Out of Stock? Keep Clients Happy with Good UX

Out of Stock? Keep Clients Happy with Good UX

In Customer Experience by Kenneth PaskettLeave a Comment

It’s taken our entire team thousands of hours of study, experimentation, and hands-on experience to earn HotWax Commerce, our in-house unified commerce platform, the “Great User Experience” Award in 2017. Our passion is relentless, and we put the same amount of effort and thought in every client project, as we strive to give the customers the best possible online shopping experience.

Why? you may ask. Because there’s nothing more appaling than subjecting a willing customer to the treatment of poorly designed storefronts, outdated technology, and inefficient order processing systems and procedures.

Working so frequently with building the front-end of eCommerce websites, I’m naturally inclined to pay special attention to every little detail on the websites I do my personal shopping on. I’m often pleasantly surprised to see an element that improves the user experience, and make note to replicate it in my own designs. But the details I’m most wary of are those that take away from the thrills of online shopping.

Earlier this year I ran into the same issue from two different online stores, layop.com and awaytravel.com: I attempted to buy a product, only to find out that it’s no longer in stock, or has been backordered. This situation is typical for most eCommerce websites, I’m sure, but the way the two companies handled the situation made a world of a difference to me as a consumer.

Here is what business owners and UX developers should take into consideration when choosing an eCommerce platform, designing the store’s front-end, and generally planning for a positive online shopping experience:

Only Make Promises You Can Keep

My first “Out of stock” encounter this year turned out alright towards the end, but only because I wanted the product so much that I was willing to put up with an entire series of mishaps and failures.

While visiting Las Vegas earlier this year, I happened to stop in at the Live At Your Own Pace (LAYOP) retail store, specialized in simple and plain (my style), but very soft and comfortable clothing (even more my style). I was smitten with how soft they were, but my carryon was already bursting at the seams. Instead, I grabbed a business card, and made plans to simply order my favorites online.

After settling back into the daily grind, I went to their website, layop.com and started browsing. Sure enough, I found the most perfect marled black zippered hoodie in my size. Confident with my purchase, I added it to my cart, and began the checkout process, which, much like any other Shopify-based site, was fairly easy and straightforward. I completed the purchase process, and received the standard order confirmation email right after. Everything was good to go, and I was excited thinking I’d be donning the coveted hoodie in a few days.

I was wrong.

While visiting Las Vegas earlier this year, I happened to stop in at the Live At Your Own Pace (LAYOP) retail store, specialized in simple and plain (my style), but very soft and comfortable clothing (even more my style).

My shopping experience went south about 4 hours after the order was confirmed. That’s when I got an email from a LAYOP representative stating that they were sorry, but the very last Black Zipper Hoodie in my size had been sold the day before. She offered to send me a blue one instead.

Bummer! I really had my heart set on the black one.

I emailed back declaring my undying love for the color black, asked for the measurements of that hoodie in smaller size than I had initially ordered, and hoped that I wouldn’t have to give up on my favorite color. The next day I got a reply from LAYOP saying they would send me the measurements.

Two days after that I received a follow-up email notifying me that they were working on getting me the hoodie I had originally bought, but that it would be an additional seven days before they could ship it. They already had my money, and it was the hoodie I wanted, so I agreed on the new timeline.

A few days into my waiting, LAYOP sent an email asking me to review the hoodie I had purchased, but not yet received.

A few days into my waiting, LAYOP’s system (I’m assuming) automatically sent me an email asking me to review the hoodie I had purchased, but not yet received. How could I review a hoodie that I hadn’t yet received? This was a harsh reminder of the disappointment I’d felt when I thought I wasn’t going to get the hoodie at all, and needlessly added insult to injury.

It wasn’t until nine days after my last communication with LAYOP that I was finally emailed a shipping confirmation for my hoodie, and six more days to actually receive the package.

It took almost 3 full weeks from the day I ordered to the day I signed for the hoodie — I could’ve driven to and from Las Vegas 20 times since then to buy the darn thing personally, had it not been for a design failure in the communication between the eCommerce site and the Order Management System (OMS).

This entire experience’s saving grace is that the hoodie arrived in the right size and color, and it’s just as soft as I remember. Have I mentioned how soft this hoodie is?

Adopt Back-in-Stock Notifications

Not long after a discrepancy in the ordering system hijacked my LAYOP shopping experience, I came really close to going through the entire thing once more. The crucial difference between “not again!”, and “phew, that was close” was the way awaytravel.com communicated product (non)availability, and managed my expectations.

While shopping for luggage on their eCommerce website, I immediately noticed their clean and intuitive design, and loved that I was able to browse the selections in multiple color and size options. I quickly found the suitcase I wanted, but wouldn’t you know it, the “Asphalt Carry-On” was out of stock (remember how much I love black!).

While I was somewhat comforted by the thought that at least this website correctly reflected the inventory, or lack thereof, the thing that really got me excited is their back-in-stock notification option. This allowed me to subscribe to an email alert for whenever my chosen item’s stock would be replenished, which happened only a few days after.

I was able to click on a link in the notification email, and navigate directly to the suitcase’s feature page to add it to my cart. While originally a little disappointed that the suitcase was not available when I was ready to make the purchase, I ultimately preferred this experience over the one I had with LAYOP.

I bought the suitcase the second I got the email. Mission completed with zero drama.

On awaytravel.com I quickly found the suitcase I wanted, but wouldn’t you know it, the “Asphalt Carry-On” was out of stock (remember how much I love black!).

Avoid Backorders Altogether

All in all, I did get the hoodie I ordered, and can only imagine that LAYOP’s fulfillment team was just as frustrated with the situation as I was. Their ordering system must surely be the source of countless daily backorders and angry customer service calls.

It’s understandable that there will be times when your online store runs out of inventory. Having a better picture of the inventory available-to-promise vs inventory on hand can help set the expectations of your online shoppers, and make for a better user experience.

But moving towards a Unified Commerce system will completely prevent running out of stock in the first place. If your eCommerce system doesn’t have the ability to use historical data to help predict when you are going to be reaching your minimum inventory levels, you may need to re-evaluate the commerce system you are using. After all, if an online shopper comes to your site, finds a product they love, but can’t purchase it because it’s out of stock, you’ve most likely forced that customer into the arms of your competitors.

As a final twist in the story, I have since returned to both sites, and noticed that LAYOP has a link allowing visitors to request an email when a product becomes available. Whether or not this link was there when I was doing my shopping, I’m not 100% sure, since my size had original showed up as available. Regardless, I am happy to see that this option is available, but it unfortunately appears that they still have an issue with running out of stock.

Ironically, when I revisited awaytravel.com, I could no longer find the back-in-stock feature that saved me from becoming frustrated. This might be because all their products appear to be in stock, with the exception of a limited edition offering — let’s hope this is the case (pun intended).

Notice of Non-Affiliation and Disclaimer – We are not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any way connected with LAYOP or AwayTravel.com, or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates. We would, however, love to talk with them about how HotWax Commerce could solve their out-of-stock issues, and with any other companies who would like to turn frustrating online store visits into sales and happy customers.

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