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Tips on Selling

Out-of-stock product - to show or not?

Showing product that isn’t in stock is a quick way to disappoint customers; however, DOUG FLEENER says it can still be done as long as salespeople approach it in the right way.

A salesperson recently asked me if selling only what the store has in stock is good service. When I asked for details, she elaborated that her manager had instructed staff that they were only to show and sell what was in the showcases and in stock.

Some staff members disagreed with this policy, since the best product for the customer might be something that’s not in stock at that moment. The salesperson asked me who I thought was right.

I said the manager is right; however, the staff weren’t necessarily wrong.

While I do love taking both sides of an argument, there’s a reason both parties are right and wrong.

Over promise, under deliver

Quick story first: while travelling some time ago, I stopped for dinner at a local restaurant where I saw homemade chicken potpie on the menu. Since that isn’t something I often see on a menu, I asked the waitress about the dish when she came to take my order.

"Always tell a customer when they can purchase an out-of-stock product before you show it. This reduces disappointment."

The waitress told me that the restaurant is known for its chicken potpies, which are made fresh daily, and that it is her favourite item on the menu. By then my mouth was watering so I ordered the chicken potpie with a side salad. You know what’s coming next, don’t you?

Alas, the waitress then said, “I’m sorry but we’re sold out.” So here we have a waitress who had gotten a customer all excited about a dish, effectively selling it, only to then tell that customer he couldn’t have it.

Talk about disappointing!

This is a classic case of over-promising and under-delivering.

It happens in retail too

The same thing often happens in retail stores when a salesperson gets customers all excited about a product only to tell them that the item is out of stock. It’s a practice that disappoints the customers and often results in missed sales opportunities.

This is especially so in the digital age, known for the Millennial culture of immediacy. The Millennials have never known a world without the internet and they expect to have access to products and services 24-hours-a-day.

Out-of-stock product – to show or not?
Out-of-stock product – to show or not?

Most of all, they believe it is their right to have what they want whenever they want and delivered the way they want it.

Of course, there are always exceptions.

What if the item in question is a new product or a hot seller and a store is only temporarily out-of-stock?

Is it wrong to show the customer a product even though the customer can’t buy it right now? Not at all, especially if it’s done in a way that doesn’t disappoint the customer and the customer is given an opportunity to make a purchase.

Out-of-stock selling

Here are a few things to remember about showing and selling out-of-stock products:

  • Only show an out-of-stock product if you know it meets your customer’s needs or if he or she specifically asks for it. Something might be new or a hot seller but this doesn’t mean it’s the right product for everybody. Too often a staff member shows an out-of-stock product because it is new or they like it. Focus on what’s best for the customer.

  • Always tell a customer when they can purchase an out-of-stock product before you show it. This reduces disappointment. It also makes it easier to show another product or sell the out-of-stock item. One way to suggest this may be to say, “You might really like the new XYZ silver ring, which we’ll have in stock on Thursday. Let me show it to you.”

  • Recommend other products based on what customers like or dislike about the unavailable product – “Take a look at this ABC silver ring. It’s got many of the same features as the item you want and also has that modern style you like.”

  • Make purchasing out-of-stock products a great experience for customers – don’t tell them to check back next week; don’t charge for shipping; do the little things that ease a customer’s inconvenience when the right product is not in stock.

  • If your customer absolutely needs that product now, find it somewhere else. By doing this, you might keep the customer in the future even when losing a sale.

Deciding whether to show products that are not in stock, or to not show them at all, requires a delicate balance but retailers who remember to always do what’s best for their customers will always do best for their stores.

Doug Fleener

Contributor • Sixth Star Consulting

Doug Fleener is president and managing partner of Sixth Star Consulting. Learn more:

Wednesday, 21 March, 2018 12:26pm
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