Surprise! Count yourself as one of millions of ecommerce merchants who likely never anticipated the type of global disruption facing virtually every individual and every entity today. By now you and everyone you know is operating in crisis mode both personally and professionally. Your business may be your first priority, and the news there is mixed.
Since the COVID-19 virus took hold overseas, eventually making its way to the US, economic impacts have been devastating. The financial markets tumbled. Tourism is in near-halt mode. And those who sell goods and services are in a veritable desert; a Catch-22 scenario of either lacking customers or a supply chain to meet customer needs.
The struggle is real, and despite criticism of unnecessary panic, an all-out shift in operations is no longer just a possibility. Running an online store during this cross-continental crisis demands creativity to mitigate inventory shortages, shipping uncertainties, and uncomfortable customer communications. Industry analyst Bruce Biegel notes that this is the first genuine global crisis experienced in high volume by the ecommerce sector.
Amazon sellers are all too familiar. That company, in a panic over how to fill orders safely, has placed a temporary moratorium on third-party vendors. No word on when or if that will lift in the near future.
Even giants like Microsoft and Apple Computer are sounding the alarm about significant sales drops, with Apple recently deciding to temporarily close all retail locations outside of China.
With physical locations shutting down, you may think that is an opportunity for your online sales. And it could be. You just need to source your product, and get it shipped. Following that, there are three areas of concern that can’t be ignored.
Get the goods
You’re the expert with respect to your own business; you already have an idea of whether you will be in good shape to fill orders from customers stuck at home and gravitating to the computer for a round or online shopping. If your suppliers are domestic and not yet gravely impacted by COVID, you may realize few interruptions. If you join the vast universe of sellers counting on China, you may avert your eyes toward Vietnam or Bangladesh to find suitable replacement inventory.
Stay calm and communicate
No retailer or wholesaler welcomes order fulfillment quagmires that lead to unhappy customers, but count on a slew of them in the next few weeks or even months. You can manage them by being proactive with customer service, starting with outreach to buyers with open orders. Let them know you’re as informed as you can be, monitoring the situation and tracking the shipment chain. Deliver the brutal truth if their merchandise may not arrive soon — or at all. Salvage your reputation for future orders; remember, this is not isolated to just your business. Going forward, all consumers will be relieved to witness a recovery, and if you play your cards right, all will be forgiven.
To plug or not to plug
With a business geared to endless attempts at marketing, your question may be “now what?” How can you initiate sales you’re not sure you can complete? There are strategies for balancing the decision on marketing and advertising in a time like this. If you’re reasonably confident with your supply chain, you should continue to advertise and market. Otherwise, reconsider your current approach, either by slowing down on outreach or tailoring each promotional effort with clear language related to contingencies.
A full-on panic mode isn’t helpful for anyone, but serious consideration of your business and its short- and long-term viability is fully dependent on vigilance, smart decisions, and a constant willingness to stay on top of breaking developments.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery, in every respect.
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