, otherwise the business may alienate the buyer. If the out of stock product is too niche, do not use this method as it may not be fit for the purpose that customer is searching for.


9. Extend handling & shipping duration

Although this isn’t exactly a fully honest technique but can be used in certain situations where businesses are sure the product will arrive in time. This way they can ensure they do not lose a sale.

When the product is likely to be shortly available, the product page can still show it to be in-stock but with an extended handling and shipping duration. This way the business will have enough time on their hands to receive the inventory, package it, and ship it to the customer.

However, this method shouldn’t be used for products that are weeks away from being restocked as customers are likely to resent weeks in terms of shipping time.


Over to you

Managing temporarily out of stock items is a natural part of any ecommerce business — and for the sake of maintaining momentum with your SEO strategy, it calls for a proactive strategy.

Lack of a strategy for out of stock item means that customers won’t be able to place the order which will result in poor shopping experience and disappointment. They may place the order for the same item on a competitor’s website that means direct loss of revenue. Websites cannot afford to lose their order after order this way simply because an item is temporarily unavailable.

The most fundamental pillar of establishing an exceptional and sustainable brand is to deliver great shopping experiences to the customers so they are more likely to return. This includes managing the issue of the product pages that have gone out of stock temporarily and may not be restocked for a while.

The most crucial factors during this phase are to ensure that search engine ranking for product pages doesn’t take a hit and the customers are provided with a stellar experience through a multitude of strategies and methods.

If you’re looking for more strategic ways to grow your online sales, then eCommerce SEO is the way. After helping thousands of online retailers grow their revenue with SEO, we’ve distilled our insights into a robust and FREE guide. Download the ECommerce SEO Guide today!

About the Author

Andrew Raso

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