7 ways to manage out of stock items in your PPC Google Shopping & Search Ads

Added on 21 Feb 2022 by Jade Rowlatt

With convenience-seeking shoppers and Covid-conscious customers avoiding physical stores over the holidays, eCommerce retailers might hope it’ll drive revenue higher than ever.

In fact, eCommerce will make up 22% of global retail sales by 2023, compared to 11.9% in 2018 and 14.1% in 2019.

But there’s one thing that can massively derail your sales momentum: supply chain disruptions.

Whether it’s pandemic-related issues or a Suez Canal-style delay in goods, you might not have enough stock to meet your customers’ needs this shopping season. And, if it’s not done right, out of stock products can result in wasted online ad spend, making it difficult to capitalise on Google Shopping seasonality trends.

The good news is there are ways to control your ad spend on out of stock products - and even drive profits (despite your stock issues). We’ll go through them all in this blog, including:

  • How Google Shopping and Search Ads track out of stock products

  • How out of stock listings affect your PPC ads

  • 7 ways we recommend to manage your out of stock product listings

How Google Shopping & Search Ads track out of stock products

So how does Google Shopping and Search know when products in your ads are out of stock? And, more importantly, what do they do about it?

Product stock level is a major part of Google Shopping Ads. Why? Because if a shopper clicks on a Shopping ad that takes them to an out of stock page, you’ve got one disappointed user.

Aka: ‘Why point me to something that I can’t buy?’.

You can easily input the status of your products into your Google Merchant Centre (GMC) Account by assigning the [in stock] or [out of stock] attribute to each item.

Don’t worry if you can’t complete your data feed management quickly - Google Shopping can do it for you. The platform monitors the product data for each listing on your eCommerce site, and if that data indicates it’s out of stock, Google Shopping will automatically stop delivering the out of stock product ad

Worth noting: out of stock products can still display as free listings (if you opted in to this feature).

However, Google Search doesn’t care if a product in your ads is in stock or out of stock. It’ll still deliver your PPC search ads as a search result regardless.

In theory it’s great. But remember: a shopper could click on your paid (or organic SEO) result, see your product is out of stock and jump to a competitor’s site for a product that’s in stock - which you don’t want.

How out of stock listings affect your PPC ads

Depending on the type of ad and the platform used, the impact of out of stock listings on your PPC ads will vary.

Any inconsistencies between the stock status in your Google product feed and Google Shopping means the product in your feed will be disapproved. Which means your out of stock Google Shopping listings won’t appear in search results - and could even set off an account issue that results in your account being suspended.

How do you avoid it? Use the automatic item updates in your Google Merchant Centre Account. These let Google automatically update your stock attributes from your Google Shopping data feed.

But what about Google Search PPC ads?

While these ads aren’t instantly affected by an out of stock status, over time the performance of your ad may change. Shoppers who click on your ad will quickly bounce after seeing an ‘out of stock’ notification, affecting your conversion rates and CPCs (cost per clicks).

In short: you don’t need to pause ads in your Google Merchant Centre Account because of out of stock issues. But if the product in your Google Search Ads is no longer available, it’s best to pause those ads until it’s back in stock.

Still unsure what’s best to do? Get in touch to talk things through.

7 ways to manage your out of stock Google Shopping & Search Ads

While everything we’ve talked about is good to know, it’s not always helpful when you’ve got revenue and sales targets to hit during the holiday season.

So how can you continue to maximise your Google Ads profitability when products go in and out of stock in the coming months?

Check out the 7 ways we recommend to our eCommerce clients (and use on our own eCommerce businesses) during the holiday shopping season:

1. Give your customers a pre-order option

If you can estimate (or you’ve been given confirmation of) when a product’s back in stock, you can keep generating revenue through a pre-order or backorder option. Better yet, you can mark this kind of product availability attribute in Google Shopping. Although you'll need to input an ‘availability date’ to give shoppers an expected timeline for the product.

Just make sure you have trustworthy information about when the product will next be available on your site. If you can’t deliver what you’ve promised, customers may lose trust in you and you may be forced to give refunds.

2. Gather customer data with a back in stock email

If you can’t get a certain timeframe for product availability, you can still try to capture first-party data with email sign-ups. Give your shoppers the ability to receive an email when the item they want is back in stock. This way you benefit from two things:

1. The chance to grow your subscriber list

2. The ability to advertise alternative/similar products to them with segmented email retargeting

3. Add similar products to the landing page

Add other items of the same product type to the out of stock product page as recommendations.

60% of shoppers who encounter an out of stock product buy a substitute from the same site, while 15% switch sites to find the item elsewhere.

So take advantage of this - and make it simple for shoppers to find similar products that meet their needs, like Aquaproofs do:

Make sure your SEO is shopping season-ready too: 10 holiday SEO steps to get your eCommerce site ready for the shopping season

4. Think about pausing any out of stock product ads

Once again: if you want to avoid a lot of wasted ad spend and frustrated customers this season, pause any Google Search PPC ads for out of stock products - but only after considering the other strategies above.

Alternatively, have your out of stock product ads automatically paused using a Google Ads script.

How does the script work? It tracks the URLs of all your active ads to the landing page and searches the landing page for a certain string of text, like ‘out of stock’.

If the product’s out of stock, the ads are paused and labelled as such (eg. ‘Paused - out of stock’). The script also auto-enables ads that are back in stock by reviewing all ads with the ‘Paused - out of stock’ label to see if it’s back in stock. And if it is, it’ll re-enable the ads - saving you wasted ad spend and the headache of pausing them yourself (especially if you’ve got a large inventory).

Worth noting: if you’ve got a multi-variant product (like sizes, colours etc.) and your URL leads to an out of stock choice, it’d be classed as an out of stock item.

Want to automatically pause and unpause your out of stock Google ads? Get in touch with us to implement this script for you.

5. Show other product categories to make up revenue

If you do end up pausing one product’s ad spend, make use of that marketing money elsewhere. Try to pick out another product type that could use the ad spend to increase your overall sales.

Just be sure to look at your historical data first - and then experiment. It might take a while to pinpoint the highest-ROI products, so do this in plenty of time (not two days before Black Friday).

6. Create a catch-all Google Shopping campaign

Ever run a low-priority, catch-all campaign that targets all product types? You should.

Set at a low-priority level, this low-spend campaign can draw in some good revenue with not much investment. It also makes sure your products are always showing up in the ad bids, even if your other campaigns have met their spending limits.

If you’ve not had the time or the budget for a catch-all campaign before, it’s worth looking into for the holiday season, as it can be a profitable way to spend ad money, particularly when facing stockout trends.

7. Identify your next best-seller

While you might be currently losing money because your best-selling product is out of stock, another product could be waiting to claim the spotlight.

  • What you don’t want to do is simply wait for your top-selling product to come back in stock.

  • What you do want to do is experiment with ad spend on new products.

Try A/B testing with different ad designs that centre on different products. It’ll let you figure out other products that sell well - leaving you with a second money-maker when your current best-seller comes back in stock.

You might even discover a product that outperforms your previous top performer.

Plan ahead of time to prepare for supply chain issues

Since Covid hit, out of stock products have become more frequent for eCommerce retailers. And the impact hasn’t died down just yet.

But you don’t have to let out of stock items stand in the way of your business goals. With solid strategies, you can still run profitable campaigns, even with stock and supply chain issues. Experiment with the things we’ve talked about above and see what works for you.

Prefer a specialist to take it off your hands? See how our eCommerce PPC services can help. Alternatively, chat with us to find out how we can help you get prepared for the upcoming shopping season.