What Are Backorders and How Can You Minimize Them?

Backorders can be a blessing or a nightmare – it depends on how you handle them. Interestingly, they are hard to avoid and can prop up when you least expect. 

But what are backorders and why should you care? Backorders occur when a customer places an order for a product that is not currently in stock but is expected to be available in the future. 

This situation arises when demand exceeds supply, leading to a temporary shortage of products. It’s a common scenario in the dynamic world of apparel, where trends change rapidly and certain items can become unexpectedly popular.

This blog post delves into the intricacies of backorders, shedding light on how they occur, their impacts, and ways to manage them efficiently.

When Do Backorders Occur?

what is backorder

A backorder occurs when a customer places an order for an item that is not currently in stock but is expected to be available in the future. Unlike out-of-stock situations where replenishment might be uncertain, backordered items are typically on their way to the warehouse or are scheduled for production. 

They are temporarily unavailable due to various reasons such as supply chain delays, unexpected demand, or production issues.

Key Differences Between Backorders and Out-of-Stock

Availability for Purchase

  • Backordered items can be ordered and purchased with an expectation of future delivery.
  • Out-of-stock items cannot be purchased until they are restocked.

Customer Expectation

Backorders provide a timeline for when the product will be available and shipped.

Out-of-stock offers no such timeline, leading to uncertainty and potential loss of sales.

Impact on Sales and Customer Loyalty


  • Backorders, if managed well, can maintain sales and customer loyalty, as customers are willing to wait for the product.
  • Out-of-stock situations can result in lost sales and customers turning to competitors.

Inventory Management Implications

  • Backorders require effective inventory management and communication strategies to keep customers informed.
  • Out-of-stock issues may require reassessment of product lines, supply chain management, and demand forecasting.

Supply Chain Dynamics

  • Backorders are often a result of supply chain delays but with a clear restock plan.
  • Out-of-stock can occur due to various reasons, including discontinuation or larger supply chain and manufacturing issues.

Causes of Backorders

Backorders arise from a confluence of supply and demand factors. Here’s a look at the key causes:

Supply Chain Disruptions

Global Issues: Events like natural disasters, political unrest, or pandemics can disrupt supply chains globally.

Supplier Challenges: Problems at the supplier end, such as production delays or financial issues, can cause backorders.

Logistical Hurdles: Transportation delays or customs issues can slow down the movement of goods, leading to backorders.

Unexpected Demand Surges

Market Trends: Sudden spikes in demand due to trends or viral products can deplete stocks faster than anticipated.

Seasonal Demand: Underestimating the seasonal increase in demand can lead to a shortage of products.

Inventory Management Mishaps

Inaccurate Forecasting: Failure to accurately predict demand can result in inadequate stock levels.

Poor Inventory Visibility: Lack of real-time data on inventory levels can lead to mismanagement and subsequent backorders.

Manufacturing Delays

Equipment Failures or Maintenance: Breakdowns or scheduled maintenance can halt production unexpectedly.

Resource Shortages: Shortage of raw materials or labor can delay production schedules.

Marketing and Sales Oversights

Over-Promising: Aggressive marketing and sales tactics can lead to promises that the supply chain can’t fulfill in time.

Lack of Coordination: Misalignment between sales forecasts and inventory planning can result in backorders.

Strategies to Minimize Backorders

Accurate Demand Forecasting

Utilize historical sales data, market trends, and predictive analytics to forecast demand more accurately.

Regularly update forecasts to reflect changes in market conditions or consumer behavior.

Effective Supplier Relationship Management

Develop strong relationships with multiple suppliers to ensure a steady supply and to have alternatives in case of disruptions.

Communicate your inventory needs and expectations clearly with your suppliers.

Flexible Supply Chain

Build a resilient supply chain that can adapt to unforeseen circumstances, such as by diversifying sourcing or increasing warehousing capabilities.

Consider local suppliers to reduce transportation time and risk.

Customer Communication and Transparency

Keep customers informed about inventory status and potential delays.

Offer alternatives or the option to cancel their order if a backorder occurs, which can enhance customer trust and satisfaction.

Safety Stock and Buffer Inventory

Maintain a safety stock level for high-demand or critical items to cushion against sudden spikes in demand or supply chain disruptions.

Regularly review and adjust safety stock levels based on changing business needs and trends.

Continuous Process Improvement

Regularly review and optimize inventory and supply chain processes.

Encourage feedback from customers and employees to identify areas for improvement.

Leveraging Technology and Automation

Invest in technology solutions like AI and machine learning for more sophisticated demand forecasting and inventory optimization.

Automate routine inventory management tasks to reduce errors and save time.


Understanding and managing backorders is vital for maintaining customer satisfaction and efficient inventory management. By staying informed and implementing strategic management practices, businesses can turn potential challenges into opportunities for growth.

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