In stock or not? In the old days, shoppers had to add an item to their cart to answer this question. As e-commerce technology evolved, the stock status of a product became readily available on the product detail page and in many cases even migrated up to category pages. Now, retailers are discovering ways to utilize stock status in site search.

The simple question of if a product is in stock or not can be a handy bit of information to know when you serve up the results to a search query.  When someone asks to see what sort of handbags, drills or televisions you have, it makes good sense to show them your most popular items.  But, what if some of those items are sold out?  It’s going to be awfully hard to sell something you don’t have in stock.  With the knowledge of a product’s stock status, your search engine can be instructed to only display items in stock or give a higher rank to those that are in stock.  You can also give the shopper more control by making stock status a filter.

Knowing the stock status can also be used to inform shoppers on the search results page and spare them the disappointment of clicking through to a product detail page only to find that an item is out of stock.  A common way to reveal this information is by including the additional text of “In Stock” or “Out of Stock” somewhere in each product result.  In the example below, Folica places the stock status text next to their “Buy Now” button.  When an item is out of stock, they change the button to read “Out of Stock” and change the color to grey.  They even go a step further to indicate that an item has been discontinued.

in-stock-folica out-of-stock-folica

Some retailers make it even easier to see what items are out of stock with bolder and more prominent messaging.  In this example from Wolferman’s they have gone with the phrase “SOLD OUT” and placed that directly over the product with an image overlay. One benefit to showing your out of stock items in this way is that can give buyers confidence that your products are of high quality and in demand.  It can also drive future demand of these items and create urgency to buy for those regular customers who see an hot item return to stock.


Another way to create urgency to buy would be to display a “Low Stock” message when items pass below a certain threshold. If the exact number of items is included in the data feed, a message such as “Hurry Only 7 Left” could be used.

For other retailers, the idea of showing any out of stock is completely unacceptable.  These retailers may turn their inventory quickly and know that most out of stock items are likely in transit or in the building waiting to be checked in.  They could also have the type of customer who has an immediate and specific need to fill that will simply look elsewhere when an item is out of stock.  For these retailers, the answer may be to display a “Please Call” message rather than an out of stock. This way, when the potential customer calls, they can check to see when the item is due to arrive or suggest an alternate product. This is the approach that SuperWarehouse takes in the example below and even conveniently displays their phone number to make it easy for customers to pick up the phone.


The question of stock status can get a bit more complicated for apparel retailers who stock multiple sizes of an item.  One of the best examples of this is with shoes.  To solve the problem of how to display the stock status on an item like this, outdoor gear retailer Snow and Rock presents the stock info in an small window that appears when shoppers hover over the “view” link.  The technology then uses AJAX to retrieve the stock status of each size of that item.  Loading this stock status on demand helps improve the load time of the initial search results.


Have you found other ways to use a products stock status or stock level to improve the customer experience and drive sales? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.