The Impact of “Back in Stock” Notifications

25 June 2018 | 20 Comments

A few months ago, I realized just how much I valued “back in stock” notifications. I had heard about a product (probably a game–I can’t remember exactly), and it wasn’t available, but the online store where I was trying to buy it had a “back in stock” notification option. I clicked on it, entered my e-mail, and entered a tranquil state of knowing it was one less thing I had to remember.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’d used a back in stock notification. But this occasion was different because it finally occurred to me that I run a business with a webstore and should totally offer this too. Sometimes it takes me a while to realize these things.

So I contacted our web developer, Dave Hewer, and he worked his coding magic on Shopify. If you now visit our webstore and see something is unavailable, instead of offering no options, it looks like this:

When you enter your e-mail, I get a notification in my inbox. When the product is back in stock (September for Viticulture), I’ll send a single e-mail notification to everyone who requested it.

After observing the results of this (I’ve received around 1000 back-in-stock notification requests at this point), I think there are several key benefits:

  1. People prefer not to feel helpless. The back-in-stock notification provides that option.
  2. I like to know when something is out of stock. I usually have a big-picture idea of when something is going out of stock. But I typically try to maintain a small webstore supply, even between printings. Often when I get the out-of-stock notification, I talk to my shipping helpers to see if it’s actually out of stock or if we have other spare copies we could sell.
  3. It’s creates a win-win situation when the reprint arrives. These customers get to know right away when the product is available again, and while only some of them may buy it directly from Stonemaier Games, it inevitable results in some direct sales.

Is it a perfect system? Not quite. I wish the notifications populated a spreadsheet with the e-mails (I have to go through the e-mail notifications and copy-paste the e-mail addresses one by one). And the back-in-stock message isn’t customizable on a per-product basis, so I can’t include the estimate back-in-stock date (I could potentially put it in the product title, though).

Do you like back-in-stock notifications? Do you use them as a consumer or a creator?

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20 Comments on “The Impact of “Back in Stock” Notifications

  1. “I have to go through the e-mail notifications and copy-paste the e-mail addresses one by one”

    A quick easy solution is to setup a MailChimp (or other) mailing list, call it “Viticulture Back In Stock” or something, and then include that code instead of the current code. Problem solved.

    P.S. You recently asked on Facebook about Arboriculture/Formaggio modules. Someone suggested on Facebook about doing Viticulture Miniatures. My wife and I would buy a set of them. If you setup a notification mailing list for that, put me on it :)

    1. I appreciate the solution. I’ll think about whether or not that’s a good fit for this.

      We actually had “fancy Viticulture structures” on the future request form a while ago, but there wasn’t enough interest to leave it on the list. :)

      1. I think miniature people capture the imagination more structures, unless the structures were designed Frank Lloyd Wright.

        I know a talented Italian 3D sculptor, he did the minis for Banker of the Gods. He setup a company and has an entrepreneurial spirit, so he might be willing to do them on his own time with some kind revenue split. That is assuming you are looking for a zero risk way to get them to the market for the fans of Viticulture. Any way, just an option. If you are interested I can mention it to him, and tell him to contact you.

        1. Thanks, but we have a sculptor. That’s just a small part of the cost. Honestly, I prefer wooden meeples in a Euro game, so I think we’ll focus our time and energy on other endeavors. I have a LOT of projects in the works, so I have to pick and choose what to focus on, even if a few people really want something specific.

    2. I would also suggest to try MailChimp or any other email list management system. They provide plugins that work with pretty much any framework or CMS (especially WordPress).

      And it is so nice to see that you are actually noticing stuff like this by sheer observation. In my day to day job we call these “episodes” that happened to you a “moment of truth” (good or bad) inside a life cycle of a customer when dealing with a brand or product.

      I think you might find articles customer journeys quite interesting to your business, if you don’t already ;)

      1. Thanks Gustavo! I do use Mailchimp, so I’ll see if this is something I can integrate with them.

        I’m intrigued by your last sentence, though I don’t quite understand. Where can I find these “articles customer journeys”?

