In our last post, we invited you to revisit with us the whole business of e-commerce retail pre-ordering, a wonderful concept that has generally failed to live up to its potential for most retailers who have tried to make it work.

We promised we would discuss some guidelines that would help you increase your chances of success with pre-ordering, but without bogging you down in the supply-chain issues and other problems that usually interfere with effective pre-ordering.

But How Would It All Work?

Innovative pre-ordering solutions would have to find ways of addressing related pain points for both shoppers and vendors.

Let’s think about shoppers’ pain points first, since the whole idea is to remove barriers to “shopper buy-in” to pre-ordering as a viable and exciting buying alternative.

The Shopper Perspective

If you’re an online shopper and you’re searching a busy retail site for products you want, what are your related pain points? You know, the ones that would make you crazy enough to leave the site and search for alternatives?

  • The item or size I want is out of stock.
  • All the sale items or new products are out of stock, and there’s no information about when or even if they’ll be back in stock.
  • I’m never in time for new product roll-out or promotions, and if I do provide my email so that I’ll be notified, the notifications NEVER come in time.
  • I can’t pre-order the new products in the announced roll-out because the site is overloaded.
  • Nobody gets back to me from customer service about changing availability dates.
  • This retailer is too disorganized – I can’t stand it.

We’re willing to bet you’re familiar with these issues yourself if you spend any time at all shopping online.

There’s a key element to note here: all of these shopper irritants reflect a sense that the brands are either deliberately or carelessly EXCLUDING willing shoppers from buying opportunities.

You might want to read that last bit again.

That’s bad enough in terms of immediate conversions and sales, but imagine the impact on shoppers’ trust in specific vendors and brands, and their willingness to return and engage again in the future. Instead of increasing conversions and sales, failures in these areas are likely to narrow the shopper pool, creating or perpetuating brand and retailer problems.

The Brand Perspective

The related brand or retailer pain points are also easy to identify.

  • Waiting for products to be in our warehouse before we can actually sell them bogs down our business and is causing us timing problems, lost conversions, and lost revenue.
  • We’re no longer certain – ever – about stock orders and inventory management, especially where new product roll-outs and special promotions are concerned.
  • We’re terrified of having too much stock or not enough at crucial times.
  • We need to avoid expensive retail waste issues, especially as they weaken our brand and provoke negative perceptions in consumers interested in greater brand honesty, transparency, and sustainability.
  • We want to avoid seasonal or situational deep discounting whenever possible, as “the race to the bottom” erodes our margins, affects our brand negatively, and jeopardizes our retailer relationships. It also costs our brand previously loyal shoppers who see deeply discounted prices as an attack on the quality and exclusivity of products they had to acquire at regular prices.
  • We don’t have the customer service resources to dedicate to following up with unhappy or nervous pre-order customers, or explaining the supply chain/logistics issues underlying unfulfilled orders.

If you’re an online brand or retailer, we’re betting that you’ve experienced your share of angst over one or more of these issues.

The Magic of Pre-Orders: How To Get It Right

You don’t need to be in-stock to sell it. You just need to be in-stock to ship it.

Let us put that another way: so-called “normal” retail thinking about ordering cycles and inventory practices aside, there is nothing requiring a brand or vendor to have guessed at appropriate order quantities of a product based on uncertain analytics, placed an order based on such an estimate with a manufacturer or wholesaler, and received all the items in its warehouse before offering the product for sale online.

If, of course, the appropriate measures are in place.

This is the crucial realization, the “ahaaa” point that frees you from the pre-order issues that result from stubborn, conventional retail patterns and thinking.

The way to get it right isn’t so much about the changes you make to your site design and implementation, though those elements obviously remain critically important. Instead, it’s about the strategic choices you make to guide your use of pre-ordering as a repeatable and always-effective tactic.

  • Be “nimble” in choosing the items you offer for pre-order. In other words, be ready to plan strategy and tactics on the fly so that you can offer just about any item for pre-order when you see an advantage in doing so. You have an opportunity to control cyclic timing, and integration with current strategic initiatives and your brand story. Use context and language to present the pre-order offer based on the shopper and the customer journey, rather than just on the items offered. You’ll have done your homework and will be able to react quickly with pre-orders, even when you’re under pressure.
  • Offer fully paid pre-ordering only. Set firm closure dates for every pre-order offer, and base product orders (or order adjustments) on that data for greater certainty and fewer inventory and stocking headaches.
  • Make pre-ordering a privilege that has value, even to the extent of invitation-only offers to repeat buyers. Exclusivity need not be limited just to the fact that an item is new and anyone who pre-orders gets in the door first. It’s the opportunity to pre-order that can have tremendous added value psychologically and emotionally for shoppers, and financially for your brand.
  • Choose implementation mechanisms that give you better access to inventory management and stock information in real time as part of your pre-order processing and tech. The benefits are significant.
  • Customer service isn’t a nice option a brand can offer pre-order shoppers if service personnel have the time to get around to it.

It’s critical.

If you want your customer service staff to stay on the ball, you can take advantage of pre-orders to provide them (and you) with rich first-party shopper data including multiple fulfillment options. As part of the deal, you get to improve your analytics, develop personalization tactics you can use to enrich customer experience, and illustrate your commitment to brand values.

  • Seek opportunities for greater vertical integration when possible, and work at fine-tuning distributor, retail and supply-chain relationships to enhance reliability and increase capacity for product drop frequency. Think Zara...
  • Use regular product drops that don’t depend only on traditional or seasonal events. This will help to build loyalty, increase conversions and sales, enrich customer experience, and stabilize revenue streams.
  • Seek to provide payment mechanisms that support pre-ordering, integrate seamlessly, and respect applicable brand policies regarding order cancellations, refunds, and consumer legislation compliance.

We think you’ll find that if you can follow these principles in implementing pre-ordering, you’ll deal effectively with the vendor and shopper pain points we noted above.

Perfect Timing and the Future of Successful Pre-Sales

In the simplest terms, consistently successful pre-ordering can help sustain a brand’s business and grow both its reputation and its client base. It requires a willingness to change one’s views about traditional retail cycles and thinking, and to embrace new solutions to old problems to make them assets rather than issues.

We can think of a number brands that have already figured out how to implement pre-orders as a critical part of their marketing strategy and customer experience. If you’re curious about  how they’ve chosen to turn the pre-ordering process into a critical component of their retail success, take a look at Spoke, Primitive Skateboarding, Handful, Oyuna, Pocket Sport...

We can help with specifics about how to handle e-commerce retail pre-orders effectively in your own business. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to learn more.