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I've got a site which sells lots of different products. Due to the nature of the industry, it is necessary that multiple products can be displayed on screen at the same time.

To save space, the availability of the product is denoted by the colour of the background behind it's price, like so...

enter image description here

At the side of the page, I display a key, which explains what the colour-coding means...

enter image description here

My client is adamant that they never want to show any prices in red. Because they never want the site to say that the product can't be ordered. They want to first offer an alternative. If none exists, they want the user to phone them directly- there's always a chance they might be able to locate one that wasn't on the site.

So my question is: Given that the "red" will never be used, should I keep it on the key or leave it off?

Personally, I like the idea of leaving it on, since it will make the user feel like there is always a worse scenario than the one they are experiencing. But my client wants me to take it off, since it suggests they might not have every product.

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Just be aware that people with a certain colour-blind deficiency will struggle (or not be able) to differentiate between the green and the red backgrounds. So they may not know if the item is available or not. – CJ Franken Feb 8 '13 at 11:46
@CJFranken Very good point. I've raised this myself, but my company are sticking with this design, so I'll have to live with it for now. – Urbycoz Feb 8 '13 at 11:50
If you're indicating the availability of the product which has nothing to do with the price, why is the colour coding applied to the price and not the product name? – Matt Obee Feb 8 '13 at 11:54
@kontur "Key" and "legend" are not technically the same – Urbycoz Feb 8 '13 at 13:50
@DeerHunter It's not neant to be bold- that's just a mockup image made with MS-Paint. I don't think you've really understood- It's not that unavailable products are not shown. They ARE shown, but we never say that they are unavailable. – Urbycoz Feb 11 '13 at 11:16
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Show it. For two reasons.

  1. Consistency.
  2. It gives the impression, that the items could be sold-out, so people should buy it before it's gone.
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CJ Franken raised a very valid point about people with color blindness or deficiencies being not able to figure out the background color and that is something you should convince your management about since statistics show that there are a lot of people with the issue.

However coming to whether you should show the non-availablity of an item, I do recommend you show it but if you can provide additional information about when it would be available again then do so. You can also use the Not available option as powerful motivator and a directional aide to direct your user to an alternative that might be available.

For example threadless handles this very well by using the sold out message next to the available ones to guide the user as shown below

enter image description here

However I also recommend looking at this excellent article about Checkout process

Be clear about the availability of the items and inform your customers about the stock levels. If an item isn’t available, don’t take your potential customer through several steps just for them to discover that they can’t actually buy it right away. Don’t just display stock levels on product pages either, show them right on the search results page.

Another option you can have is to show a wishlist of inform me feature which informs the user about when the product is back in stock. This will not only help you inform your customers that they can perhaps get this product again but you will take the effort to inform them.

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'Not Available' should be replaced with 'CALL'. Reasons:

  1. If a customer don't want to display 'Not Available' and has formal right to do this - satisfy your customer.
  2. If the situation with 'Not Available' can be resolved by some action why not to inform about it. If user should call - let him know what to do.
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What if he doesnt have a 24\7 support service? Nothing more than trying to call and getting a annoying message saying " we are currently closed, please call later" – Mervin Johnsingh Feb 8 '13 at 12:20
@Mervin: Thanks, this is a problem. So we can update functionality and display 'CALL' during working hours. At other time we can not display this product at all or display e.g. 'CONTACT US'. Or leave 'CONTACT US' constantly. The idea is to display possible action, of course maybe there is much better another wording. – Serg Feb 8 '13 at 12:45
There's already a "call" option. It's in orange. – Urbycoz Feb 8 '13 at 13:41
@Urbycoz: Sorry, I didn't notice. In such case my answer means that I agree with your customers that red status should be removed. Maybe this looks consistence from programming point of view, but looks unacceptable from business point of view. Also, absence of this status is not misleading because user still have option to do something, and with red status you tell him that he has nothing to do - this is not right because he can call local depot. – Serg Feb 8 '13 at 17:00

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