As the COVID-19 pandemic forces stay at home orders, businesses around the globe can no longer operate as normal and must rely on online selling. For the past several weeks, merchants have had to learn on the fly how to overcome the unique challenges they face. How do they serve customers through online channels only? How do you market to customers during a crisis? How do you prepare your supply chain for today and the uncertainty in the coming months?
Almost all merchants are facing these problems together, and many are sharing their insights with others. To help, we put together our top list of tips to help your online business navigate the unique challenges of this time.
1. Increasing Internal Communication
During any time of crisis, communication is key. If you haven’t done so already, it’s best to establish a regular cadence of communication. At the very least, teams should meet weekly, and in some cases, daily. Even if these meetings become short, they’re critical in sharing regular and updated information across the organization. When everyone is aligned on goals and challenges, then your team is prepared to find the best solutions together.
On top of the need for more communication, most merchants have also been forced to move to remote work. If you or your team are struggling with making it work, here are some great articles about working from home:
- Five Ways to Manage Business Coronavirus Concerns When Employees Can’t Work from Home
- Four Ways Your Business Can Support Remote Workers
2. Focus On What’s Working
For many, this outbreak upended many of your planned marketing campaigns, product launches, or events. With an unstable economy, consumers are changing their spending habits too. So, how does your team decide what to focus on now?
Take a look at your organization and identify what is working and focus on that. You might see an increase in conversions in one marketing channel over another. Recognize that and allocate resources accordingly. It might be best to simplify your operations by focusing on your essential products over experimenting with new lines.
When it’s harder to come by new customers, it’s also a good time to focus on your current loyal customers. How can you provide the most value for those you know are already committed to your brand?
For example, I love the outdoor brand United by Blue (UBB) and have always been impressed with their transparent communication with customers. In this case, a personal letter from their CEO last week gave me deep insight into their operations right now, which I appreciated. I responded by placing an order because I knew the positive impact it would have on their business, not just because of the discount offered.
By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve been impressed by UBB. Check out they used a fulfillment misstep to make their brand even stronger.
3. Be relevant to customers
COVID-19 affects everyone in some way or another. For most, it’s an extremely frustrating and confusing time. Be aware that consumers are taking in a lot of information right now – most of it overwhelming. You need to consider how your brand, products, and messaging fits into the “new normal” of social distancing.
For some, this may mean moving up planned product launches and holding off on others. For example, apparel companies should be thinking about lines that focus on comfy, stay at home clothes versus your next outfit for vacation. Recognizing this, many fashion brands are already making the switch to work from home clothes.
Before you hit the publish button on anything, use yourself as a gauge as to whether you’re crossing the line. You are also going through these same hardships. Would your initiative be helpful to you right now? Would you consider it insensitive?
As we navigate these first several weeks, I’ve seen many brands take a step back from selling, and instead are focusing on education or direct COVID-19 relief efforts. Here are two great examples of companies putting the overall being of others first.
4. Setting Customer Expectations
Along with being relevant to customers, it’s also important to properly set expectations for when they do interact with your brand. If you aren’t operating as normal, customers are most likely affected in some way. You should be transparent about what could be different. For example, shipments will probably be delayed or support hours could be longer than usual.
The good news is that most customers will be understanding, especially if you communicate early and often. Just like with your internal team, you need to keep a regular dialogue with customers and how their interactions with your brand might look a little different right now. Remember a customer experience now can still make or break whether they buy from you again. For brands who do it right, they’ll come out of this situation with stronger customer relationships than ever.
5. Solidify Your Supply Chain
Another critical disruption in your business right now is your supply chain, especially if you rely on international partners. Border and warehouse closings can seriously affect your ability to procure raw materials and produce your product. If you haven’t done so already, it’s critical to identify the weakest point in your supply chain. Or, what piece is the most likely to fail during these times?
After identifying that one (or few) critical weak points, think about how your organization can create backup and redundancy for it. How can you be proactive in solving for it? This could mean reaching out to additional manufacturers or other vendors now. If you do need them, you’ll already have the relationships in place.
Your supply chain is essential to your business operations, no matter what the circumstances are. Weak points in your process could ruin your business even during normal times. Use this as a proactive approach to strengthen your business for now and the future.
- Combatting eCommerce Supply Chain Disruptions and Steps You Can Take to Minimize Impact
- How to Forecast Inventory Demand with Sell-Through Rate
6. Take Care of Your Team
Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to take care of your own team. The best way to help your customers is to ensure the health and safety of your own team above all else.
We hope these tips help your business navigate these uncertain times. We’d love to hear what else your business is doing to stay afloat.
For a comprehensive list of resources, check out our one-stop COVID-19 resource for merchants.