Welcome to Ask Shopify, a series where ecommerce experts from the Shopify community answer real questions from entrepreneurs who are trying to launch, build, and scale their online stores. We’re here to help with every aspect of your business, from marketing to accounting to customer service and more.
It all started with an email.
Our editorial team sent a brief holiday thank-you email asking readers a simple question:
“If you could ask a world-class ecommerce expert for advice on any area of your business, what would you ask and why?”
We got so many thoughtful, detailed, interesting questions back that Ask Shopify was born.
At Shopify, we’re lucky to have a deep bench of ecommerce experts we can talk to—everyone from our colleagues who run their own stores, to our Shopify Experts, to our customers and community members. Now, with Ask Shopify, you do too. Ask Shopify is about providing solutions for the real problems store owners want to solve, by connecting our readers with the experts who can answer their questions.
Without further ado, here’s the first question we’re answering in Ask Shopify!
Getting customers to your store is enough of a challenge, so you’re 100% right that once they’re there, you want to keep them around—even if they’re interested in a product they can’t get right now.
There are plenty of reasons items might be sold out, whether it’s seasonality, the nature of the product (ahem, there are only so many things you can hand-craft at once) or even just learning the ropes of how much inventory you need to hold.
Luckily, with a few tweaks, a sold-out item doesn’t have to mean a lost customer.
A sold-out item doesn’t have to mean a lost customer.
Akemi Hiatt, Creative Director at Hidden Gears, has worked with clients who have sold out products for a variety of reasons, and at the end of the day, she says it’s a customer experience challenge and not just a product page issue.
“I think it's partially a design decision, and then a copy decision, and all of those decisions are aimed at creating an experience that will allow people to feel taken care of instead of confused,” says Akemi.
When customers hit a product page, but they can’t buy anything, it’s not what they’re expecting—which is why it’s a good chance to exceed their expectations.
“If you're going to provide an outcome that people don't expect, generally people will be very forgiving, and can even come away feeling good that that didn't happen, as long as you made the process clear and easy.”
So how do you actually do that? Here are three main things you can look at implementing.
“[You can] set it up so that the product page drives to an email list for interest, so that they can sign up and get notified when it's back in stock,” says Akemi.
That way, when people land on the page, they don’t just leave. There’s something for them to do, and you’ll build an email list of people who did, at one point, want to buy that exact product.
“It’s a way for you to both capture that sale, but also add that person to your mailing list for future promotions.”
You can also use the “I wish I could buy this right now, but it looks like I can’t” moment to build more of an experience for your customer (and do a bit of marketing while you’re at it).
“You can set up a dedicated page with some recommended products, that also serves as a landing page with a message about why that particular item isn’t in stock, and include some sort of brand touch,” says Akemi.
While the specifics will depend on your particular business, she offers a great example to clarify her point.
“Let’s say it’s a food business, and they partner with a lot of well known restaurants and farms. They get a limited shipment of this really delicious butter, and it’s seasonal because the cows are producing a lot of milk. It's totally delicious and it will sell out in two minutes when it goes live. Once it's gone, it's gone.”
“In that case, you could send people to a new page that says, 'Here's some other delicious butter,' but it also markets the original product by saying, 'Listen, we sold out really quickly, because it's a seasonal product, it's hand batched,' whatever the reasoning is. You can use it to frame people's appreciation for the quality of the product, and why it's worth waiting for.”
While it’s a bit more technically advanced, you can also set up your store to allow customers to pre-order items that are out of stock, if that makes sense for your business.
“You can set up a pre-order button with a date, so it sets the expectation for the customer,” says Akemi. “Your customers can determine, well, if it's not in stock, do I want to just pay up front? As the store owner, you can capture that sale now, and then deliver the product when it comes in. It just takes care of a lot of that important communication, as well as capturing customers who wouldn’t reach out at all, and would miss the sale when it does become available.”
But there are a few things to watch out with when it comes to pre-orders. First of all, you’ll want to make sure that it’s crystal-clear that your customers are pre-ordering, and won’t receive their items right away. It can be helpful to provide a solid timeline for delivery, too, which helps set expectations before they hit “pre-order.”
Secondly, this option is a bit more technically advanced, so you want to make sure it works the way it’s supposed to.
“Setting up pre-orders does have its intricacies, and you wouldn't want to do it incorrectly and have something break. It's tied to inventory and pre-order dates, and it's important to make sure you're communicating the right thing.”
If your product is out of stock, your product page is an opportunity to turn what could be a bad experience into a great one. You can do that by being really clear with your customers about what the next steps are, and providing one for them, whether it’s signing up for email notifications, recommending other products and explaining why it’s out of stock, or allowing your customers to pre-order the item.
“It’s all about delivering a more personalized experience, instead of just a moment of, 'Wait, what happened?'” say Akemi. Whatever you decide to go with, “it’s about customer service, and it’s about the tone and how it’s handled.”
Want to Ask Shopify your ecommerce question? We’d love to hear it. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with an overview of your store, your situation, and what you’d love help tackling.