5 Ways to Deal With “Out of Stock” Items

As a SEO consultant, you only have so much authority on what a company does with their website. All too often, they move in the opposite direction to what is to be desired. Even from a CRO perspective, it is surprising and frustrating to witness.

Such is the case with eCommerce. If a product goes out of stock or, worse yet, is discontinued, it makes ZERO sense to simply have that page display a 404 error, or remain static with an “out of stock” marker on it. There are a few ways to capitalize on this situation where there is no loss in sales or rankings:

1. Capture The Email Address

It’s a standard no brainer. If a potential customer is interested in a product, there is always the opportunity to not only notify them the item is back in stock and save a sale, but *also* establish a credible reason to build your email list of loyal customers. A win-win.

2. Make a Pre-Order

Is there a difference between a product being “out of stock”, on “backorder” or “unavailable”? Not really. They are essentially describe the same scenario: the item you want to purchase is not in the store warehouse. With that in mind, why not paint the situation in the best light possible?

Making a product available on “pre-order” is a better way to position the circumstance in question. Not only is it much more likely to result in a purchase, it also relieves any pressure for lead times and shipping delays.

Furthermore, pre-orders can create greater anticipation for potential customers who believe they are one of the first individuals to receive your product that is coming back in stock. While some may consider this tactic as unethical or unscrupulous, I beg to differ: both parties are making the best of an inconvenient situation.

3. Suggest Alternative Products

It is simply not enough to assume that a visitor will go off on their own to find a similar product once they understand their desired one is unavailable. You must present the options to them immediately, on the same page.

Highlighting alternative products, whether it be a color variation or substitute brand equivalent, is necessary to make sure visitors have other ways to enjoy a positive experience on your site.

4. Redirect to Another Product

Unfortunately, some products just go out of stock. Forever. In other words, they are never going to be available on the website ever again. In this event, some companies do the unthinkable: they delete the page.

Deleting the page of a product that no longer exists is one of the worst things you can do on all fronts. The visitor does not understand what happened, and may still believe your product is either:

  • on sale on another channel somewhere
  • on another part of the site
  • temporarily out of stock

Furthermore, there is a good chance this product had built up some level of equity and interest. With that in mind, we wouldn’t want to have all of those external links and referral traffic to go to waste. Redirecting the page (the permanent type, known as a 301 redirect) to the most similar product available is ideal in these types of situations. While redirecting to the homepage might also work, it would not be as optimal as a relevant item, as the customer clearly is looking for a specific product – not to mention the link anchor text and intent was for this particular item too.

5. Stretch Your Shipping Times

While not exactly orthodox, this is another alternative you may want to consider. Combining your lead times with your standard shipping durations could be your new shipping option.

If your lead times for new products are 3 weeks, and you standard shipping times are 5 days, you can present your product as available, in stock, but have a 4 week shipping duration. Sure, it may sway some potential customers away, but it may also capture a few sales that would have otherwise clicked away immediately if the page simply said “This product is unavailable for 3 weeks”. There is not much to lose in this scenario, and perhaps a lot to gain.

Final Thoughts

As with everything in marketing, experimentation is the key. Try anything – see what works and what doesn’t. Of course, these instances should not occur too often, but as we have learned in business, there is no scenario that is too outlandish to rule out. Be prepared for everything, and always have a backup plan – or five.

About the author


Sebastian is a veteran digital marketing expert with 23+ years of experience across hundreds of brands, and curates a weekly marketing newsletter.