The power of presales over waitlists.

Why are some of the world's biggest online retailers choosing presales over waitlists or back in stock notifications? Let's find out.

Posted September 2023
2 min read

Over the last few years, several factors have reshaped what customers expect from their online shopping experience. We’ve seen massive growth, a rise in operational costs, supply chain disruptions, and a shift to a preference for best in class technologies.

These days consumers have countless shopping options. If a product they want isn't available, it’s pretty easy to check out another seller - a tough pill to swallow considering we saw an increase of 250% in out-of-stock messages between January 2020 and October 2020.

Despite this increase, consumer tolerance for this has lowered. The way we see it, online retailers now have an opportunity to get creative with their sales strategy to not just meet consumer expectations but exceed them.

In a pre-pandemic world, when a product wasn’t in stock, customers had a few options; they could either check back later or enter their details to join a 'waitlist' for a notification. The waitlist approach generally produces a conversion rate of 8% to 15%. There had to be a better way.

The Distinction Between Waitlists and Presales

Presales involve accepting a customer's order for a product before it is physically available for fulfilment. This guarantees the customer that the product they want will be theirs once it's ready to ship. Merchants choose to charge full, partial, or no payment upfront, with the remaining costs settled later, and the expected timeline clearly communicated at the checkout. It’s a strategy commonly used to build hype for product launches or to sustain sales momentum when an in-demand product is waiting on stock replenishment.

Our data tells us that products made available for presale have a 47% higher conversion rate than those that are not. 

Waitlists, on the other hand, encourage customers to submit their details (usually email address or phone number) to receive notifications when an item is in stock and ready for purchase. This strategy is often associated with 'drop culture,' where customers sign up to be the first to know about new product releases or to be alerted when previously sold-out items have been restocked.

A screenshot of Sheike's waitlist notifications for new products

How presales increase conversion: The Commitment Factor

The key difference between the traditional waitlist approach and presales lies in the level of commitment — both from the customer and the seller. A waitlist requires no commitment from the consumer to ever make a purchase, and they will surely forget about it while waiting for it to become available.

From the customer's point of view, it also doesn't guarantee that the merchant will ever stock the item. Or that when it does become available, they'll even get their hands on it. As for presales, there’s almost a guaranteed sale, a win for both the customer and seller!

Aside from the obvious benefits of a guaranteed sale, studies find that 71% of customers who participated in presales have more trust in the brand than before. Many feel a sense of belonging to an exclusive community and even say they would be more likely to shop again.

Based on the data from over $850 million of orders processed by Submarine, customers who are involved in presales place 38% more orders than the average customer, and spend 34% more! They get excited about securing special or limited products without the fear of them quickly disappearing from the virtual shelves and cement themselves as loyal customers for the brand.

While waitlists have served their purpose in the past, presales have proven to be an incredible way to increase conversion and nurture long-term customer loyalty. Submarine offer retailers the technology they need to launch an effective and elegant presale strategy, that fits seamlessly into their existing fulfilment workflows.

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