It is too early to talk about lessons learned from the novel coronavirus pandemic as the situation is still evolving and changing day by day. But we are already starting to see patterns in how eCommerce is impacted, and what companies are doing to adapt to the situation. Without a doubt, organizations who went into this crisis without a strong and robust online story are suffering. The same can be said for industries that depend on in-person interaction or don’t have a diversified supply chain. Looking at the eCommerce industry top to bottom there are several areas businesses can look toward when effectively reacting to COVID-19 and preparing for the future.
Supply Chain Resilience
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, before it truly became a global emergency, supply chains were already seeing impacts for businesses that had a dependence on China, Japan and later Northern Italy. Since then, the global reaction to the pandemic has escalated to include the closing of borders and entire countries shutting down to control the spread of the virus. This has caused manufacturing and distribution to cease operations, and in many cases, they may not function for weeks or months at a time. Keeping surplus inventory in the warehouse is likely not possible for most businesses, but looking at diversifying suppliers is a way to ensure businesses can stay afloat.
In these difficult times, silence is a bad strategy. Using customer data from CRM, e-mail marketing tools, and updating information across the website will ensure that customers know what is happening in your business and can manage their expectations accordingly. Each retail business is handling this unprecedented time differently. I have seen communications range from notification that business will shut down for a period of time to offering promotions and new products tailored to the situation. Among major online retailers, Victoria’s Secret has made the choice to temporarily shut down online and brick and mortar stores. Which is in stark contrast to Nordstrom, offering a 25% sale to a great degree of success. Many businesses don’t have the option to deliver their goods online, such as yoga studios, massage salons, and other service-based companies. Some of these businesses have been offering gift cards or online classes through e-mail marketing and social channels.
Using technology in pick/pack/ship and leveraging ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software to help drive warehouse processes can ensure effective operations. In times of a pandemic, we see that warehouse automation and the ability to adjust processes predict the difference between servicing clients and having to shut down and send staff home. Adjustments span the ability to minimize human interaction and provide space for warehouse workers to keep ‘social distance’, to effectively managing out of stock inventory on high-demand products. Leveraging 3rd party logistics providers and spreading inventory across geographies ensures the ability to keep serving customers even when parts of the country are restricting non-essential businesses.
Prioritizing Online Customers
One of the most common trends we have seen in the last month has been the shift of sales online. With the forced closure of stores in many parts of the world, consumers have no choice but to look toward eCommerce. The other factor driving consumption is the need for “shopping therapy” as many consumers are stuck at home and dealing with a disrupted daily routine. This leads to two broad groups of products that need to be treated differently, goods that are non-essential, on products that we can’t do without. Putting the customer first is the right strategy, not only to maintain customer loyalty in a time of depressed sales, but also to have the opportunity to grow. Specifically, actions such as limiting per-order quantities for high-demand goods to serve more customers, rewarding customer loyalty, and setting expectations on fulfillment times will ensure more positive customer experience and set the business up for success over the course of the pandemic and for even greater sales when the situation returns to normal.
Sustainability, supporting charities, and working with other non-profits has been a way for businesses to promote their community engagement and build brand loyalty. Many have been looking to get involved and have been volunteering to support their neighbors, communities, and customers. From large companies such as Kraft-Heinz, who have donated $6.6M in cash & food products to Feeding America, to small distilleries quickly pivoting to make hand sanitizer to combat shortages, astute businesses are finding new ways to help their community at large. Here at RSM, we have invested in providing our employees $50 per week to spend in their communities or donate locally, totaling over $2M. We’ve seen extremely positive feedback from employees who are taking this opportunity to engage and have support from their workplace.
This pandemic presents a rare opportunity for astute business leadership to help save lives and decrease economic disruption, while simultaneously positioning their brand for increased market share and sales in the long run.