How to Sell Online When You Don’t Carry Lots of Inventory

Over the last few months, we have talked to a lot of local retail businesses who have the same misgivings about moving online. They don’t feel that they have enough inventory to keep up with the demand of an online store, with some lines only having one size for each piece.

Don’t let this stop your brand from taking advantage of the online tools at your fingertips. You won’t be letting anyone down if your product is sold out, but managing customer expectation is key. Below, we’re listing some of the things you should focus on if you decide to take advantage of e-commerce with low inventory.

Communicate with your customers. 

For the most part, it’s likely that your customers know you from your brick and mortar location. They already know that your conventional means of selling is through your in-person store and that this e-commerce option is so that you can continue to provide your product to them outside of store hours.

Be very clear with your customers that you are still a primarily brick and mortar business and that inventory online will be limited. Let them know that your online store is composed of your in-person inventory so you can’t guarantee stock. Telling them ahead of time will set their expectations and may motivate them to make purchasing decisions quickly.

Communicate that sizing is limited.

Your customers already know that your brand is a boutique experience, that’s why they like shopping with you! With a boutique experience comes with a small sizing range. Usually there is a piece in each size and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Explain this to your customers!

However, encourage them to message you for more sizing details. Remember, you’re the expert when it comes to your inventory. Do you know that one of your pieces runs large? Maybe you know this customer personally and they could fit an alternative size. Use your expertise and add a personal touch, it allows you to keep that friendly feel without being there in person.

Use limited product as an advantage. 

Limited inventory and sizing doesn’t have to be a detriment to you online, in fact you should use this to your advantage. Instead of being an online retail store, you’re a boutique. An online boutique that doesn’t have a wide variety because you want to offer on-of-a-kind pieces for your customers. See how that sounds much better than just saying you have limited inventory? It’s all in how you portray your brand and convey your messaging.

Set expectations about shipping timelines. 

It’s better to underpromise and over deliver than the other way around. Amazon has completely readjusted our mindset when it comes to delivery and how long it should take. However, for the majority of businesses, this isn’t realistic. You may not have the budget to ship internationally or even across the country.

Don’t be afraid to communicate that and limit the order locations. Ask potential customers to email if they would like you to make an exception, but be clear about where you will ship. You wouldn’t want someone to place an order and have to cancel because of shipping limitations. Alternatively, you don’t want to spend more on shipping than your customer actually paid.

Explain, explain, explain. 

Your customers might not be used to purchasing online, especially not from your store. Make sure that they know where they can find sizing guides, specific products and your frequently asked questions.

Ask a trusted customer to browse your website before you put it live and see what they think of the navigation. Ask them questions about how easy it is to browse, to complete the payment process and if they were able to find everything they were looking for in your catalog. If they’re having issues finding what they’re looking for, just assume that everyone else will. Finetune your website and provide plenty of instruction for users that allows them to find the necessary information.

Keep it small and your customers will never expect any more than that. 

Don’t try to be a big retailer, just be you. Keep it small and focus on the customers that you already have and provide them with your products. Yes, you’ll want to grow your audience but keep moving your brick-and-mortar customers to an online format as the first priority right now. It is easier to convey expectations to your current customers than newer ones.

Focusing on your current audience and keeping things small will allow you to control where your customers are from and keep shipping costs low. If you’re confident growing and navigating the shipping and fulfillment world, then do it! But make the priority right now servicing your current customers.

Connect with people who want to buy. 

Don’t try to sell to people who aren’t prepared to buy your products. Integrate your e-commerce site with social media sites that already offer marketplace options. Facebook and Instagram have tabs that allow consumers to browse products that are offered in the app. This means that your inventory is already in front of people ready to make a purchase. All you have to do is catch their attention.

Don’t focus on an audience that isn’t prepared to make a purchase! Remember the age old rule, don’t sell to people who are already saying no. 

What to do during this pandemic

We are in an unprecedented time right now, facing a global pandemic that has completely shifted how we communicate with customers and how business is done across the world. It’s important to craft messaging around how you’re keeping your customers safe when you ship your inventory.

Be clear about where your product comes from, how it has been stored, who is handling it and the precautions they take keeping the product clean, how it is packed and how it is being shipped. Ensure that you are being honest, transparent, and documenting how each product is fulfilled.

If you would like more information about how to implement e-commerce for your brand, contact us directly.


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