3 Ways to Better Manage Back Orders

There is no way around it. As often as many store owners try to avoid it, back orders can happen to the best of them. It's unavoidable when a particular product may be extremely popular. While this may seem like a good thing for your profits, it can also spell bad news for you as a store owner. Most consumers don't want to wait for anything and hardly anyone subscribe to delayed gratification. That doesn't mean that an instance of a back order is hopeless cause, though. It is a manageable situation given the right steps.

1. Communicate with the Customer

I cannot stress enough how critical this is. It is probably the best way to manage back orders. For obvious reasons, you simply must tell your customers when a product is back ordered. It is possible to do this from the moment they start viewing an item. If you're using an inventory tracking system, such as SKUs, you may be able to let your customer know on the product page that a given item is back ordered. This way they know what they are getting into should they decide to order the product. If you are unable to, or otherwise choose not to, convey to the customer that the product is on back order before they purchase it, it's trickier to tell a customer after they have purchased a product that it is on back order. This may sour the taste for them, but it still needs to be done. There's the possibility that they may want to cancel the order, but there are ways to manage that, which we will cover below.

If you've gotten over the hurdle of first explaining that the item isn't available, congrats! But it's not over yet. You still need to be in touch with the customer letting them know the status of the product. Can you offer a date when it will be in stock? A date that it will be delivered? If possible, you should try to do this. This will ease the mind of the customer and let them know that they didn't make a mistake when deciding to purchase from your store. If you can provide a date in the customer's mind it will likely avoid a cancelled order.

2. Partially Shipping an Order

It can't be helped that one item is not in stock, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the entire order has to go to pot, does it? Absolutely not! For many customers, having items delivered to their door at different times is a secret rush of joy. When something they are excited for is delivered all at once, their high is gone. But, if you can prolong that high, then the customer might be putty in your hands. Not to mention the healthier, less obsessive fact that the customer can continue about their normal live for the most part without having to wonder about all of their purchases. Say they're a new homeowner and they're waiting on some furniture from your store to ship. Instead of having none of the items, now they're only waiting on the couch to ship. This would make the lives of the customer a little easier.

At this point, you're probably thinking about additional shipping costs. In this scenario, it's unavoidable. You would need to decide if you're going to pay the additional costs yourself or if you'll have the customer pay the additional costs. This is a tough call to make and is solely on you. Personally, I would say to pay it yourself. This is just my humble opinion, but you don't want to lose a customer over something like this, nor do you want a cancelled order. The customer could argue that if you had the product in stock, there would be no need for them to pay for shipping. So why should they have to pony up? They wouldn't be totally wrong to say that and, honestly, what customer wants to pay for shipping twice? Like I said, it's a tough call to make, but it may be in everyone's interest to try to make the customer happy.

3. Offer a Consolation Prize

No, this does not sound good at all, but neither does an item on back order. It's the lesser of two evils. If you have that one customer who simply does not want to wait, perhaps you can offer them a similar product. Granted the item won't be the exact item they wanted, but if they were browsing a beige couch, show them their alternatives. Chances are, if they really don't want to wait, they may just jump for one of the other options. It's not guaranteed, but giving them the option may cause them not to shop for the item elsewhere.

Say you offer these alternatives to the customer and they are not interested. You have that customer who wants that item. There are other ways to convince them to stay with you. Maybe you can offer them a discount off of the product once it gets back in stock. Offering them an exclusive discount code may entice them to stick around. Once the customer knows that they will have to pay full price by electing a different store, they may decide to wait. They could have it now or they could have it cheaper. Personally, I'd always go with cheaper.


If you want to avoid back orders altogether, you're going to want to stay on top of your inventory. That's the best and most efficient way to avoid back orders. in the first place. It may even help to order surplus inventory in peak seasons. If you're worried about having too much overstock, fret not. There are ways to eliminate that problem. You know what they say: "It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it." You don't want to miss out on sales or anything that could hurt your bottom line.

Back orders in general are a sticky subject. Nobody likes dealing with them, but by managing them, the process becomes increasingly more palatable.

Tags: inventory management, ecommerce, ecommerce tips, order management