Waitlisting: A Retailer’s Secret Weapon for Demand Management and Buzz Building

Selling out of a product can be both a negative and a positive

Kylie Skin quickly promoted a restocking date, generating a second wave of interest and demand. Kylie Skin by Kylie Jenner

In the world of retail, selling out of a product can be both a positive and a negative.

On one hand, it’s a powerful indicator of demand and consumer interest. On the other, it can be frustrating for customers who are ready to buy but can’t.

Today, retailers are looking to the waitlist to solve issues related to the negative side of selling out. By including an email opt-in on product pages where items are currently unavailable, they’re creating a list of interested customers they can follow up with directly when the product is back in stock. They’re also leveraging the waitlist data for more accurate forecasting.

Experts like Tomer Tagrin, CEO at ecommerce company Yotpo, say this is a wise move—especially for direct-to-consumer brands.

“Savvy marketers that they are, retailers often use ‘sold out’ as a way to make product rereleases a FOMO-inducing event,” he said. “These tactics recondition consumers to anticipate product drops, and, if sold out, promotes continued engagement with the brand until the product is available again.”

Tagrin went on to discuss a well-known use case where this very approach paid off. Kylie Skin, the beauty brand launched by Kylie Jenner, sold out of its $125 sets the day it launched on May 23, but the company quickly promoted a June 5 restocking date to some combined 158 million followers across Jenner’s accounts on Instagram. This created a second wave of interest and demand.

“This approach generates considerable buzz so that restocking has become an event in and of itself,” he said.

The fear of missing out (or FOMO) that drives this whole equation is rooted in science.

A 2013 study published in the scholarly journal Computers in Human Behavior says FOMO creates an apprehension in humans that others may be experiencing rewards from which they are absent, which helps spur action in consumers. FOMO is especially effective for shoppers within the millennial generation, as a 2014 Eventbrite survey found that 69% of people in this demographic regularly experience FOMO.

For fashion and beauty buyers, the waitlist helps assuage those fears. And brands with a direct-to-consumer element are taking note.

In the case of Pura Vida Bracelets, the waitlist approach helps build a sense of anticipation around products in high demand. There are currently more than 7,000 people on a waitlist for the jewelry brand’s LaurDIY pack of bracelets, made in partnership with influencer and YouTuber LaurDIY.

“For us, having a waitlist builds demand, scarcity, and gets the customer excited to purchase the second it becomes available,” said Griffin Thall, Pura Vida Bracelets’ CEO and co-founder.

Skincare retailer TULA is another use case in which the waitlist is paying off. TULA currently has more than 22,000 people waiting for the next drop of its Glow & Get It Eye Balm, a product launched in partnership with over 50 different influencers earlier this year.

“When we launched this product we knew it was amazing, but didn’t anticipate just how quickly it would sell out,” said Katey Hasson, vp of brand marketing at TULA. “We’re working hard to get it back into our customers’ hands and have adjusted our forecasts and order quantities to do so.”

But TULA isn’t stopping there. While the interest and demand for the product is promising for the brand, TULA is also capitalizing on the waitlist as an opportunity to gather important customer data.

The brand’s skin quiz, which is featured on the site and sent to those who opt in with an email address, generates more than 300,000 data points per month about audience members’ skin concerns. The quiz data helps the brand make data-informed decisions moving forward while continuing the conversation with would-be customers who are waiting for the restock notice.

Still, for other brands, waitlists are more of a necessary stop-gap solution.

Footwear brand Matisse is another retailer that can’t seem to keep up with ongoing demand for one of its products. The Caty boot, beloved by hundreds of influencers across Instagram, is almost always sold out in at least a few sizes or colorways. Today, Matisse has sold more than 10,000 pairs of this style online.

Even so, Matisse has a six-week average turnaround window with its Brazil-based production team. Sheena Parks, the brand’s creative director, explained that this is lightning fast for the industry, so Matisse currently has no plans to shift production.

For them, the waitlist approach is working just fine.