Back in Stock Automation: How Marketers Can Manage Supply and Demand Issues Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak | Coronavirus Series

back in stock email automation

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that explores the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on the world of ecommerce. Explore daily insights surrounding the coronavirus crisis or check out these additional resources to help you navigate your marketing strategy during this time.

Whether the coronavirus (COVID-19) will be prominent through the coming months or the outbreak settles soon is still uncertain. And while public health officials are advising the public to stay calm, it’s evident that consumers are preparing themselves by stocking up.

This poses several challenges for merchants. Many businesses that depend on Chinese manufacturing are feeling the burden of halted supply chains with deliveries being pushed out up to 90 days, blurred production timelines, and emerging importation restrictions. Others are unprepared for the rise in demand for specific items including disinfectants, cleaning products, medical supplies, and other preventive goods. In fact, direct to consumer (DTC) hand sanitizer brand Touchland has a waitlist with over 10,000 names on it. 

Many are battling both issues, and small businesses will be particularly affected since they don’t often have the same means as larger companies to redirect manufacturing to new suppliers.

coronavirus back in stock

Meanwhile, marketers are feeling the pressure because, well, this is just about the biggest logistical nightmare imaginable. 

You spend every minute of the day trying to win over shoppers, attempting to convince them of the value of your brand and crafting the ultimate customer experience. Not having the inventory available to support demand or being uncertain about your ability to produce and deliver future inventory pivots your efforts away from influencing core performance goals.

While there isn’t always much that can be done, for the time being, surrounding production difficulties, logistics troubles, and sparse inventories, there are certain measures you can implement from a marketing standpoint to make supply and demand concerns more manageable in the interim. 

In fact, there’s one tactic you can enable today to ease some of your customers’ concerns: back in stock communications. These keep current and potential customers clued into inventory updates from your business, which helps you on multiple fronts—they help you provide transparency, gauge intent, and give shoppers peace of mind.

Keep reading to learn about how to implement a back in stock strategy and what lies ahead for ecommerce businesses who are dealing with the repercussions of coronavirus.


Why back in stock

Here’s how it works when you set up a back in stock flow: when someone subscribes to a restock alert, that data will be stored and tracked back to their profile. This profile then enters into a segment of people who are subscribed to receive an alert for a specific item. Once the item is restocked, they should automatically receive a notification that the item is available again. 

When you’re dealing with uncertain inventory, back in stock automation is a no-brainer when the alternative is blasting availability to an unsegmented list or otherwise providing no communication updates at all.

When shoppers have the option to sign up for restock notifications, it gives them a sense of insight and creates a more satisfactory experience overall. Rather than checking back constantly or continuing their search, shoppers can rest assured they’ll be the first to know when the exact item they’re looking for becomes available. 

In terms of coronavirus, it provides an opportunity for your brand to offer the best support possible given the circumstances. 

Here are few things to keep in mind when setting up back in stock alerts:

  • Minimum inventory rules – This refers to how many items need to be restocked before you notify subscribers, which will vary depending on the circumstances and demand. For example, you might want to ensure that you have at least 50 units of your product back in stock before you send a notification if you anticipate it will sell out quickly, or if there’s a long waitlist. 
  • Customers notification rules – This determines how many customers get notified about each item that’s been restocked. Again, if the item is in high-demand and low-supply, you’re likely receiving an influx of subscriptions to your back in stock alerts and might not want to email such a large list for a single SKU once it’s back in stock. Consider setting customer notification rules so only a certain amount of people are contacted at a time.
  • Wait time – This determines how long to wait between batches of emails if you specify customer notification limits, as discussed. This allows you to send notifications to customers in batches until the inventory drops below your account’s minimum inventory threshold if you don’t want to notify them all at once.
  • Dynamic variables – Because certain product details may change over time, such as price, it’s important to use dynamic event variables in your communications so that the product is accurately portrayed to your customers when the alert goes out.
  • Alerts on a per-product basis – Depending on the number of products you offer and differing production timelines, you may want to offer your customers the option to sign up for alerts on some products and not others.


What we can learn from DTC brands

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, haircare brand Only Curls has been seeing more traffic than ever. This comes as little surprise considering ecommerce businesses that sell new essentials, including health and beauty, have been seeing huge increases in sales across the board. 

“Since people still need to look after their hair and can’t get to a salon, having the Only Curls products shipped directly to their front door definitely helps to solve the problem. On top of this, we’ve noticed that people are willing to try out a new hair routine and products while they’re at home during the lockdown,” said Hugo Lewis, co-founder of Only Curls.

But, while new customers and increased demand are always exciting, it’s posed a challenge for business owners Hugo and co-founder, Lizzie, who are also battling supply chain issues.

“This increased demand has caused us to sell out several times, which is a good problem to have, but it’s a challenge, especially when lead times are much longer than usual. It’s really frustrating not being able to fulfill orders in our usual speedy manner, but we do a great job of keeping our customers informed,” said Hugo.

