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18/10/21 Mike Ellis

Stock Issues in ecommerce: How to limit impact

Just a quick glance at the news and social media and you will see that there are stock issues affecting so many parts of the economy right now. Unfortunately this is unlikely to subside as we go into the busiest commercial period of the year. 

What’s going on?


Its a perfect storm really, a mixture of issues caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic and the new red tape caused by Brexit is hitting the UK economy hard. There are plenty of pints to discuss around this but this article is not the place for that. But to summarise the main issues are:

  • Worker shortages: the “pingdemic” caused a huge shortfall in workers that businesses are still recovering from. And while there is now no need to isolate if you are double jabbed, people are still contracting the virus and this adds to the disruption.

  • Brexit red tape: the new checks and procedures at the borders (that are set to tighten further) are causing high delays in products getting into the country, meaning what every is getting in is usually getting to the retailer too late adding to further stock disruption.

  • Transport issues: there is a shortage of HGV drivers, caused mainly by the restrictions on hiring from outside the UK due to Brexit red tape. This is leading to products and produce not getting to where it needs to be in time. Big companies affected by this are McDonalds and Nandos not being able to serve milkshakes or chicken respectively. 

How is it affecting consumer behaviour

At the time of writing this there doesn't seem to be any immediate  impact on consumer behaviours. Likely a result of the post lockdown high still in effect, but most likely because stock is still there but just in low quantities. 

The hardest hit currently is supermarkets where consumers are seeing empty shelves. But perhaps this now the “new normal” after the initial surge the lockdown caused. 

It’s hard to see how this will impact consumer behaviour through the rest of 2021. The expectation is that they will become more grabby and desperate. This may drive prices higher and you could see some retailers profit from being one of the few with decent stock levels. 

In all honesty though this is a great opportunity for retailers to build more trust and enhance relationships with their customers. If your entire industry is going to be affected, how you handle it and respond will determine whether the customer's come back to you when it gets resolved. 
 

How to manage stock issues online

To reiterate, every challenge offers an opportunity. You can gain plenty of brownie points with existing users and future customers in a situation like this. The aim has to be about driving future custom and seen as an investment as not all of these will yield revenue. 

Be honest and control the message

Contrary to my assumption about users, people are not stupid. They will be aware of what's going on and if you have not got stock or supply issues  it's best to tell them up front. 

This can be done using banners on home pages, collection pages and product pages, within your ad copy and promotional messaging and most certainly through your emails comms. 

The idea here is that you get in front of the message, before it becomes an issue for your user. This may prevent them from searching around with a competitor who has that product left in stock and then losing them for good. 

Being honest when done right will create empathy and that can be the difference in keeping a customer and losing one. 

Capture data 

For new customers you need to be able to re-engage them at a later date. The best way to do this is to capture their data. This can be literally asking for their email address or by building up your audience lists.

Using “back in stock” notifications is a great way to capture email data. Combining this with a discount code to remedy the inconvenience will help to incentivise the user further. Here are some of the best back in stock apps available on Shopify. We really like using Back-in-Stock. 😁

Making sure you have your tracking pixels set up correctly is also important. You can set up events and other triggers to help build out audiences that can then be marketed to specifically once stock returns. This is likely to be less lucrative but is a way to re-engage potentially lost customers as a result of poor inventory. 

Offer alternatives

This feels like an obvious one but if specific products are out of stock give the user some recommendations of similar products. You can show users significant value by guiding them to products that still meet their needs. 

There are again plenty of Shopify Apps to help you do this. The best one for you will depend heavily on you set up so we're not going to suggest any here. 

The aim here is to make sure you suggest a viable alternative. Trying to put any “similar” product in front of them won't help you in the long run. It has to be authentic and therefore address the users needs not just their wants. 

Manage your budgets

Finally there is no point spending media budget on traffic that won't convert because you have no stock. Now this needs to be handled with care as you may not want to just hand over a load of ground to your competitors. 

Start by identifying the specific products you won't be able to service for a while and check if your competitors are having the same issues. If so, these are likely areas you can pull back and spend on with no future impact. 

This budget can be repurposed either into more customer acquisition in the short term for products you do have, brand activity to increase overall awareness, or saved for a return to market plan once stock levels return. Ultimately this is a decision for you based on your business needs but both are viable.

Summary

Ultimately if you are likely to be affected by stock issues due to the ongoing issues mentioned above, you need to plan and try and get ahead of it. This article gives some suggestions on how to do this but there will be more that is specific to you business.

Mike Ellis

Just someone who likes to solve problems and help people and businesses realise their potential. I also happen to know a lot about marketing ;)