Purpose-This paper aims to investigate the effect of retailers’ consumer communications in prompting the choice of an in-stock alternative to an out-of-stock first-choice product. Design/methodology/approach-Four between-subjects experiments assessed the extent to which the likelihood of a retail customer switching to a similarly-priced alternative when a first choice was out-of-stock was affected by messages concerning stockout status (Studies 1a and 1b). They further examined the interaction effects on participants’ preference of messages comparing the available versus unavailable options and stating stockout status (Study 2) and those giving information on the reasons for the stockout and on its status (Study 3). Findings-Participants maintained their original preference for an out-of-stock product unless an external restriction on choice prompted them to forsake it or they perceived a strong reason to opt for an in-stock alternative. There was a greater tendency to switch if the alternative offered a potential “gain” or the reasons given for a stockout were irrelevant to product performance, whether the participant was expecting imminent re-stocking. Switching was triggered when the available alternative was directly comparable to the original or the retailer’s explanation related to an attribute judged trivial, but only if short supply was expected to continue. Originality/value-The studies add to current understanding of how shoppers respond to unavailability of a first-choice product by examining the effect on switching behavior of messages about the stockout situation that are communicated deliberately or inadvertently by retailers.