For Only Curls, back in stock campaigns have become a critical method of communication as they work to meet heightened demand from current and potential customers while continuing to generate buzz around their beloved curly hair products.

“We’re using a back in stock notification flow on the products that are sold out and as soon as they’re restocked our customers get notified immediately, which is really cool. We can even identify our VIP customers and make sure they are top of the list. We use a signup form as well, so customers know that they are going to be kept in the loop,” said Hugo. 

And while they keep things automated for the sake of efficiency, they don’t forget to maintain a human touch when it comes to customer questions.

“On top of this, Lizzie responds to customers personally with any questions they have and we always keep in really close contact with anyone who has ordered,” said Hugo.

By quickly adapting to the current situation and putting the necessary marketing automations in place, Only Curls has ensured that, even in the most uncertain of times, they’re maintaining a dialogue with their customers and keeping them up-to-date on inventory statuses. In this way, the duo has also managed to strike the perfect balance between optimizing their customer experience while also making it personal.

Learn more about Only Curls’ DTC growth story

Additionally, there are also certain takeaways we can learn from brands that implemented these automations before the onset of the pandemic.

Although Frankies Bikinis didn’t implement back in stock automations as a response to coronavirus complications, their demand-based marketing strategy can serve as an example for brands undergoing provisional inventory issues.

The swimwear brand, which regularly found themselves selling out of stock within 24 hours of a new product launch, built out a back in stock automation so that shoppers wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to buy the styles they’re most interested in.

But often when Frankies restocks a collection, they’ll sell out again at a rapid pace, which is why they decided to take a more aggressive strategy by having several different touches in their back in stock automations with three to five emails per unit of stock. 

While this tactic is used to boost engagement and generate excitement, it also creates added awareness of newly available items and makes it easy for customers to re-sign up if the item sells out again. 

Similarly, for companies that currently have unexpected restock windows and high demand, having multiple touches attributed to back in stock automations is critical because once items are available again, they could sell out quickly. 

Until there are no longer logistical complications associated with coronavirus, marketers must plan ahead for inventory problems, which means it’s important to make it easy for customers to re-enter into these segments if an item sells out over and over again. 

Another advantage of back in stock campaigns is that, when shoppers are signing up for multiple back in stock waitlists consecutively, as customers do when shopping with Frankie’s Bikinis, they’re making their intent apparent. 

Whereas third-party sellers are being forced to price gouge because of the amount of interest they’re receiving, back in stock emails only send to a group of subscribers who have shown further intent to buy. This could help to combat nefarious price hikes by showing brands which shoppers will wait out the product release versus those who have sought out a competitor and perhaps already made their purchase.

Interested in how more DTC brands are using back in stock communications amid the coronavirus? Find out how toilet paper brand Who Gives a Crap is keeping up with demand in our interview with the brand’s Senior Retention Manager, Mike Altman.

Why third-party sellers will still struggle

Amazon’s third-party sellers have been hit particularly hard by coronavirus. And while Amazon has been advising sellers on how to manage their businesses amidst the current climate, their suggestion includes considering “vacation status” where all incoming activity, besides buyer-selling messaging, is temporarily suspended.

While this does its job in limiting the number of product inquiries, requests, and orders for sellers that are unsure about the future availability of their products and proactively diffusing negative ratings and reviews, this also creates a severed customer journey.

For shoppers that are considering or intend to buy an unavailable product, this lack of communication and transparency further complicates the matter and forces them to go elsewhere, at best. At worst, it enacts a feeling of instability from the brand, which has basically been forced to shut down operations altogether. 

While the experience of shopping on Amazon’s marketplace doesn’t often revolve around brand loyalty or affinity, the aspect of discoverability often makes it attractive to business owners as they look to expand their customer base. 

But while the experience of selling on Amazon has previously taken a backseat to ever-changing algorithms, buried user data, and counterfeit listings, third-party sellers are now undergoing additional suffering amidst a potential pandemic—stores aren’t able to offer assistance or real support to their customers.  

Rather, if a merchant was able to offer some insight into the status of their shipments, or at least the promise of an update as soon as that information was available, the brand would be seen as more trustworthy, strengthening the relationship with customers.


Taking control of your marketing amidst supply chain disruptions

Controlling your owned marketing channels such as your website, email, and mobile experiences is not only crucial for creating incredible relationships when things are good (or, at least, relatively normal). It also means that when the unexpected happens—like an outbreak of a viral disease that impacts the global economy—you have the ability to create and customize a plan of action that effectively supports your business and your customers. 

No one can truly prepare a foolproof plan and it’s almost impossible to accurately predict when the situation will improve significantly. But we can take ownership of which channels we use and put strategies in place that will maintain a customer-first approach to our marketing.

How can you better prepare your business to handle a potential supply chain crisis amid the coronavirus outbreak? Learn more in our recent interview

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