It seems trite to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across the globe but...well, it has. No industry has emerged unscathed, but it’s certainly been an interesting time for eCommerce.
There’s certainly been a spike in eCommerce as people at home are increasingly turning to shopping online. But, within the industry, there are markedly different trends; people aren’t just buying more, they’re buying more of certain things and less of others.
As an eCommerce business, it’s important to understand what’s happening in the industry at the moment. But, it’s even more crucial to figure out how to prepare your business for what comes next.
In this article, we want to give you a game plan for pivoting your business into this strange new world so that you can effectively get through the pandemic and prepare your business for what lies ahead.
Important Shifts in eCommerce Trends
Everyone’s staying at home a lot more these days, and that means consumer habits are changing. More and more, people are going online to make purchases that they would normally have made online.
Of course, even within the eCommerce space, we’re seeing different trends in terms of what people are buying, simply because of what we can and can’t do at the moment.
Health and beauty products are in demand as people stock up on soaps, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, and medicines to stay safe during the pandemic. We’re also seeing growth in electronics - people are buying tablets, mobiles, and gaming consoles to stay connected and entertained while at home.
On the flip side, no one’s traveling at the moment, so there’s been a significant drop in sales and shipping volume for bags and luggage. Similarly, with people spending less time on leisure, things like sports equipment and camping gear aren’t selling (or shipping) that well, either.
For a full look at what’s trending in the world of eCommerce, read our COVID-19: eCommerce Trends Report.
Inevitably, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on retail. Many brick-and-mortar stores that were forced to close have had to find ways to quickly pivot online to try and keep their businesses afloat.
On the other hand, many eCommerce stores are benefitting from shoppers going online to get their retail therapy fix. Here are two things you should know.
1. Growth in eCommerce
With everyone staying home and many brick-and-mortar stores closed, it’s no surprise that many shoppers are now going online to buy whatever they need. In fact, the US has seen a 40% increase in eCommerce sales since the pandemic began.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that sales are up across the board. As you can see in the previous section, our data has shown that some eCommerce verticals are doing better than others, simply because of what people currently need in their lives (health supplies) and what they expect they won’t need for awhile (luggage).
2. Supply chain disruptions
Saying that global supply chains have been disrupted is a laughable understatement. At the beginning of the pandemic, the problem was that the coronavirus has shutdown China’s manufacturing and there simply weren’t any products available; additionally, air freight capacity was decimated as airlines and couriers suspended their services to the Mainland, and ocean sailings were suddenly running a huge number of blank sailings.
When production came back online, air freight capacity was suddenly too low to handle the demand, and rates skyrocketed. Ocean capacity still hadn’t increased, so it was difficult and expensive to get goods out of China.
As the coronavirus spread around the globe and became a full-blown pandemic, supply chains around the world were impacted. Many countries are still experiencing significant delays due to government-mandated lockdowns and regulations - for example, in India and Italy.
Even big eCommerce companies aren’t immune to these disruptions. Amazon was forced to prioritize essential supplies for its Fulfillment by Amazon service, causing significant delays, and was forced to shut down its warehouses in France, essentially leaving it unable to fulfill orders.
Adapting Your Store
We’re all facing a new reality in the post-pandemic world, and it’s important to pivot your business to not just survive but thrive in this. Here are a few things you should be thinking about as you plan to take your business into the post-pandemic paradigm.
1. Check Your Inventory
The basic premise of any eCommerce store is to have an inventory of products to sell, and this is even more crucial if you’re going to weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic. Talk to your suppliers and manufacturers to see how their businesses are being impacted, and what this means for your supply chain.
If necessary, see if you can get alternate suppliers that can ensure your store has continuous access to stock. Options are a good thing here, so make sure you have a few of them so you’re never stuck in a position where you have no products to sell.
2. Listen to Your Customers
More than ever, it’s essential that you listen to your customers. Find out what they’re doing at the moment and what they need right now. Is your target audience working from home? Do they have a little job security with furloughs or are they being laid off? How are they feeling and how can you help them?
It’s important to know all these things so that you can understand how to manage your business to address your customers’ needs.
Many companies realized early on that their customers, no matter how loyal, probably wouldn’t need much of what they have to offer right now. That’s why you saw major luxury designer brands such as Louis Vuitton and big spirits labels like Brown-Forman pivoting to producing hand sanitizer.
