A shopper has made it through to checkout only to receive a notification that one or more items in their cart is out of stock. Or, even worse, a shopper receives an email days later. Or, in some cases no notification at all.
Retailers lose an estimated $93 billion in sales annually due to out-of-stock inventory. Whether you’re a small retailer or a multi-billion dollar retail giant, inventory mistakes happen. What matters from a service perspective is how you handle that messaging to your valued customers.
We looked at 10 cases from the past two months in which a StellaService analyst purchased an item and later received an email notification that the product was out of stock.
Here are 10 best practices for email communications for inventory mishaps.
- Notify customers as soon as possible. Multiple StellaService shoppers reported waiting 9 to 10 days for the delivery to arrive, then being forced to call the retailer only to discover the product was out of stock and the order was cancelled. It was the retailers that swiftly alerted shoppers that stood apart.
- In practice: A shopper received this message from Bluefly.com two days after placing the order: “Unfortunately, the following item(s) that you ordered are now out-of-stock. Although we try our best to maintain 100% accuracy with inventory, there are rare occasions where we experience an inventory error.”
- In practice: “Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience.” (Littledudesanddivas.com)
- In practice: “Unfortunately we have just been informed by the vendor that the item below is discontinued and no longer available.” (Littledudesanddivas.com)
- In practice: “I’m attaching an image of belt that is similar to the one you purchased that we currently have in stock. This belt is $10 cheaper than the belt you purchased, so the difference would be refunded. Would you like this one as a replacement?” (BeltStation.com)
- In practice: “Please allow 3-4 business days for the refund to reflect back on your card.” (Luggagepoint.com)
- In practice: “Should you require additional assistance, email us at email@example.com or call toll free at 1.877.BLUEFLY (1.877.258.3359). From outside the United States, please dial 1.212.944.8000. FlyReps are available to serve you Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. EST.” (Bluefly.com)
- In practice: “You’re the first to know. This best-seller’s back in stock and ready to ship.” (Westelm.com)
- In practice: In one case, a guitar store sent an email that said “nothing has been charged to your card” — exactly what we needed to know. (MusicStore.com)
- In practice: “We apologize for any inconvenience this update may cause and would like to extend an offer of 10% off any replacement item for that inconvenience. If you find another item to order in place of the original fixture, please give one of our representatives a call at 1-866-482-8321 and they will be happy to apply the adjusted price to your new order.” (LightingCatalog.com)
- In practice: “Because we cannot be sure at this time when, or if, we will be able to re-stock the item(s), we have removed the item(s) from your order. The remainder of your order will be shipped and you will not be charged for the cancelled item(s).” (Bluefly.com)
One final note: Always use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation when communicating with customers. You’d be surprised at what our shoppers received in their inbox.
There were cases where retailers fumbled the out of stock messaging to shoppers. In several instances over the course of a month our shoppers were never alerted that the purchased items were out of stock. In fact, shoppers had to call the retailer to inquire as to the status of the delivery. So, while it’s best to avoid the out-of-stock scenario completely, if it should happen alert the customer as soon as possible.