Checkout Tactics

Wait List Notifications: ‘Old School’ Feature Still Drives Conversions

The “wait list” was first popular in the late 1990s — before comparison shopping and social media sites. — to allow shoppers to sign up for notifications about specific products.

The concept is simple. When an item is on backorder, the shopper can enter his or her name and email address. When the item is back in stock, he or she receives an email alert.

It’s simple, yet it’s often ignored now, or replaced by more trendy social media campaign efforts.

Don’t underestimate “old school” methods, though. While this type of notification method is used less often, it’s a more direct way of communicating with current and potential customers.

4 Reasons to Receive Wait List Emails

There are four main reasons shoppers sign up for product stock emails.

  1. Many stores are out of stock. This sometimes leads to signups at multiple sites.

  2. You have a better price and the buyer isn’t in a hurry for the product.

  3. They want to buy from you. These are often repeat customers who trust your business.

  4. The product is exclusive to your store.

Configuring a notification feature is often inexpensive (less than $150 with most shopping carts; many require an investment of $75 or less). The key is placing links conditionally — only on products that will return to stock — as the page’s call to action; it replaces the “add” or “buy” button.

Wait List Tips to Convert the Shopper

Converting shoppers via a wait list is a simple process. To get the best return on investment, follow these tips.

  • Provide a time frame. If possible, display on the product page an estimated wait time.

  • Remember privacy concerns. Tell shoppers you respect their privacy, and link to your site’s privacy page.

  • Confirm the signup. After signup, send shoppers to a web page or send an email confirming signup.

  • Use simple word choices. For the email subject line, include the product name and a term like “back in stock,” or “ready to ship”.

  • Offer a discount. Thank the shopper for his patience by offering a discount if he buys the product. Be careful – overly restrictive or confusing discounts can backfire.

  • Clarify the email sign-up. Remind the shopper that he or she has not been added to a mailing list. You could say, for example, “This is a one-time emailing for this product only. You have not been auto-added to any of our mailing lists.”

  • Include a link to the store. This is useful when the user decides he doesn’t want the product, but may be interested in other items.

  • Avoid non-associated offers. The wait list email is not a newsletter. Keep it specific to the product itself.

  • Emphasize time sensitivity. Be clear that the email is just a notification, and that the item has not been reserved for the customer. This can trigger the impulse to order it now before it goes back out of stock.

  • Send a canceled email. If the product becomes discontinued, or you are unable to buy more, send an email stating so. The shopper may then seek the item elsewhere. But she won’t forget that you didn’t leave her hanging.

A Good Reminder

Don’t be alarmed if some shoppers forget they even signed up. If you receive a disgruntled email in return, politely reply, assuring the user he has not been added to any lists.

A good many shoppers will, in fact, forget about the product and/or that they signed up for the wait list. In this case, the notification is a great reminder that your online store exists, even if they have nixed plans to buy a specific product.


There’s something to be said — and earned — by old school methods like wait list notifications. By taking the time to enter his or her email address, the average shopper is indicating an intent to purchase. Couple that with a minimal, often one-time investment, the wait list can provide a better conversion rate than standard marketing and advertising efforts.

Pamela Hazelton
Pamela Hazelton
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