How marketers can manage irregular inventory levels during COVID-19

Due to spikes in online traffic and purchases, irregularities in inventory levels have become a major challenge for retailers during COVID-19. To help combat this issue, we’ve compiled some strategies marketers can rely on as they spring into action.

Customer Success Communication Manager, Dynamic Yield
Content Manager, Dynamic Yield

COVID-19 Marketing Resources

Last updated: April 1st, 2020

As businesses continue to temporarily close their physical stores and municipalities sustain stay-at-home orders, consumers are now relying on online shopping to access essentials and make purchases. As a result, retailers across the globe – from fashion and wellness to electronics and groceries – are witnessing an influx in online traffic. However, with this spike in traffic comes a new challenge: how to effectively handle irregular inventory levels.

To manage this sudden increase in demand, a major grocery chain within our customer base has been working alongside Dynamic Yield Solution Partner, Stellar Labs, to implement a few successful site changes and marketing campaigns across the site, which I’ll highlight for you here today.

Tailoring product recommendations based on assortment and availability

Even in a utopian world, it’s essential to provide customers with the most suitable product recommendations, helping them find what they want and need more effectively. Now more than ever, as items continue to fly off digital shelves at a record pace, brands should alter existing strategies to cater to present shopping behaviors and assortment levels, providing users with the best possible options available.

Consider the following strategies when deploying recommendations.

Use recommendation widgets to suggest non-perishable products

As many consumers ‘shelter in place,’ they are continuing to stock up on essentials, forgoing perishable food products. As a result, it’s important for brands to pay close attention to shopping trends to surface product categories and items that are popular at the moment.

For non-perishable food items, for example, marketers can filter through categories and keywords in their product feed to set up rules to only display non-perishable food items in recommendation widgets.

Alternatively, brands can create designated landing pages for the product type and place recommendation widgets on this page, setting up rules to only recommend products within this category.

non perishable items

Surface product substitutes for out-of-stock items

High-demand items are quickly running out, meaning brands will need to surface other alternative products in their place. Leveraging the product recommendation strategies such as Similarity, marketers can showcase additional options the visitor is likely to be interested in given the current product being interacting with on the wish list, product detail page (PDP), or cart page.

out of stock

Effectively communicating varying stock levels

During periods of uncertainty or crisis situations, it’s common for shoppers to stress about their ability to get what they need in a timely manner. That’s why it is integral for brands to regularly communicate with customers, keeping them in the loop about any limitations or hiccups that may impact their shopping experience.

As a best practice, companies should always notify their customers about any major changes to existing operations in order to build trust and help consumers make informed and confident purchase decisions.

Below are a couple of ways brands can help consumers complete essential purchases with ease.

Set purchase restrictions for products in high demand

Specific essentials, including toilet paper, bread, and cleaning products, are currently extremely sought after, with daily replenished inventories being depleted within minutes. In order to stretch inventories and provide more users with an opportunity to purchase these products, retailers can enforce purchase limitations to curb bulk-ordering.

To do so, they simply need to set up a rule designating which products have limitations, automatically restricting users from adding above the maximum quantity to their carts.

limited stock

Allow users to buy certain products in bulk quantities

When your brand has ample inventory for high-demand products, present users with the option to make bulk purchases. Program the option directly on product listing pages (PLPs) below each product thumbnail, allowing them to toggle between one unit or multiple units, eliminating the need to click on a PDP before adding items to the cart, expediting the conversion process.

Not only will this drive higher AOVs, but it will help users stock up on essentials they are concerned about securing and decrease the need for multiple, recurring deliveries of the same product.

bulk purchases

Managing delivery and fulfillment

Managing high traffic volumes is critical, not only for keeping your site running smoothly but also for maintaining a level of satisfaction that is generally expected from your business. To reliably meet your customers’ needs, consider making the following adjustments to payment and delivery options based on your current and foreseeable resources.

A few delivery-focused experiences marketers can tinker with include the following.

Increase the threshold for standard and free delivery eligibility

While offering free shipping at a low purchase threshold can often be a selling point for many customers, when managing an increase in traffic and purchases, brands may need to reduce the number of deliveries to realistically meet shipping times.

One way to decrease the number of users eligible for free or expedited delivery is by increasing the minimum basket size threshold customers must reach to qualify. The grocery chain implemented this change, increasing the minimum for both standard and free deliveries to help them manage the number of deliveries they needed to complete on a daily basis.

delivery threshold

Encourage email signups for general updates

As more shoppers turn to eCommerce for essential purchases, brands should prepare for an influx of inquiries regarding products, delivery schedules, and more. To calm customers’ nerves and keep them informed about their orders, brands can present them with the option to submit their email addresses using a homepage banner.

Marketing teams can use this user info to send communications around delivery timelines and updates, such as any delays in delivery or drop-off details. This strategy will have lasting effects because when shoppers feel in the loop, it does more than craft a pleasant shopping experience; it also nurtures the customer-brand relationship.

email signup

Inform shoppers of delivery policy changes

If a company is facing new challenges operationally that may impact shipping or delivery timelines, it’s important to communicate those delays or changes in delivery terms directly on the homepage before a user has finalized a purchase. Being upfront about any disturbrances in service is absolutely critical in times like this, and can establish greater trust with customers.

delivery change notification

Prohibit cash payments

In an effort to maximize the number of deliveries conducted daily, the grocery giant now requires shoppers to complete all payments online in advance using credit or debit cards. This tactic can also serve to ensure the healthy, hands-free transfer of goods.

online payment

Tweak testing plans now

Navigating uncharted waters due to the coronavirus outbreak, retailers must be nimble and open to new strategies they may not have previously considered for their digital roadmaps. Through testing and experimentation, marketers can better optimize the entire site experience on the fly to meet the rapidly-changing demands of consumers during this undetermined period of time.

Be sure to visit our COVID-19 marketing hub, where you can find strategies and insights for dealing with coronavirus’ many challenges – we’re updating the resources there (in addition to this one) on a regular basis to ensure the most up-to-date information.