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For example; if you have 15 'widgets' in stock and a customer attempts to add 20 to their cart. Are you wondering how to notify them that there are only 15 items available? Perhaps change the quantity in their cart to the maximum available quantity?
Give a competitor the opportunity to build a script to beat on your site in order to figure out how much inventory is available and they'll do it - we once had a competitor hit our clients site and suck down pricing info with a script to help them determine pricing for their upcoming master catalog. We decided to intercept their requests and feed them pricing that was 5 to 20% higher :)
Anyway, what our clients have done is simply display when the items will ship. For instance, some of our clients have a policy that all orders ship same day (M-F) if the order is received by 2pm their time. Assuming the item is in stock. After 2pm the web site toggles to either indicate the item will ship in 24 hours or if it is Friday, the item will ship on whatever date that following Monday is.
If there are no items in stock but we have a purchase order date, then we display that date as the next available product ship date. Of course this entire process only works if you have real time communication between your back end piece and the eCommerce system; which they do.
Some of our clients will toggle the availability of the items to indicate something to the effect of "low qty available" and actually find that doing so drives sales. One company I recently talked to said they even did that when the qty wasn't low just to see if it would impact sales; noticeable increase in orders placed.
I would of course advise against doing this as a regular practice since it could back fire if it ever became known by your customers.
Hope that helps.
We just recently started display in stock / out of stock / expected within... notices on the product pages.
And if they might not notice that message on the product page, we remind them in the shopping cart if something is out of stock. We give them the chance to switch to another similar version which is in stock right in the shopping cart. For example, they add a Blue 4" to their cart. It is out of stock, but we have Blue 12" in stock, we suggest that instead.
A customer ordered an out of stock product (and clearly saw the notices through checkout). We emailed right away just to tell them it wont ship for a week or so.
Get a nice reply back from the customer:
o problem at all, i knew going into it that the uv color was on backorder or whatever. And also i find it wise for your website to have that notice (of backorder), to be customer friendly. I know i'd be quite pissed if there was no notice and "suddenly ya'll didn't have them in". Fortunately for you, you keep customers updated and on top of their orders. Thats good business. Thanks for the message though. Good customer service obviously. Yall are just all around great huh...
I was shopping on a site recently, and they seem to display a message in the cart "only 1 left in this size!". So I added say 3 of that size, and it still said "only 1 left in this size!". Then I added 5, and it said, "Sorry, we only have 3 of these items available. Only 1 left in this size!" haha, not very honest, and it may annoy some customers.
It also annoys me when they say "free shipping, expires in 2 days". You come back week after week, and it still says expires 2 days later.