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In the same way that exclusive offers and flash sales cause shoppers to throw rational thought out of the window, dwindling stock levels create a fear of loss and a sense of urgency that nudges consumers ever closer to making a purchase.
Ecommerce retailers are obviously wise to this as a sales tactic and it's common to see stock information displayed prominently on product pages.
With this in mind I’ve been scouring apparel ecommerce sites to see how different retailers present stock levels as part of their product page design.
Here’s a selection of what I found...
House of Fraser
House of Fraser offers real-time stock information for all garments, and states the exact number when supplies are running low.
The information is subtly displayed which is in-keeping with the brand image.
Threadless is a community-based ecommerce store that encourages users to vote for their favourite designs and submit their own ideas.
Shoppers can also request that a discontinued design be recommissioned.
This customer involvement with the products extends to the product pages, where shoppers can see exactly how many items are left in each size.
Another subtle approach, this time from department store John Lewis.
Pick your size and it calmly displays the exact number that it has in stock.
Nothing too flashy, but then you wouldn’t expect John Lewis to shout: “Quick! Buy it now before it goes forever!”
Victoria’s Secret avoids getting into specifics, which slightly dilutes the impact of displaying stock information.
Even high-end brands aren’t above injecting a bit of urgency into the buying process.
Based on my brief tour around its website, it would appear that nearly all of Jimmy Choo’s products are in short supply.
Incredibly subtle stock information here from Ralph Lauren.
Net-A-Porter includes stock information in the drop down menu that allows people to select their size.
It seems to only give specific information when there are just one or two items left.
J. Crew employs a unique method, displaying stock information when the shopper hovers the mouse over the size of the garment.
It also avoids giving specific numbers.
Topshop takes a similar approach to several of the other retailers on this list, displaying a subtle message below the size options.
Jewellery retailer Boticca takes drastic action to create a fear of loss, urging shoppers to ‘Act now’.
Adopting a rather business-like tone of voice, Nasty Gal warns customers that there is ‘low inventory’.
Personally I prefer language that is more relevant to the consumer, such as ‘Not many left in this size’.
Though there are subtle differences in the way that brands display stock information, most of those I looked at are quite overt in giving the specific number of products still available.
This obviously only works if it's a low number as otherwise it doesn't have the desired impact of generating urgency in the buying process.
Threadless was the only retailer that displayed a stock count higher than about 15 items, and even tells shoppers when there are more than 100 products available. This actually runs the risk of removing all urgency from the consumer's thought process.
But while it's common for apparel retailers to display stock information, only Boticca attempted to ramp up the fear of loss using dramatic copywriting. Its message was:
Act now, there is only 1 piece left!
I was actually expecting more of this kind of excitable copy, however it seems that most ecommerce retailers are content with taking a calm, subtle approach to stock information, then relying on human emotion to do the rest.