Others, like H&M, leveraged their extensive network of suppliers and logistics to create much-needed personal protective equipment and get it to the hospitals and medical staff that needed it.
To do this right, speak directly to your customers. Run some polls through your email marketing; engage them in discussions on social media; check Google Analytics to see what pages and information are trending; and use a heatmap tool to figure out how people are using your site and what will draw them.
3. Communicate More
It’s essential that you keep your customers updated with what’s happening with your brand, what you can offer right now, and if you’re doing anything to help locally or internationally.
If you don’t have inventory for a certain product, say so. If shipments are being delayed, either from the manufacturer or on the way to your customers, let them know why and give them an estimated delivery date.
Basically, be honest and transparent. Your customers will appreciate that more than anything else right now.
4. Do your Due Diligence for Operating
You want to make sure you’re doing all the right things to continue your business operations, and that includes making sure you’re abiding by all the rules and regulations that are in place at the moment. That means checking local restrictions to ensure that deliveries and shipments can still be made.
More importantly, you need to deal carefully with your staff. Identify exactly who you need on board at the moment and what they’ll need to do. If you have people in an office, make sure everyone’s in good health, abide by social distancing guidelines, and provide supplies like masks and hand sanitizer so everyone stays safe.
Manage your Marketing
It’s not just enough to change the way you do business in the wake of COVID-19. You’ll probably need to communicate differently, too. The pandemic has upended people’s lives, and your business messages should recognize this. Below are a few things to consider when creating your business’s communications going forward.
1. Try a Little Tenderness
The current situation is far from normal, and your communications should be drastically different too. A lot of us are stressed, confused, and operating with a short fuse.
What worked in the pre-COVID world may not necessarily work in a world where we’re facing unprecedented unemployment, economic uncertainty, and general worry.
Your marketing messages should take this into account and be sensitive to the current situation. This is why it’s important to understand how your customers are feeling and what the general attitude in your specific niche is.
Perhaps you need to offer soothing, comforting messages. Or, perhaps your customers are used to tongue-in-cheek humor from your brand and want to see a little levity. Put out some feelers then do what’s right.
2. Use Content Marketing
You’ve probably seen that many businesses are pivoting the content on their website to offer more COVID-19-related content. Even if your business doesn’t deal directly with selling masks and hand sanitizer, there are plenty of ways your content can be relevant to what’s going on.
Of course, the most important thing is to discuss what’s happening with your company, but you can also talk about things that are only tangentially related.
Perhaps you can talk about working from home and how your products can help, or how your online service can be a good educational resource for those that are being homeschooled.
Of course, everyone’s looking for ways to stay positive, reduce anxiety, and keep busy with things to do, so there’s a lot of fodder for articles there. Even if you just provide a resource page that links to important articles and information, that’s already a step in the right direction.
3. Stay Social
Remind your customers you’re still around. Keep posting inspiring photos on Instagram and engaging them in conversation on Facebook. But as with everything else, remember to be sensitive. The last thing you want is to be that business that became infamous for sending out a tone-deaf tweet.
4. Discount Galore
It’s a fine line, but navigating how to incentivize customers while being sensitive to the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic is important. Many people have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or otherwise forced to tighten their belts, so it can be insensitive to try to encourage people to spend.
But, on the other hand, many states are now slowly opening up and all businesses could use an economic boost in the form of a cash injection. Soon enough, there will be many price-conscious shoppers looking to score a good deal, whether that’s on clothes and accessories or flights and hotels.
You should gauge the situation carefully, but setting up discounts, sales, and special offers can help you attract new customers, and encourage long-time customers to return. Try things like discounted bundles, free shipping, and volume discounts to encourage sales.
Many businesses are also using a charitable component to make people feel better about making purchases right now. You could, for example, donate a portion of your profits to a charity that feeds the local community or make a donation to the local hospital.
A New Reality
It’s obvious that the retail space is going to look very different in the post-pandemic world. And, that applies to eCommerce, too. Consider this a “teachable moment” for your business. If you can adequately plan and put the right systems in place now, your online store will be ready for more customers.
Easyship can help you put the right fulfillment systems in place as you prepare your business for life after COVID-19. Sign up for a free account now to start accessing affordable global courier services (you’ll get an extended 90-day trial if you register a new account before June 30!).
Then, speak to our support team about using our automated systems to make the shipping process smoother, or about using our global warehouse network to position your products closer to the markets where your customers are based.