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Growing pains: Selling out of a popular product

June 27, 2017

There are good problems and bad problems. As a small business owner, having a popular product fly off the shelves is one of the good ones to have. It demonstrates your ability to hit your target audience by selling exactly what your customers want at the price they’re willing to pay.

That’s not to say the situation is stress-free. Having an empty shelf or bin when customers are looking for that must-have item can be particularly nerve-racking, especially since it can take you by surprise.

So what’s a savvy small business owner to do? The key is communication.

Think of a time you were stuck on a delayed airplane, just sitting on the tarmac. Instead of receiving regular status updates, it was radio silence from the cockpit. As the minutes ticked by, you probably got madder and madder. Frequent announcements about the problem wouldn’t have gotten you to your destination any faster, but the knowledge would’ve given you some peace of mind.

The same holds true for a sold-out product.

As soon as an item is out of stock, use in-store signage and labeling on your website to acknowledge its status. (It’s wrong to allow a customer to place an order online only to find out later on that it’s currently unavailable.) Continue to accept back orders, so you don’t lose customers to a merchant down the street or another online retailer. Whatever you do, don’t go silent. Customers, just like the passengers stuck on an airplane waiting for take off, want to know they haven’t been forgotten in their time of need. Keep track of everyone on the waiting list by using your CRM app.

Soon after a shopper purchases the backordered product, send them an email acknowledging their predicament and informing them a restocking date. Maintain regular communication via the omnichannel bLoyal Suite, which offers responsive, personalized marketing to be sent via email, text messages, and social blasts. Each message should include any timing status—both good and bad. Even if you don’t have any update, reach out anyway. Any communication is always better than no communication.

If the sold-out product is a seasonal or time-sensitive item, you’ll need to rethink your strategy. And by rethink, we mean go above and beyond. Consider running a loss-leading sale. Sure, it would cut into your short-term profits, but it could pay off in the long-term by retaining valuable customers.

To be better prepared the next time customers go gangbusters for something you’re selling, lean into inventory apps like Shopventory. It tracks both current and historical inventory levels—helping you to anticipate with greater accuracy the items that your customers might deem hot sellers. Similarly, the Insights apps uses easy-to-comprehend charts and graphs to better track current sales.

Small business owners should view sales spikes as a strategic marketing opportunity. If shoppers are particularly gung-ho about one item, then perhaps they’ll be equally as excited as similar products or related accessories. Smart merchants will run a promotion featuring some of these items or incorporate them into a loyalty program. They could do this during brisk sales or after a popular item sells out.

Ultimately, selling out of an extremely popular product is a good problem to have, but you have to capitalize on the opportunity. Use it to build relationships with new customers and to enhance connections with existing ones. Take advantage of the marketing possibilities it provides and gain better insight into the ebb and flow of your inventory.

[image: Empty Bottles by Roman Boed on flickr]