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In a shop-like website, we have a horizontal menu in the header where all categories of items in stock are listed (7-9). Depending on availability of items, some categories may be empty. Usually the list of categories changes once in 3-7 days.

We have the following options:

  • Hide links to categories without items.
  • Display category page as usual, but displaying "Nothing's found. Come back later." instead of items.

At first sight, the former option is obvious one since we don't want to make user think and waste time while navigating through empty categories (there could be more than one empty category). But the latter option gives us consistency as some old lady who used to navigate to items of her preference from a link which is hidden at the moment could be frustrated with its absence (nope, we're not designing the website for elderly people, just as example).

Which option is better based on your experience?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Most e-shops tend to keep all the products listed at all times, but put a notice on the product page when out of stock. This helps SEO to avoid having pages appear and disappear all the time.

When viewing a category with OOS products it's helpful to note which ones are OOS - perhaps greying them out or moving them to the bottom of the list so they don't get in the way of saleable goods.

If none of the above is feasible for you, then you should still display the empty categories, because it gives users a good indication of the products you sell. They could otherwise leave your site not knowing you sell a certain thing, so never return to see if you have any in stock.

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Agree. Recently had an experience where Costco completely removes items that are out of stock from their website and I was like 'what I'm never going to get it ahahhhhhh I better look somewhere else' when if they just said 'not in stock' I would have been like 'ok cool I'll wait' :p. Wonder how this applies to non-store sites though.. like search category filters – Damon Oct 29 '12 at 14:27

If you always have the same number of categories, you might consider adding the number of available products after the category name.

Books (9) | CDs (0)

If your products do not change often, i would recommend going with @DisgruntledGoat solution.

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we're going to try your idea with numbers, thanks. – Vladimir Shulyak Nov 14 '11 at 8:36
This is good because the user can tell with minimal effort that you usually have these products, just none right now (as opposed to thinking, for example, that you discontinued the category, or that it's combined with another category). This will encourage users to come back to check later. I'd still make OOS categories an active link but show a page explaining there are temporarily none. If possible, the page should say when you expect to get some. – Michael Zuschlag Nov 14 '11 at 16:31

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