The busiest days of the holiday shopping season are upon us and you may already be seeing certain products at risk of selling out. Or worse yet you know there’s no way you’re going to meet customer demand. Out-of-stocks are a huge impediment to revenue, especially during the holidays.

It’s estimated that at least 35% of customers during the holidays who are unable to find exactly what they are looking for switch brands. As we all know, online shopping has made it easier than ever for customers to abandon you and find what they are looking for on a competitor site if you run out of inventory. How an online retailer manages out-of-stocks can make or break the success of the holiday season.

Real life isn’t always ideal and in spite of all your efforts and preseason planning, out-of-stocks happen. It’s very important to have a plan in place to help avoid delivering a poor customer experience, negative feedback and lost sales.

5 Tips for Managing Holiday Season Out-of-Stocks

  1. Offer alternatives and match the promotion — Before the busy season even starts, identify great alternative products for items that may be at risk of selling out. Merchandise them on your website and make sure your store associates are aware of what they are. Match the promotion and pricing for the original item and/or on other items to keep the customer’s business. You could even consider offering the alternatives as a product recommendation in the attempt to reduce the chances of the at risk item running out of inventory.
  2. Avoid surprising the brick and mortar customer — It’s not uncommon for a consumer to want the chance to look at a product in person before buying it. Providing the ability for shoppers to check in-store availability and offering the option to put items on hold (for a reasonable amount of time) can go a long way toward customer good will.
  3. Use inventory from other channels to fill the order — If an item is unavailable in one location, offer to bring it in from a nearby store, or ship it to the customer’s home at no extra cost.
  4. Offer the option to pre-order — For “hot” items on back log, allow customers to place an order for future delivery (with a clear and realistic fulfillment date).
  5. Help them find the product elsewhere — If there is no way that you can meet the customer need, offer them suggestions on where they might find the item in stock—even if it means sending them to a competitor. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s a great opportunity to create good will with the shopper that will most likely cause a future sale and return business for you.