5 ways to prevent stockouts for your e-commerce store

5 ways to prevent stockouts for your e-commerce store

Reza Mokdad

Reza Mokdad

December 19, 2023

Planning a birthday gift for my friend took me on a digital shopping spree over the weekend. After nearly an hour of browsing, I found the perfect gift online, only to discover it was out of stock. Frustration and disappointment set in, prompting me to abandon the purchase. It was a clear case of me being ready to buy, but the store was not ready to sell.

Stockouts, the depletion of a product's inventory, are inconvenient for both customers and businesses. For customers, it means wasted time, frustration, and dissatisfaction. For businesses, it means lost customers and lost sales.

Although being out of stock indicates high demand, the negative consequences are substantial:

  • Losing customers, sales, and revenues;
  • A decrease in customer satisfaction, which leads to a damaged brand reputation;
  • Bad customer reviews;
  • Customer migration to competitors;
  • A slowdown in growth.

Stockouts can have a huge impact on your bottom line. Walmart executives reported they were leaving almost $3 billion on the table as a result of going out of stock.

70% of shoppers would shop at a competitor rather than wait for any length of time for out-of-stock items. So to avoid these unpleasant consequences for your e-commerce, we will share with you some tips on how to prevent stockouts from happening.

1. Understand what are the causes behind stockouts:

Inaccurate data:

Inaccuracies are pretty common when you’re dealing with inventory and stock management. With all the different product flows going in and out of your warehouse, it is easy to make mistakes and thus have variances between your real inventory data and the numbers you have on paper.

Wrong lead time:

Sometimes the time it takes to deliver all your products from the manufacturer to your warehouse can be a bit longer than you think, which leads to your new products arriving later than planned.

Under ordering:

Inaccurate data leads to poor decision-making. Having inaccurate demand forecasting can lead to under ordering and this is a major reason for running out of stock.

Manual spreadsheets:

Manual inventory management mainly causes inaccurate data. If you’re using Excel to monitor your inventory KPIs, I urge you to change it, because these errors not only lead to stockouts but can also lead to massive losses.

In a study conducted by Stephen Powel from the Tuck Business School, they analysed 25 sample spreadsheets and found that 15 workbooks (spreadsheets for work) contained a total of 117 errors.

While 40% of those errors had little impact on the businesses studied, 7 errors caused massive losses of $4 million to $110 million, according to the researchers’ estimates.

Bigblue Tips
Bigblue helps you manage your stock easily. Predict demand, get alerts for low stock, and track which items are selling or sitting on shelves.

Now that we’ve seen the 4 main reasons behind stockouts and the damages they can lead to, let's move on and see what are the solutions to prevent being out of stock.

2. Get real-time data:

As seen previously, inaccurate data is the main cause of all your inventory troubles but thanks to technology, it has never been this easy to get access to real-time data.

So the first step to preventing stockouts is to implement an inventory management system that gives you access to accurate data in as close to real-time as possible.

Having a system that automatically updates your stock levels whenever a product is sold or returned will help reduce errors and accurately monitor your inventory, and thus have better and more accurate decision-making.

Make sure to also analyse the item's velocity, this will help you to know how fast your items are moving.

To illustrate, let’s imagine that you have only 20% of your inventory for product X, but this product moves slowly and won’t run out until a few months, thus you might not have to reorder for some time.

Contrariwise, if your product Z is a fast-moving item and takes just a few days to get sold out, you will then need to reorder it even if you still have some on hand.

Crossing between stock levels data and item velocity data will help you make better decisions and avoid stockouts.

3. Forecast demand:

To avoid stockouts, forecasting demand is a must-do. It will help you plan your future operations and know approximately how many products you’ll sell.

Knowing the demand you will be having for your products will help you to reorder the right amount of items and thus keep your stock levels safe.

You can base your forecast on historical sales data, but you will also need to take into consideration many factors such as marketing campaigns, promotions, seasonality, and velocity. Diving deeper into these numbers will give you some insights into how your products are going to perform.

During your forecast, you should also pay attention to the consumer trends in your market to notice if there’s anything new that people are gravitating towards. This allows you to anticipate and make sure to be ready in terms of operations.

Finally, don’t forget to create a repeatable monthly process that helps you analyse previous forecasts and compare them to actual results to see how accurate it is and how you can improve them.

4. Set inventory alerts:

After analysing the velocity of your items, you should be able to forecast when the product will be depleted. Compare that to the time needed to restock, and you will be able to know exactly when you should reorder.

