Best Practices to Send Out-of-Stock Email Notifications

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Here’s something you’ve likely heard before–keeping the right inventory is a constantly evolving challenge. So when shoppers make it through your checkout process only to receive an out of stock email notification, you’ve essentially lost that sale, right?

Not necessarily.

When one or more items in a cart come back out of stock, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. There are ways for retailers to effectively use these out of stock email messages to encourage people to come back, make a purchase and possibly even spend more in the second go-around.

The truth is retailers lose an estimated $93 billion in sales each year due to out-of-stock inventory. Whether you’re a small retailer or a multi-billion dollar retail giant, inventory mistakes happen. What matters from a service perspective is how you handle that messaging to your valued customers.

Here we’ll look at 10 out of stock email best practices to make sure you’re not only correctly communicating to your customers, but also to ensure your email marketing strategy is successfully aligned with your customers’ expectations:

1. Notify Customers As Soon As Possible

We wanted to know how quickly brands typically message a customer with an out of stock email notification. So we used our own Journey IQ data to test and uncover how long it took for some of our shoppers to deliver a message.

Data from multiple Journey IQ shoppers said they waited on average 9 to 10 days for the out of stock email to arrive. After receiving a response, the shoppers were then forced to call the retailer only to discover the product was out of stock and the order was cancelled. However, it was the quick-responding retailers that stood apart in the test.

  • In practice: “Unfortunately, the following item(s) that you ordered are now out-of-stock. Although we try our best to maintain 100% accuracy with inventory, there are rare occasions where we experience an inventory error.” (BlueFly)

2. Apologize for the Invoncenience (Because It Is)

While the customer is always right might be a little forgiving for some retailers, it’s still essential to know where you couldn’t provide the best customer experience and to apologize for it quickly. Apologies don’t have to be long-winded or over the top.

Instead, try to delight your customers as much as possible by showing you’re responsible for the out of stock item. And it’s always best practice to try to quickly explain to customers that it’s something you’re trying to fix.

In one instance from our research, a luggage retailer not only apologized, but offered up links to alternative products, asking if either product was satisfactory, in addition to offering up a refund. This is how you take a simple apology to the next level.

3. Provide a Reason Without Making It Sound Like an Excuse

Was it a processing error? Maybe it was the item discounted by the manufacturer? Or was the out of stock email sent because you simply mixed up a new order request

Whatever the case–be honest with your shoppers. They will appreciate the truth as long as it doesn’t come off as an excuse. People prefer brands and retailers that own up to their mistakes versus companies making excuses. Always put yourself in the shoes of your customers.

  • In practice: “Unfortunately we have just been informed by the vendor that the item below is discontinued and no longer available.” (Little Dudes and Divas)

4. Offer Alternative or Similar Products

The customer may be just as happy with a similar item, so make sure you recommend products that they might want instead. This gives you a chance to avoid the loss of sale and keep your customers happy.

  • In practice: “I’m attaching an image of belt that is similar to the one you purchased that we currently have in stock. This belt is $10 cheaper than the belt you purchased, so the difference would be refunded. Would you like this one as a replacement?” (Belt Station)

5. Alert the Consumer About the Exact Refund Process

People don’t like to buy something, told it’s out of stock and then wonder where their money went. Make sure you are as explicit as possible with how your refund process works and the options (if any) customers have with their money. Additionally, include a time frame of when people can expect the funds to return.

In practice: “Please allow 3-4 business days for the refund to reflect back on your card.” (Luggage Point)

6. Provide Customer Service Contact Info & Hours of Availability

It may seem obvious, but not every retailer email our test shoppers received had clearly stated customer service contact details and hours of operation. This is a huge miss on keeping customers coming back and enjoying your business.

Provide all open channels including phone, email and the appropriate social media handles, to give the consumer the opportunity to engage in the channel of their choice.

  • In practice: “Should you require additional assistance, email us at or call toll free at 1.877.BLUEFLY (1.877.258.3359). From outside the United States, please dial 1.212.944.8000. FlyReps are available to serve you Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. EST.” (BlueFly)

7. Notify the Customer as Soon as the Item Is Back In Stock

It may be that in a few short weeks, your customer will have the same desire to purchase your product when they originally tried. Reaching out with back-in-stock emails is a great customer care idea and avenue to generate more sales.

  • In practice: “You’re the first to know. This best-seller’s back in stock and ready to ship.” (West Elm)

8. Let Customers Know If the Item Is Discontinued

Items often go discontinued, so don’t leave your customers waiting to get an email notification about something coming back in stock when you know it’s never happening. This falls in line with our consistent idea of being trustworthy and honest with your customers. Don’t leave them hanging and let them know how they’ll be refunded if you haven’t already.

One of the out of stock email notifications our shoppers received explained the product was no longer available and that a full refund was added back to the buyer’s card.

  • In practice: “…nothing has been charged to your card.” (Music Store)

9. Offer an Incentive to Come Back

Whether it’s a small credit on a shopper’s next purchase, free shipping or a discount code, offer an incentive to come back. Shoppers may be disappointed by not receiving an item, but an incentive helps. A little discount can go a long way.

  • In practice: “We apologize for any inconvenience this update may cause and would like to extend an offer of 10% off any replacement item for that inconvenience. If you find another item to order in place of the original fixture, please give one of our representatives a call at 1-866-482-8321 and they will be happy to apply the adjusted price to your new order.” (Lighting Catalog)

10. Update the Status of the Rest of the Order

If the out-of stock item was purchased with other items, let them know the status of everything else. Sometimes getting an out of stock email is unsettling. Don’t put stress on your shoppers if something might not arrive.

We suggest taking this one step further and adding the carrier, a tracking number and estimated delivery date for the rest of the order–even if you already sent this information earlier.

  • In practice: “Because we cannot be sure at this time when, or if, we will be able to re-stock the item(s), we have removed the item(s) from your order. The remainder of your order will be shipped and you will not be charged for the cancelled item(s).” (BlueFly)

Follow These Out of Stock Email Best Practices

One final note–always use proper grammar and punctuation when communicating with customers. You’d be surprised at what our shoppers received in their inbox.

There were cases where retailers fumbled the out-of-stock messaging to shoppers. In several instances, our shoppers were never alerted that purchased items were out-of-stock.

In fact, shoppers had to call the retailer to inquire as to the status of the delivery. While it’s best to avoid the out-of-stock scenario completely, alert your customers correctly and as soon as possible.

See how your stores are communicating with customers when items are out-of-stock with our approach to mystery shopping with Journey IQ! Connect with our team today and request a demo!

Alex York

Alex York is the Content and SEO Marketing Manager at PowerReviews. Catch him hunting down the perfect gin cocktail in Chicago or endlessly scrolling through Netflix. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjyork.