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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

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.

John Lewis

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

Victoria’s Secret avoids getting into specifics, which slightly dilutes the impact of displaying stock information.

Jimmy Choo

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.

Ralph Lauren

Incredibly subtle stock information here from Ralph Lauren.

Net-A-Porter

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

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

Topshop takes a similar approach to several of the other retailers on this list, displaying a subtle message below the size options.

Boticca

Jewellery retailer Boticca takes drastic action to create a fear of loss, urging shoppers to ‘Act now’.

Nasty Gal

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’.

In conclusion...

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.

David Moth

Published 13 August, 2014 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1683 more posts from this author

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Jean Borgman

Did you know brands can put real-time inventory levels and countdown timers in their email marketing now too? Check out @realtimeemail!

about 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

@Jean Borden. We do this too; it's one of many things that brands want. Note that it's not just about varying open-time formatting by adding low inventory stickers and count-down timers, but about real-time adjustments to which products are marketed.

Brands handle low stock in two fundamentally different ways:

(1) Fashion Brands, as in this post, use low stock to generate urgency because they actually *want* to generate urgency and sell out of their old range, so they can restock with different styles without having to clear the old range at sale price.

(2) Mainstream Brands, in contrast, often view low stock as an annoyance. If they market something, e.g. in an email, and they are already out of stock or nearly out of stock when a shopper clicks through, the brand has wasted a marketing opportunity. They should have been pushing a product line that would benefit from marketing, not one that would sell out regardless.

This is too complex an issue to address fully in a comment, but one of many approaches is to use real-time content in your marketing emails andvary what's marketed based on factors such as stock levels and the shopper's individual preferences.

about 2 years ago

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Sean Owens

real time stock also helps bricks and mortar stores. It cuts down on the phone calls to check if they have the particular item in stock or not.

We have also implemented a system that will tell you if others have the item in their basket too. We find this is excellent for closing sales.

I have always felt the stock level showing is too conservative and it is driven by stores not wanting to reveal haw many they have in stock and keeping the balance of scarcity vs popularity vs not making the customer nervous.

about 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

@Sam, how do you deal with the issue of bots, when reporting what's in other shoppers' carts?

Some of our clients have issues with bots that falsely cart products. We think this is mainly done to get an idea of stock level, and you can make up you own mind about who might find that useful.

This means that, of product browsed/product carted/product bought, product carted can be much the least reliable signal.

about 2 years ago

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David Baratech

Hi David,

How would you say about this topic in online groceries?

It's supposed we use stock level display when it's a limited time deal on a product with some kind of appealing because of its price or brand muscle, but what about when the product is something like canned food or soap?

We obviously can try to hit and miss, measuring the effect of all these bunch of tips and long tail list of features, but I think the point is to adjust as much as posible the criteria before shoting, don't you?

Thanks!

about 2 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

@David, thanks for your comment. In my opinion, I don't think this kind of tactic would work with online groceries as competition in that market is such that customers will just do their shopping elsewhere if they think one retailer doesn't have the products they want.

about 2 years ago

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George Powell

You have Magento to thank for this conversion rate boosting feature.

about 2 years ago

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Jeff Bronson

This can work great when correctly implemented. When I ran a shop, I used to not only use stock levels to assert urgency, but used out of stock alerts as well.

Meaning, if the quantity hit zero, the "Add to Cart" button would be replaced with a "Notify me by email when back in stock" modal prompting for an email address. This even helped a bit with inventory PO forecasting.

about 2 years ago

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