Out of stock – or out of your mind?

Date: 2nd July 2009
Author: Deri Jones

Hit a dilemma with a couple of websites this week.
Two retailers, one mostly online/catalogue – one mixed online /offline.

On both company’s web sites, they’ve hit the ‘out of stock’ usability wall.

We’re measuring user experience in terms of speed of the various shopping journeys on the sites: and the error rates. And a key set of journeys we measure 24/7 for this are the ‘Add to Basket’ ones – that take a ‘random walk’ to choose a product at random, and get it into the basket.

One client, we select at random from Special Offers on their homepage. And this week found that about 10% of attempts ended in failure – being told that the product in question was out of stock for the size we selected.

That’s frustrating for users – when you choose from the products and sizes being offered, you don’t want to have wasted your time on an out-of stock product.
And a waste of valuble Home page real estate.

On the other retailer’s site -our random walk would drill down through various categories and end up with a product: and again right at the end we find it’s out of stock.

So far not so good: but the next step was quite different in both cases.

One client took a while, but removed the out of stock product/size combination from their Home Page Special Offers section: that’s good -freed up the space on the Homepage for better merchandising.

The other client asked a sensible question – just when is it an Error, for something to be out of stock? During their quick-moving sales seasons, a product can go out of stock quickly.

And out of stock is not a total show-stopper for a buyer…

So they suggested, how about if one product chosen after a random walk is out of stock, our engine should immediately drop that product and run the Journey again.

And if the second random route also ends up out of stock?

Well, keep trying. Only if loads of products are out of stock one after the other, is it to be classified as a true error.

Interesting solution to the out of stock sysndrome – I wonder if other retailers would find that a smart solution – and would they all be able to agree just how many out of stocks are needed before it becomes an error?

Where web performance monitoring and user experience and online merchandising all cross over, makes for some interesting analysis.

More Reading: 2012 Olympic Ticket “Out of Stock” problem – User Experience lessons

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