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Consumer Interpretations: Sold Out vs. Unavailable

Every content marketing strategy should include interpretation considerations. We have to consider how the consumer is going to interpret and respond to the messages we're sending them.

How are they going to interpret something, and what kind of emotions could that potentially generate in your target consumer? Thanks to Phil Agnew (Senior Product Manager at Buffer), we can think about how this applies to two words you might see on an ecommerce site.


Now, as I show you this image, I want you to take a moment and think about that for a minute.

If you're looking for something and you land on a page, and you see something that says "Out of Stock," you see something that says "Sold Out," or you see something that's listed "Unavailable," how would those words sit with you?

Phil says if you label your unavailable items as sold out, it potentially decreases customer disappointment. What's the key to the difference in response?

If you see something is "unavailable," there are a lot of messages that could send to the consumer.

Word Choice: Unavailable

Consumer Interpretations and Response:

Why is it unavailable? And if it's unavailable, why is it on your site? That generates a little bit of frustration for something to be unavailable.

Word Choice: Sold out

Consumer Interpretation and Response:

It's sold out. I didn't get there in time. Maybe it's so popular a lot of people wanted it.

Now, I would actually take this a step further. If you can, let people know that even though it's sold out, let them know if more is coming.

Something similar to me when I found a corgi-themed clothing company. I have a corgi named Jaina, and I found two shirts on their site. They were perfect for my love for my dog and 80s movies. They had a t-shirt that was taken from Say Anything, but instead Lloyd Dobbler holding up the boombox over his head, he's holding a corgi over his head.

The other t-shirt was a scene from E.T., and it had all the kids on their bikes, and they were about to take off the ground in that iconic scene. In the movie, they have E.T. wrapped in that blanket, but on the shirt, E.T. was replaced by corgi.

I wanted both of those shirts, but guess what? They didn't have my size in either of them. They were sold out.

Of course, I was disappointed, but in this case, if I would've seen the word "Unavailable" (instead of sold out), I would've thought:

"Why are they even showing me this?:

I'd be frustrated.

I may not even come back to that company and look again because who's to say I'm not going to see something else I like that's unavailable? And this was a company I had just discovered. So this is really an important step in developing a connection or feelings towards the brand.

But because I liked it so much, and because it was listed as "sold out," it meant enough to me to send them a message and ask: "Hey, I really like these. Are you gonna get any more of them? Or is this just kind of a one-time thing as part of your, you know, inventory?"

And they wrote back, and they said thanks for letting them know. Yes, these were popular, and they would give me a notification when the shirts come back.

So I kept checking back.

I did get a notification, and I now have both of those shirts. 🙂

Corgi sleeps with her gorilla toy.
This is my corgi - Jaina.

So, all's well that ends well, and I've actually bought a couple of other things from them. Whereas if it had just been unavailable and I got disappointed, or I got just kind of frustrated. Why is that even there?

I might not have come back to that site for anything because I would've made an interpretation about unavailable and sought out a place that has cool corgi shirts that are available.


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