How Long Do Backorders Take?

Navigate backorder challenges effectively with strategic solutions. Learn to bolster customer trust and enhance operational efficiency.

Jim Sharkey
September 23, 2023
Navigate backorder challenges effectively with strategic solutions. Learn to bolster customer trust and enhance operational efficiency.

In the world of e-commerce, few phrases elicit as much concern as “Your item is on backorder.” Whether you're a fervent shopper eager to lay your hands on the latest fashion or a brand looking to meet market demand, understanding backorders is crucial. But what does this term truly entail, and more importantly, how long do backorders typically take?

Most business owners have grappled with backorders — they've felt the weight of customer frustration and the challenges brands face when a hot-selling item just flies off the virtual shelves. Let’s do a deep dive into the intricate world of backorders, drawing from real, personal experiences.

Why Do Backorders Happen?

When you stumble upon a product listing that boldly proclaims “Backordered,” it may evoke a blend of anticipation and frustration, but what does it actually denote? A backorder situation arises when the demand for a product far surpasses its current supply, creating a temporary lapse in availability. Despite this, customers retain the option to secure their desired item with the understanding that delivery will be postponed.

Delving deeper, one might wonder about the reasons for an item landing in backorder territory. A multitude of factors could potentially be at play here, including:

  • High demand: In some cases, a product achieves unexpected stardom, either through a sudden surge in popularity triggered by celebrity endorsements, seasonal sales events, or inexplicable market dynamics. 
  • Supply chain disruptions: At times, the supply chain encounters hurdles, which could be the result of various unforeseen events ranging from sourcing issues with raw materials to natural calamities or labor strikes — all of which can significantly hamper the timely availability of products.
  • Manufacturing delays: Occasionally, the manufacturing process itself faces snags, whether due to technical glitches or logistical complications, resulting in a reduced output rate and subsequent delays in product availability.
  • Inventory mismanagement: In other instances, an inadequate inventory management system or miscalculations in demand forecasting can inadvertently lead to stockouts, despite a glaring market demand.

One such occasion developed when a client's product became an internet sensation overnight, shattering all sales forecasts and plunging us into a chaotic backorder scenario. 

While it sounds like a brand's fantasy, this situation unfolded a series of challenges. It encompassed not merely notifying customers of the expected delay but orchestrating a comprehensive backend strategy to expedite the replenishment of stock and facilitate swift shipping, ensuring customer satisfaction and brand loyalty remained intact.

What Factors Influence Backorder Timelines?

Backorders vary widely in duration, ranging from mere days to extended months. This variability isn't arbitrary but influenced by several key factors. Savvy brands that understand these can enhance customer communication and manage expectations.

A primary factor is the supplier response time. The ability of suppliers to quickly provide necessary materials is essential. Any delay, whether due to their own stock issues or manufacturing lags, can push backorder timelines.

Then there are shipping and customs delays. International products face potential hold-ups from customs, logistical mishaps, or intricate shipping processes, each of which can prolong wait times.

The volume of backordered products also plays a role in backorders. A high-demand item with a large backlog can extend wait times, particularly if incoming supplies are limited. Depending on the nature of the product, production capabilities, can also influence delays. Handmade or intricately detailed items might not easily ramp up production, leading to longer waits. Seasonal variations bring their own challenges. Time-sensitive products, like holiday goods, can have protracted backorder durations.

Effective communication with stakeholders is vital. How swiftly brands liaise with manufacturers, suppliers, and logistics teams impacts backorder timings. From my experience at Amazon, backorder durations were diverse. Some products were back in stock swiftly, while others, tangled in supply chain issues, took weeks — recognizing these factors enables brands to offer clearer insights into backorder timelines for their customers.

How Can Brands Effectively Manage Backorders?

Backorders can be a hurdle, but with the right strategies, brands can navigate them while maintaining customer trust and operational efficiency. 

First, transparent communication is paramount. When a product is on backorder, it's essential to not only indicate the likely wait but also provide timely updates. Customers value honesty. Brands can also offer alternatives, suggesting comparable products that might serve as satisfactory replacements. Implementing modern inventory management systems provides an edge, giving brands real-time insights into stock levels and aiding in accurate forecasting. 

Building and consistently reassessing supplier relationships is another strategy. A strong bond with suppliers ensures that during peak demands, your brand stands out. Brands can further bolster their response by adopting flexible manufacturing. 

By diversifying production bases or integrating adaptable production lines, they can respond to surges more effectively — and when delays are inevitable, loyalty incentives can make all the difference. Offering discounts or other perks can ease customer dissatisfaction, transforming potential disappointment into brand loyalty.

At Mochila, our approach to backorders often involved granting customers a future purchase discount. This straightforward act consistently transformed potential setbacks into positive touchpoints.

Why Is Timely Resolution of Backorders Crucial?

The digital marketplace has transformed consumer expectations and, with it, the patience for waiting. Timely resolution of backorders isn't just about logistics — it's about preserving trust and brand integrity while ensuring the longevity of customer relationships. 

Here's why it's important:

  • Customer loyalty and trust: Consumers value transparency and promptness. Consistently meeting or even exceeding backorder timelines reinforces trust, making customers more likely to stick around for future purchases.
  • Brand reputation: In an era where one online post can go viral, brands need to uphold a positive image. Efficiently resolving backorders can prevent negative reviews and foster positive word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Competitive edge: In a saturated market, being the brand that efficiently manages backorders can be a distinguishing factor, setting you apart from competitors.
  • Minimized operational costs: Delays can often compound costs — storage fees, expedited shipping, and more. Timely resolution is also financially prudent.
  • Enhanced forecasting: Successfully managing and learning from backorders can provide invaluable data for future inventory forecasting, allowing brands to be better prepared.

Delays are, of course, unavoidable at times, but the real measure of our success is in how we manage and resolve these delays. It isn’t just about the product but about the entire experience.

Turning Backorder Challenges into Brand Opportunities

The world of e-commerce is both exciting and unpredictable. Backorders, though often seen as a setback, are also an opportunity. They indicate demand, interest, and the potential for growth. However, the way a brand manages these backorders plays a pivotal role in its overall narrative.

Brands that prioritize transparency, invest in robust logistics and inventory systems, and consistently strive to exceed customer expectations are the ones that thrive in this dynamic landscape. They transform challenges into milestones and setbacks into stories of resilience.

It is essential that we consistently iterate, learn from our challenges, and always put the user first. Backorders are just one facet of this vast ecosystem, but mastering their management is undeniably essential for sustained success in the digital marketplace.

To better see the opportunities disguised in your backorders, contact me today. Let’s work together to reaffirm the trust your customers place in your brand.


Demand: How It Works Plus Economic Determinants and the Demand Curve | Investopedia

How to Harness the Power of Celebrity Endorsements | Entrepreneur 

7 Tips for How To Ensure and Improve Customer Satisfaction | Indeed 

15 Effective Tips For Improving Communication With Stakeholders | Forbes

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