Then make sure to set a threshold for each item so that you’re alerted automatically when the limit is reached. This will help you gain time since you won’t have to check your stock levels every 10 minutes and will ensure that you reorder your item on time and thus avoid stockouts.

To calculate safety stock and reorder point, you can use these simple formulas:

Reorder point formula= (Items sold per day) x (days it takes for new inventory to arrive) + safety stock

Safety stock formula = (Maximum daily usage * Maximum lead time in days) – (Average daily usage * Average lead time in days)

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all "general lead time formula" that universally applies, as different industries, like manufacturing, have specific lead time formulas.

One of the simplest and commonly used formulas looks like this:

Lead Time (LT)=Order delivery date − Order request date

Manufacturers and retailers often have different lead times for different products due to differences in fulfilment timelines, specifications, shipping, and more.

When calculating lead time, it's common to consider various aspects.

Here are a couple of examples:

Lead Time (LT) =Manufacturing time + Procurement time + Shipping time (Most commonly used by manufacturers)

LT= Procurement time + Shipping time (Most commonly used by retailers)

As an example, let’s imagine you sell 75 bags per day and that it takes 8 days, since the reorder, for new inventory to arrive.

During weekends and bank holidays, they can sell as many as 85 bags and the maximum lead time in days is 10.

Safety stock = (85 x 10) - (75 x 8) = 250

Reorder point = (75) x (8) + (250) = 850

Make sure to set an alert when your stock level reaches 750 bags so that you can reorder on time and ensure you won’t run out of stock.

Ensure an alert is set when your stock level hits 750 bags, enabling timely reorders and preventing stockouts.

To improve operational efficiency and streamline order fulfilment, consider implementing advanced strategies to reduce lead time, meticulously calculating production lead time at each stage to ensure optimal results.

5. Communicate with your customers:

Even if you have the best systems in place, stockouts can still occur. If it happens, being transparent and communicating clearly with your customers is the only way to keep their trust and build a stronger relationship.

Update your products’ pages and clearly show that it is out of stock. Make sure to include the expected date for when the products will be available again, and allow your customers to register their email address to get notified when the product is back in stock.

You can also showcase similar products as a replacement and offer coupons and discounts to ensure that these customers won’t shop from a competitor's site.

You can also offer free shipping for the people who left their emails and are willing to wait for the product to be back in stock. This will make the wait worth their time.

Even if this reduces your profit margins, it is still better than losing the sale and risking that the customer won’t ever come back. (honestly, I would have waited a bit more for my friend’s gift, if shipping was offered)

6. Work with a logistics provider:

If you’re managing your logistics internally and stockouts became a recurrent problem, think of externalizing your logistics to work with a company that has great expertise in this area. If you’re managing your logistics internally and stockouts become a recurrent issue, think of externalising your logistics to work with a company that has great expertise in this area and could reduce the workload related to supply chain management.

Many providers nowadays offer very efficient services and can help you automate all your logistics processes.

Bigblue, for example, gives access to real-time data and offers its e-commerce clients a wide variety of features such as automatic inventory alerts and personalized tracking emails.

Externalising your logistics can help you gain time and focus on your business growth while ensuring that your inventory is always on point.

Preventing stockouts doesn’t happen overnight. It is a hard task that requires a lot of effort.

Through these tips, you will be able to manage your purchase orders and inventory more efficiently and prevent potential stockouts.

Remember, taking extra time to forecast demand and implementing an automated inventory system to have access to real-time data will help you considerably in the long run.

Preventing stockouts is a good way to meet customer demand, fulfil orders, and ensure the best possible experience for your customers (and their friends 😉)

Frequently asked questions
Everything you need to know.
What is stockout and what does it mean for an e-commerce store?

A stockout occurs when a product is temporarily unavailable in an e-commerce store. This situation can disrupt customer satisfaction and loyalty, emphasizing the need for effective stock management.

What are the common causes of stockouts?

Stockouts result from demand spikes, poor inventory management, and supply chain disruptions. Predict trends, manage inventory effectively, and diversify suppliers.

How can I avoid stockouts in my e-commerce store?

To prevent stockouts, employ advanced demand forecasting, automate replenishment, and diversify suppliers for resilience.

How do stockouts affect customer loyalty?

Stockouts erode trust, impacting loyalty. Transparent communication and alternative recommendations are vital for retaining customer loyalty.

Can technology help prevent stockouts?

Yes, technology aids stockout prevention. Use AI tools, demand forecasting, and automated systems for efficient stock management.

How can a logistics provider help avoid stockouts?

Outsourcing logistics ensures timely deliveries, reduces lead times, and offers scalable solutions, preventing stockouts effectively.