Olympic Ticket “Out of Stock” problem – User Experience lessons

Date: 3rd August 2012
Author: Deri Jones

People have reported widespread problems in trying to buy tickets this week, during the running of the London Olympics, and Graham Charlton’s article “Why is the Olympic ticketing website so bad?” at eConsultancy.com nicely highlighted the user experience problems (credit to Nick Donelly at Usability Hell for first detailing them).
It pointed out the specific user workflow issue: the site would hold back telling you what tickets might be available until after you put them in the Basket.   So if, as was very common, no tickets were available for a defined sport and date, the workflow to go back and search again was very convoluted.

TicketMaster, as the guys running the site on behalf of the London Olympic Committee, have been in the spotlight.

But actually, there are many retailers I’ve tested who do the same thing – the root cause is in not checking live availability when delivering search results: I first blogged on this a while back Out of Stock or Out of Your Mind.

It can be difficult for eComm teams to get Marketing, UI and Tech teams together to ensure the desired handling of Out of Stock products – hence many sites are far from perfect.

Interestingly, one of the worst offenders a couple of years back, now handles the Out of Stock problem nicely, see the nice red warning text here at Ann Summers when trying to buy five of a product that has less than five available:

Out of Stock problem handled nicely

Just this month I saw some current examples – in the course of some Website Performance Optimisation work that focused on  Inventory Management:

  •  we had one retailer where when you added a product to the basket that was out of stock:  you’d be taken to the basket page, with an ‘Out of Stock’ message against your product and a cryptic error message at the top of the basket

  • another where if you added a quantity of 2 for a product here only one is in stock, the Basket page would ignore your request and just show you’d added one, with no message to say why you’d not got what you wanted

Should products that are out of stock, be shown to visitors when they search?

Some sites would exclude those products, others leave them in (on the basis that visitors will find them and may be willing to try again in the future to search and buy them if they come back in stock).  It’s a nice touch to add an ‘Email me when in Stock’ button in that case.

Sadly even that can be tricky to implement, as the Sainsbury’s site shows today, where in the search view the visitor can use the ‘Email me when in Stock’ button:

But when in the product page itself, (maybe you found it from a  Google search) that button is not available, until AFTER you click on one of the sizes that is anyway marked as out of stock!

The button, when visible is orange, bottom right:

Prior to  clicking on the size, there is no such button:

Some sites don’t care about Stock

I’ve got £449M of one type of saucepan in this basket! :

A Best Practise Example

Currys are a brand at Dixons Stores a company we work with, but we had nothing to do with the cool way they handle Out of Stock!

They show that grey Out of Stock button, but when hovered over it offers to show a list of ‘Recommended alternative similar products, that are in stock.  Nice and smooth way to make sales for products that are sold out or even now made obsolete by new ones which is a big factor in the fast moving world of electricals where products have short life times.

We have been working very closely with our clients on a number of Inventory Management monitoring, masking and alerting tools to support operations and eCommerce teams in protecting clients from error and providing the best User Exeperience and online customer service.

Contact us if you would like to discuss your current needs, hear what are working on, or see a demonstration.

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