In the complex world of inventory management, businesses often find themselves grappling with the challenge of backorders. The term ‘backorder’ might be familiar, but understanding its intricacies and implementing effective strategies to minimize its impact can significantly enhance operational efficiency.

What is Backordering and Why Does it Happen?

Backordering occurs when a customer places an order for a product that is temporarily out of stock, prompting the business to accept the order and promise future delivery. This strategy is employed to maintain customer satisfaction, even when immediate product availability is not feasible. The primary reasons for backorders include unexpected spikes in demand, supply chain disruptions, manufacturing delays, or inaccuracies in demand forecasting.

How Can You Reduce Backordering?

  • Optimize Inventory Levels: Regularly review and adjust inventory levels based on historical data, market trends, and seasonality. Implementing just-in-time inventory practices can help prevent overstocking or understocking.
  • Enhance Demand Forecasting: Invest in advanced forecasting tools that leverage data analytics to predict demand more accurately. By understanding customer preferences and market trends, businesses can align their inventory levels with anticipated demand.
  • Establish Strong Supplier Relationships: Cultivate strong partnerships with reliable suppliers. Clear communication and collaboration can help businesses navigate potential disruptions and receive timely updates on product availability.

How Does Backordering Work?

When a customer places an order for an out-of-stock item, the business typically accepts the order and informs the customer of the expected delivery date. The business then reserves the necessary quantity of the product once it becomes available and fulfills the order accordingly. Effective communication with customers regarding backorder status is crucial to maintaining transparency and trust.

Advantages of Backorders

  • Cost Reduction and Efficiency: Keeping a large inventory in stock demands storage space, which incurs additional costs. By leveraging backorders, businesses can maintain a smaller on-hand inventory, reducing the need for excess storage and ultimately cutting down on associated costs. This efficiency in storage utilization can lead to more streamlined operations and improved bottom-line performance.
  • Cost Savings Passed to Consumers: The cost savings achieved through reduced storage needs can be passed on to consumers. Lower prices can attract and retain customers, especially in markets where demand for specific products is high. In situations such as the release of highly anticipated products, backorders may actually contribute to a positive image by offering competitive pricing.
  • Increased Demand and Brand Visibility: Backorders can create a sense of urgency and exclusivity around a product. Items that are difficult to obtain due to high demand may be perceived as more valuable or even as status symbols. This increased attention can lead to heightened brand visibility and potentially attract new customers curious about the allure of backordered goods.

Problems With Backorders

  • Operational Leanness and Customer Dissatisfaction: Consistent reliance on backorders might indicate that a company’s operations are too lean. Frequent backorders can frustrate customers, signaling a potential mismatch between supply and demand. Customers who repeatedly encounter out-of-stock situations may lose patience, cancel orders, and, in extreme cases, shift their loyalty to competitors who can fulfill their needs more reliably.
  • Market Share Erosion: Inability to manage inventory effectively can lead to loss of market share. Customers, faced with repeated backorders, may explore alternative products from competitors, potentially discovering suitable substitutes. This scenario poses a risk of permanent customer migration as frustration with a company’s product availability grows.
  • Resource Intensiveness and Communication Challenges: Handling backorders involves more than simply managing inventory. Companies must efficiently process pre-orders, handle customer expectations, coordinate logistics, and communicate effectively. The additional workload can strain resources and necessitate more robust communication efforts to keep customers informed about product availability. Failure to do so may result in customer dissatisfaction and damage to the company’s reputation.

Difference Between Backorder and Out of Stock

While both terms denote unavailability of a product, there are key distinctions. “Out of stock” indicates that the product is not currently available for purchase. In contrast, a “backorder” implies that the product is temporarily out of stock, but customers can still place orders with the assurance of future fulfillment.

Causes of Backorders and How Can We Minimize Them

  • Demand Variability: Unpredictable shifts in customer demand can lead to backorders. Mitigate this risk by adopting agile inventory management practices and leveraging real-time data to adapt to changing market conditions.
  • Supply Chain Disruptions: Identify and address vulnerabilities in the supply chain. Diversify suppliers, maintain safety stock, and establish contingency plans to mitigate the impact of unforeseen disruptions.
  • Forecasting Errors: Invest in robust demand forecasting tools and regularly review and update forecasting models. This proactive approach can help businesses align their inventory levels more accurately with actual demand.

Challenges Faced While Backordering:

  • Customer Dissatisfaction: Extended lead times associated with backorders can lead to customer dissatisfaction. Clear and timely communication regarding order status, along with realistic delivery estimates, can help manage customer expectations.
  • Operational Complexity: Managing a mix of in-stock and backordered products adds complexity to order fulfillment processes. Implement streamlined procedures and leverage technology to ensure seamless operations.

What Are the Backorder Management Tools?

  • Inventory Management Software: Utilize advanced inventory management systems that offer real-time visibility into stock levels, automate reorder processes, and provide data analytics for informed decision-making.
  • Demand Forecasting Tools: Implement forecasting tools that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to analyze historical data, market trends, and external factors, resulting in more accurate predictions.
  • Order Management Systems: Streamline order processing and fulfillment with efficient order management systems. These systems integrate seamlessly with inventory management tools, ensuring accurate tracking of orders and inventory levels.
  • Communication Platforms: Employ robust communication platforms to keep customers informed about order status, expected delivery dates, and any potential delays. Transparency is key to maintaining customer trust.


Inventory backorders pose both challenges and opportunities for businesses. While they are a testament to customer demand, managing them effectively requires a strategic approach. By investing in advanced technologies, optimizing inventory practices, and fostering strong supplier relationships, businesses can not only reduce the occurrence of backorders but also enhance overall operational efficiency. Embracing transparency in communication and implementing robust backorder management tools will undoubtedly pave the way for a more resilient and customer-centric business model.