5 tips for tracking out-of-stock items this holiday season
Go get them presents.
Since a lot of us couldn’t spend the holidays with our families last year, it’s even more tempting to make the most of this year by finding the best gifts for the people we love. But as you may have noticed, some products are scarce or experiencing serious worldwide shortages.
Now listen, you may not be able to get all the things you want to give this year, but you can beat the problematic supply chain (and other shoppers) by keeping track of when your most coveted gifts are back in stock.
Sign up for alerts
The most obvious way to know when a product has been restocked is to set up a notification system. Some online retailers let you sign up for email or app alerts when a particular item is back on the shelves, so if you see that option, go ahead and subscribe.
[Related: How to unsubscribe from all your newsletters at once]
Of course, the downside to this approach is that you’ll have to do this on every site that carries the item you’re interested in. And some retailers don’t even offer this feature for all their products. Amazon, for example, will sometimes display an Alert me button on the right-hand sidebar, but don’t be surprised if you don’t see it every time.
Give your local store a good ol’ phone call
Before the COVID-19 pandemic messed with the supply chain, restocking schedules were pretty consistent. You could’ve surfed the web and found out, for example, that Best Buy posts restocking information on Fridays, making that an excellent day to have that store’s site open in a browser tab, ready for regular refreshing.
But now retailers cannot count on that consistency, so they may only know when they’re getting more of a new product a few days in advance. The best way to stay in the know is to ask them directly. If there are big chain stores near you, look up the phone number for their nearest location or, the next time you go, ask the manager for the best way to contact them to ask restocking questions.
They may redirect you to the general customer service number or say they can’t help you, as the holiday season is a busy time of year and lots of stores are currently understaffed. But if you’re lucky, you might get direct contact with someone who has enough information to improve your chances of getting the gift you want so much.
Get some help from the pros
Since the great PlayStation 5 craze of late 2020, there has been a surge of sites and social media accounts whose only purpose is to inform readers about restockings in the biggest US retailers.
StockInformer is one. The site monitors hot items, like PS5 consoles, the Google Pixel 6 Pro, or the Nintendo Switch Lite, and after you sign up, they’ll notify you of restockings in a variety of ways, including email, push notifications to your Android phone (sorry, iPhone users), or even your Telegram account. The downside to StockInformer is that it only tracks a handful of the hottest items, so you’ll have no way to track something that’s not already on their list. Still, this is a good way to keep an eye out for highly coveted tech products, which are particularly scarce due to a worldwide chip shortage.
You can also follow restocking accounts on various social media platforms. You can find a myriad of them on Twitter, where some are even dedicated to certain geographical regions and specific kinds of products. From the Twitter home page, go to the search bar in the top right corner of your screen and search for “restock”. On the results page, go to the People tab to see which accounts are tracking the products you’re interested in, and give them a follow. You’ll find a lot of them are focused on electronics, but there are also some dedicated to the sneakerhead community and specific fandoms, like Pokémon.
Keep in mind that many of these accounts might be inactive, so before you sign up for their updates, make sure it hasn’t been six months since their last tweet.
Enable dedicated trackers
The internet is full of shopping extensions that aim to get you the best deals on the web. But unfortunately, the challenge this year is not the price of your favorite item, but its sheer availability.
Fortunately, some browser extensions come with restocking options. That’s the case for OctoShop, which can alert you when a product is back in stock. Available for Chrome and Firefox, all you have to do is install it and go to the page of the item you want on one of the OctoShop-supported retailer sites. These include Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. You’ll see a purple tab on the right side of your screen that shows the app is running in the background, and if you click on it, it’ll show you cards with different stores where you can buy the item you’re searching for.
Wherever the product is out of stock, activate the toggle switch next to Notify me when in stock. A menu will pop up asking you how frequently you’d like OctoShop to check for the item (Instant makes the extension check more frequently), and a cap price so you’ll only get alerts when the item is below a certain price. Here you can also set up the notification sound you’d like OctoShop to use. When you’re done, click on Track. If you’re looking for an item in a specific size or color, make sure you make your choices before enabling tracking on OctoShop. Otherwise, you’ll get notifications when any size or color of the product comes in, not the exact one you want.
If you’re shopping for clothes, BackinStockAlerts.com can help. Using this site is simple: copy the URL of the product you want to track, paste it in the search bar on the website, provide your email, and voila! You’ll get an email when the product you’re tracking is back in stock, and you can set up as many alerts as you want. The only downside with BackinStockAlerts is that it works with a limited number of stores, although two of them (Amazon and ASOS) can cover most of your fashion needs.
Lastly, you can set up a webpage change tracker to get a notification the second the item you’re looking for is back in stock. These programs are designed to let users know when something (anything) on a webpage changes, but you can use it for online shopping if you know what to track. We used Distill, a browser extension available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
Open the page of the product you’ll be tracking and click on the extension icon to the right of the navigation bar in your browser—it looks like a raindrop. There, select whether you want to track changes on the entire website, or only certain parts of it. When you’re tracking big online retailers like Amazon, it’s not convenient to track the entire page, as you’ll get notifications whenever there are any changes, including new customer reviews or related products.
Your best bet is to choose Select parts of the page. When you click on this option, a new Distill menu will pop up from the bottom of your screen. You’ll notice that specific parts of the website will be highlighted in a black outline when you hover your mouse over them—these are the sections you can track. To know when there’s a restock, pick any sections that contain text such as “Temporarily out of stock,” “We’re sorry!” or “Out of stock.” It’s also a good idea to select the list of available sizes and colors, so when yours gets added it will prompt a notification. Once you’re done, click Save Selection at the top right of the Distill menu.
The extension will then take you to a website where you can tweak the settings for your tracking. The most important one here is Schedule checks—it determines how frequently the extension checks for changes. You can set intervals that range from every five seconds to every day. You can also click on the drop-down menu there and set it to Live, which will prompt Distill to constantly check in the background. But that function is still in beta, so it may not be perfect. When you’re done, click Save.
A diverse strategy wins the race
Victory is not about choosing the best tool—it’s about diversifying your approach. The more soldiers you have on the field, the better your chances of scoring that elusive gift. Still, you’ll need to keep in mind that getting your hands on that restock is only half the battle—you’ll still have to deal with shipping and delivery times, which might make it difficult to get that precious item into its recipient’s hands.
[Related: Amazon is one big step closer to delivering packages by drone]
Just remember that nothing is guaranteed, and even if trying your best doesn’t cut it, it truly is the thought that counts. And it helps if you go into great detail about all the alerts you set up as you recount your tale of woe.