How To Handle Out-of-Stock Products On Ecommerce Platforms

Manage Out-of-Stock Products on Ecommerce Platforms

Digital marketers are entering a time of great potential in 2021.

With Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, “Cyber Week”, and the run-up to Christmas, there is great potential to increase both site visitors and sales.

Although developing a comprehensive marketing strategy should have begun a few months ago, it is important that our e-commerce websites are in the best technical form.

Research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the change of consumers from offline to online shopping by five years.

This means that there are more customers shopping online than ever before as we enter this usually busy retail era.

And, because of the innovations and systems placed by companies since the pandemic, the standards by which customers set their expectations have risen.

In this current competitive climate, customers will place even more emphasis on aspects of their experience, such as the availability of goods.

This is where any possible relationship between the company and the customer will theoretically be constructed or disrupted by an out-of-stock product page. Brainvire eCommerce SEO landing page explains this well.

Handling Stock Availability and Product Retirement

As part of the initial website scope, the strategy about what to do when a product is either temporarily out of stock or permanently retired should be considered.

It should be viewed with the same degree of significance as user journey planning and individual mapping.

That said, it’s normally an afterthought left to the whims of the selected ecommerce platform or a decision on stock development.

It should be remembered that there is no single “right way” to deal with items out of stock or withdrawn. The ultimate aim of whatever approach you want to adopt should be to do your utmost to mitigate and displace as much negativity as possible from the overall user experience.

Depending on the platform you are using and its limitations, the resolution and handling procedure can vary greatly.

It is necessary to take this into account and balance the benefits of potentially heavy investment in growth against the return of solving this problem (if it is even an issue for your website).

Let the URL Show a 200 Status Code

This is prevalent across a variety of channels, but we find this across the majority of Salesforce Commerce Cloud websites.

It responds with a 200 status code when the product is removed from the catalog (retired) and the product URL is requested, and returns the header and footer of the website but does not have a <body> to load.

Then it is called a soft 404.

You may use custom extraction on Screaming Frog on some SFCC installs to recognize these pages from internal linking, but these load as blank on others.

Once again, you can filter a crawl to classify these soft 404 product pages by common body elements such as H tags.

It is common for platforms to return the URL and a 200 status code outside Salesforce Commerce Cloud, but with a custom design mentioning the product is out of stock and listing alternatives.

A frustrating and confusing user experience can be caused by this.

The user would likely hit the back button during highly competitive times and go to another search result, also not disassociating the negative user experience with your brand.

200 + Soft 404

It is also common practice to provide a text snippet or user CTA to illustrate that the item is out of stock and collect their email address so that you can alert them when it is back in stock and then barrage them with emails offering them.

However, adding a snippet of text such as “Currently unavailable product” will cause Google to treat the page as a soft-404, as it recognizes that users looking for a particular product are likely to have a high intention to buy.

Redirects

The implementation of a redirect is another popular method of managing out-of-stock or retired goods.

This decision makes sense to an extent (albeit in a silo), because the page (and its content) no longer exists, so you would like to redirect and merge it.

Many e-commerce platforms produce automatic redirects to the homepage of the website or the product category page assigned.

As users can expect to see a product page, but end up on a category page, this can also create a negative experience.

It is not a foregone conclusion that on your website, the user would then self-navigate to other related items.

It’s also worth noting that blanket redirects can be viewed over time as a soft 404, or redirects that don’t go to a very similar product/product line.

Google’s View on Retired Products

Google has publicly taken a stand on what to do with out-of-stock or discontinued goods.

Retired products

Google suggests that you allow the URL to return a 404 if a product is retired. This will cause the new page status to be processed by Google and dropped from the index.

This is also another useful reminder that a URL returning a 404 affects only that URL and that your SEO is not affected by a website with 404 errors (unless that URL in question is not intended for 404).

John Mueller cautioned, however, that if it has external backlinks pointing to it, you should reconsider redirecting the URL.

Temporarily Out-of-Stock Products

Google recommends the following when a product is just temporarily out of stock:

  • Leaving the page as is.
  • Communicating the availability of inventory with the customer.
  • Using standardized information to show that the item is currently not available (so that Google can process it and act accordingly).

Communicate with Consumers

To do forecasting and stave off further down the line from any unwelcome surprises, you need to:

  • Get the product stock management plan accurate and implemented ahead of the busy season.
  • Understand the existing functionality of your website and how it can affect your results.

New handling techniques may also be designed and implemented.

For example, you can indicate that a product is out of stock through Google’s Schema markup, while using that as a hook to insert a Cloudflare Workers JavaScript overlay onto the page.

Users are, therefore, specifically told about the availability of the product and have the option of viewing other similar items, backorders, or receiving updates when the product returns to stock.

Conclusion

A number of variables will affect the following strategy to be implemented properly. Some of these factors are beyond your control, including the probability of a consumer having to wait for the product to return to stock.

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