Your online business;
will it deliver?
Apart from price, trust is probably the most important factor when we make buying decisions online, some would argue even more so. Look at your own online buying habits and ask yourself the question "Why do I buy from Amazon?" or "Why do I use Paypal?". It is likely that the answer will be because I trust that the product I order will arrive when they say it will and that I can be certain the my payment is secure.
In order to fulfil the "Promise" or "Contract" that you make with a visitor to your online store you must therefore consider how you will handle stock and your ability to deliver what a customer has ordered. It may not be a problem if you're selling digital products (like the upcoming JCT digital contracts), but the trust of your customers hinges on whether the next email they receive after clicking checkout is "You're product is in the post" or "Sorry, that one wasn't in stock".
Powerful and affordable ecommerce systems, such as our own Engage CMS, or some commonly used plug-ins, has lead to fierce online competition. In many cases customers can find an alternative if they do not like your service. If your store offers a product marginally cheaper than a competitor but has a track record of not delivering, they're likely to not be willing to give you another chance.
It begs the question; how should you manage online stock?
A business with an ecommerce store with multiple distribution channels must make one of the following decisions:
- Make the assumption that everything is either available, or can be acquired within reasonable time.
- Update the ecommerce side regularly with a stock count, and accept that by the first sale outside of the website it will be incorrect.
- Separate the website stock, and re-evaluate at set intervals.
The latter two options allow for a stock counter, but only by separating stock can a business properly know what is available to a customer. This methods comes with it's on downside though, which is obvious when considering businesses who either maintain low stock levels, or sell perishable items.
So, should you show how many items are in stock?
To take the example of one industry leader, eBuyer, a stock count can be a powerful tool to make customers click "add to basket" with a little bit more haste than they may otherwise had intended. This may be a little easier for eBuyer, as their business is primarily online, meaning their online stock count stays accurate. Compare this to it's one-time competitor, IT247, whose public-sales contributed a small percentage compared to it's much larger B2B business, had much more difficulty tracking it's stock, and in turn reaped bad online reviews from disappointed customers who argued that it said there were "500 in stock".
Unless told otherwise, a customer will assume an item is in stock. Though inconvenienced, later being told it is out of stock feels more acceptable than placing an order after specifically being told it's available, or worse, that there are a specific number available. That said, if you are going to let them down, do it quickly, apologise and offer alternative products.
It's 2014, we've been selling stuff online for many years, and yet there are a number of high profile, high street multi-channel businesses that still haven't got this right, but they can fall back on years of history and brand loyalty to smooth over the cracks.
In the end there is no single solution that will fit every business, but it is important to realise that making a sale you cannot fulfil is much worse than not making a sale because the item is out of stock. Regardless of that outcome, no money will be made, but the latter doesn't waste the time of you, nor your customer, and leaves the potential for future custom.
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