Mastering the ecommerce product life cycle: Strategies for success

Emily Graham

Web Experience Manager

8th May 2024

~ 7 min read

In the dynamic world of ecommerce, managing the product life cycle (PLC) is crucial for sustaining a successful online business. From introduction and growth to maturity and eventual decline, understanding and strategically navigating the different stages of a PLC can significantly impact a company's bottom line. 

In this article, we will delve into the importance of managing the ecommerce PLC, address technical SEO considerations of managing this process, and explore user journey expectations and opportunities. 

It’s worth noting that when we use the term “product”, the principles and processes can be generalised to “services”. Where “product” is mentioned throughout this article, consider where the same could apply to an online website that offers services that go in and out of availability.

Why manage the ecommerce PLC?

Managing the PLC effectively ensures that businesses can adapt to changing market demands, capitalise on growth opportunities, and make informed decisions to maximise sales.

There are three key areas of interest when it comes to the ecommerce PLC: 

  • When a product has reached the end of its life (discontinued)
  • When a product is seasonal, so it will be out of stock (OOS) for a while but will be returning when the season begins again
  • When a product has simply ran OOS temporarily and will be coming back soon

Within each of these areas, there are particular considerations which could unlock valuable SEO performance and revenue for your business. Below is a flow diagram to outline this process, and we’ll cover each item throughout this article.

The ultimate product life cycle flow diagram
The ultimate product life cycle flow diagram

What are the technical SEO considerations of managing the PLC?

When a product becomes OOS or reaches end of life (EOL), ecommerce website managers face a decision of how to handle the product pages, to ensure their crawlability and indexability are optimised for search engines.

Common mistakes

  • OOS products get removed from the site or are temporarily 404’d - This can impact indexation and bounce rates, meaning it's not fully maximised for cross-sell opportunities.
  • Removing EOL products instantly but the product detail page (PDP) is still generating large volumes of organic traffic - This can lead to loss of traffic and negate cross-sell opportunities.
  • Poor clarity on product status for OOS products - Ambiguous messaging on the PDP leads to poor user experience, increased bounce rates and missed opportunities for cross-sell opportunities.
  • PDP has “OOS” messaging when actually EOL - This can lead to large amounts of redundant low-value pages overtime, which increases crawl bloat and bounce rates. Mistakes are made when there is a lack of strategy for how to handle EOL pages, and if users are still interested in these products, this might highlight that the product should not be decommissioned. 
  • Platform constraints - Platform/technical solutions have an inability to ensure the different scenarios are handled effectively.
  • Inability to maximise seasonal products and categories - This can impact indexability and seasonal sales opportunities. Seasonal products have the ability to generate SEO equity all year round - not just when it is available to purchase.
  • Manual interactions - The process should be automated if the platform allows, and should not rely on a stock or marketing manager to manually mark the status of products. If the site is small and product availability doesn’t change much, automation isn’t as much of a requirement as it could be more manageable for marketers to carry out these actions manually. If a platform is not able to handle lots of product change at scale, this can quickly grow into a larger problem, where the site gets bloated or users are finding too many broken pages.

Best practices

A successful PLC process maximises the return for all channels, ensuring the sales funnel is efficiently optimised from a customer experience perspective.

  • Understand your data - Do you have a large bounce rate? Are search engines crawling old PDPs unnecessarily? Answering questions like these could highlight something is wrong with the current setup. 
  • Map out the journey - Understanding how OOS and EOL products are handled can highlight key opportunities and pitfalls.
  • Consider where your SEO equity goes - The aim with any technical implementation is to retain and boost SEO visibility. Ensure pages are live for as long as they need to be, or pass the equity over to a relevant place. 301-redirecting discontinued product pages to relevant categories or alternative products helps maintain SEO value, preventing users from encountering dead links and ensuring a seamless browsing experience.
  • Keep EOL products live for ~6 months - EOL products that don’t have a direct product replacement and still get valuable traffic should be kept live (200 status code) for six to 12 months. After this length of time, a re-review is necessary to understand if the page can be 301-redirected to an alternative product or category, if it can be 410’d (gone), or if it needs to stay live.
  • Inform users with good use of on-page messaging - If a user lands on a PDP of an OOS product, there should be clear OOS messages around the page, and no option for them to add it to their basket.
  • Cross-sell - Offer the user different avenues to continue their journey, such as alternative product colour variants, other product suggestions or an email capture so they can be informed when the product is back in stock. Email capture is a great way of building your email database for further communications.
  • Automate the process - Ideally this process should be automated so that manual interactions within the CMS are restricted. This could be linked directly to stock levels. As mentioned previously, this is not a requirement, but will definitely help maximise success for large scale ecommerce sites.

What do users expect on product display pages?

Maintaining a good user experience is key when dealing with OOS or EOL products. You wouldn’t want a user to navigate to an OOS product and add it to their basket, nor would you want users to bounce away from your website if they can’t find what they’re looking for. Cross-selling on your PDPs is essential to mastering the OOS or EOL journey.

Here are some key features you’ll want to consider adding to your site to make sure users are well-informed and can continue their search journey.

Out of stock products

  • Clearly communicate the product's unavailability with a prominent "Out of Stock" message
  • Provide options for users to sign up for notifications when the product is back in stock
  • Suggest similar or alternative products within your online catalogue to retain customer interest. There might be other colour variants to promote (these should also be shown in product listing pages (PLPs)).

End of life products

  • Clearly mark the product as “discontinued” 
  • Offer information on potential replacements or upgraded versions
  • Provide a clear call-to-action, guiding users to explore other relevant products

Other considerations

  • You may want to have OOS messaging for any OOS products listed on the PLPs. Sandqvist do this really well by listing their OOS items on the PLP with appropriate “notify me” messaging.
  • When a particular size or colour has run OOS, these items will need to follow a similar process - clear messaging for the user, the inability to add the OOS colour or size variant to the basket and an alternative journey for cross-sell opportunities. AllSaints does this well on their PDPs, by greying out any OOS size variants and offering links to other colour/pattern variants.
  • Chat with merchandising/buying teams if you discover SEO data or see an opportunity to sell products that users are searching for. If your customers are searching for items, in Google Search or on your site, if they are telling you they want the discontinued item, it’s worth communicating these findings to stock managers.
  • Paid search is another area where these principles could save money and effort. If you’re paying for adverts on social media or paid search, and a user clicks on your ad featuring an OOS product, this can be a really upsetting experience for the user, and will be costing the business. A reactive bidding strategy is therefore required to only present paid ads for “in stock” items.

How can I get started with managing my ecommerce product life cycle?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the current technical setup optimised for search engines?
  • Are there any gaps in the process and strategy that your site currently isn’t considering?
  • Are there any system limitations and flexibility?

If the answer to any of the above is “YES!”, Croud is here to help! Our dedicated team of Customer Experience experts specialise in helping ecommerce teams optimise their product management and overcome technical SEO pitfalls. We can provide valuable insights into your current setup and offer strategic solutions to optimise your product and marketing efforts.

We’d love to chat - get in touch with our team here!


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