  2. I love back-in-stock notifications. In fact I just used it. :) Thank you for continuing to provide excellent customer service.

  3. I like the idea of back-in-stock notifications, but in my experience they haven’t been that reliable.

    Recently I’ve used the notification system on 2 local online stores for a few different games and I never received the emails letting me know the products were back in stock.

    Given that you describe the notification process as a mostly manual one, I’m not surprised that I never got the emails. The person responsible could have missed my request or, most likely, just never got around to sending the emails once the stock levels went back up.

    I didn’t really worry me though as I generally have my finger on the pulse with regards to game availability – ie whether things are in print or not – so I’m checking the online stores anyway. As far was non-game products go, It probably would depend on what it was, or how badly I wanted it. I guess if I want something badly enough I’ll probably not solely rely on a back-in-stock notification.

    So yes, they’re nice to have but it wouldn’t bother me if the option wasn’t there.

  4. I got too excited when I saw this email! I thought I was getting a notice that there was an available reservation for the Stonemaier Game Design Day that I signed up for to get a “back in stock” notice!

    I think you hits right on the nose with the comment about, “it helps people not feel helpless.” I know I have been wanting to go for a while, and very disappointed that I missed it (because everyone wants to go) but by at least having the opportunity to sign up for it when it is out of stock, gave me solace that I could do “something” instead of just remaining with that feeling of helplessness. Even if it doesn’t actually get me anything in the end.

  5. I like back-in-stock notifications, I use them as a costumer and as you said it gaves me hope in waiting to the game be in stock again and also I feel excited when the notifications arrives to my email; I’m going to use this notifications in my page too, hope soon.

  6. It’s always to offer something than nothing. How about having a system which will direct your customers to another shop with that product to buy? Would you see this kind of thing useful?

    1. I put a link to our retailer locator in the description of most products (you can’t see it in the screen shot, but if you go to that page and scroll down, you’ll see it). As for your suggestion, it sounds difficult to implement, and I wouldn’t want to favor some stores over others. But if you figure out how to do it, let me know!

  7. Not sure how Stonemaier e-mail account is wired, but it should be possible to have some filter to a specific folder/tag and then having some external tool/script scraping that folder/tag and using (for example) Google Spreadsheet as a database for game and interested users.

    I do not know if something like this exists already (have a look at the Google Docs script marketplace) but it would be a lot of fun to build that.

  8. Jamey,

    I absolutely LOVE these notifications. Coming on the heels of a private convention a few months ago, having fallen in love with Orleans, I couldn’t get it anywhere…however, Cool Stuff had an Order Now Option and when it came back into stock, I would get it. It made the entire transaction wonderful and seamless.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  9. I think they’re a great system from both sides of the equation. Customers have the peace of mind of knowing they don’t need to constantly police inventories to get the game they are after, and publishers get to capture those sales that otherwise may have been lost.

    In fact there’s probably something to be said for ‘back in stock’ perhaps catalyzing sales that may not have actually gone through in the first place. It takes a degree of interest to bring you to a site, looking at a game. It takes a much larger degree of commitment to actually take that next step and put that item in your cart and purchase it. Seeing that it’s out of stock and entering your email though – is a much smaller, committed middle step. Then, when the notice arrives, the perception of limited availability is in play and you’re already on that next ‘I’ve taken actions toward this’ step toward making the purchase so actually pulling the trigger may be more likely than if it had been in stock when you first were browsing it.

    Good all around!

  10. I am floored to hear it is completely manual process for sending the “back in stock” emails! I’m a bit hesitant to sign up for them from smaller stores now, but probably still will, as my benefit to the store is probably higher than the inconvenience.

    Also, I’m with the person right above me who wrote about the benefit of not having to keep checking back (or keep remembering about the product). Also, it puts the product back in the customer’s mind when you send the back-in-stock email.

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