Coronavirus and Ecommerce: How is COVID-19 Impacting Online Retailers?


Ecommerce

It’s amazing how fast things change, isn’t it? While the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, didn’t sweep through overnight, it might feel that way.

What COVID-19 Means for Your Ecommerce Business

Weeks ago, small businesses were projecting big years, launching new ventures and expressing excitement about their prospects as we headed into the heart of spring and summer. Now we’re all grappling with uncertainty about what COVID-19 means for our businesses. For owners and entrepreneurs who developed ecommerce retailers, you know how important online avenues have become during this season of social distancing. But how will COVID-19 affect ecommerce? It depends on who you ask.

The Bad News

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Over recent weeks, the stock market has shown overall uncertainty. While there’s been a stabilization thanks to the passage of the CARES Act, the reality of job furloughs, reduced income and reductions in retirement accounts has many on edge. That’s true for both business owners and their customers.

No one can predict just how deep this economic recession might dip or what normal life will look like once we collectively emerge from this pandemic. Most retailers are anticipating downturns in revenue because of the coronavirus, and are taking steps to mitigate those losses and instill customer confidence. With fulfillment and other logistical issues widespread, even online retailers are impacted. Supply chain bottlenecks and delays could affect your ability to ship orders to customers quickly or maintain inventory.

The Good News

U.S. ecommerce sales have increased 25% since the beginning of March and elevated online numbers are likely to continue as long as stay-at-home orders remain in effect. While no one can predict just how far-reaching COVID-19’s impacts will be, changing consumer behavior could be a silver lining for ecommerce. As brick and mortar stores close their doors, customers looking to shop are going online out of necessity, even people who previously resisted doing so. While the postal service continues to deliver online orders to customers, ecommerce revenue could outperform initial 2020 projections.

We’ve also seen production facilities in Asia come back online throughout February and March and have heard that many retain the ability to scale up production. This is great news for businesses in need of inventory or diverse supply chains.

Carpe Diem: Where are the Opportunities?

It’s no secret that people are changing their shopping habits as they settle into social distancing norms. If you position your business correctly and emphasize product offerings that fit the needs of your customers, there are opportunities for growth. A recent CNBC article summarized customer purchasing habits into three needs: protection, entertainment and connection. It makes sense—people are home concerned about their health and safety with fewer entertainment options and less human connection.

Health and Wellness

In order to avoid the spread of COVID-19, people are looking for ways to take care of themselves and are prioritizing health and wellness. Vitamins, herbs, botanicals, supplements and aromatherapy are all seeing generally positive year-over-year trends according to recent data. While overall discretionary spending is down as job furloughs and pay cuts increase, people are more likely to spend their money on things that will keep them healthy, including fitness products.

Unlike hand sanitizer and other disinfectant products, fitness-related items weren’t purchased in crazy numbers during much of the initial panic buying seen across the country. But, as gyms closed and businesses selling athletic equipment close, customers are going online to purchase home-workout essentials. Resistance trainers, exercise mats, strength equipment and treadmills have all seen increased year-over-year growth rates in recent weeks.

Productivity

As millions of people fortunate enough to have jobs transition to work-from-home environments, there’s a need for tools that enhance productivity. A huge uptick in technology sales has occurred due to many realizing they are not equipped with resources to work remotely.

People looking to replicate their in-office setups with additional monitors, noise-canceling headphones and even new computers have turned to the internet for those purchases. According to market researcher NPD Group, in the first three weeks of March, laptop and desktop sales were up 40% along with increased webcam sales—a massive 179% increase compared to the same time last year.

Entertainment

While not completely unexpected, one category where discretionary spending hasn’t fallen off is home entertainment. Games, puzzles, books and streaming services are all items customers have said they’re likely to purchase online. Apart from the practical needs of wellness products and tools to continue working, entertainment has become more important than ever.

At the end of March, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that supply chains were up and running to support increased demand for their products. As families and individuals look for ways to fill their non-working hours, the opportunity to sell entertainment-based products is a comforting prospect amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Set up for Success

What should ecommerce businesses be doing to ensure survival during this season of COVID-19? Although not all online retailers are optimistic about 2020 growth, every business should be using this time proactively and productively, no matter what product you sell or what category you’re in. If not already doing so, follow these tips.

Promote Other Versions of Your Product

It might be helpful to leverage your company’s industry knowledge with virtual learning products. Businesses that can offer video tutorials, online classes, ebooks or live webinars should use this as a way to reach customers. Gift cards are also a great opportunity for loyal fans to support your brand if some or all of your products or services can’t be purchased during this time of social distancing. If what your business sells is not in demand right now, a creative solution or offering will help keep your audience engaged.

Be Social

With more time at home, internet and social media usage have increased, providing greater opportunity for real connections between businesses and the people they serve. Social media is one of the best ways to keep in touch with customers during this time, but keep in mind that authenticity is key. Rather than blindly promoting influencer relationships, take this time to showcase your brand in a way that resonates with current customer experiences. Use social platforms to talk with your customers about what they’re feeling, and let them know you’re in it with them.

Check-in with Suppliers

As businesses of almost every kind face delays in production and shipping, it’s more important than ever to have a complete understanding of your supply chain. Make it a point to regularly communicate with your suppliers to find out their status and any roadblocks, then tell that to your customers. Because the coronavirus is a global pandemic, customers expect delays and have been overwhelmingly understanding when brands handle these issues correctly.

Communicate with Customers

Whether it’s bad news or good news, communicating with your customers is more important than ever before. The key is to relay information your customers need—vague, over-communicative COVID-19 statements won’t cut it. It’s crucial to only convey news as it pertains to this pandemic and your business. If your customers have expressed frustrations over certain issues—address them. Be clear with your customers about the steps you’re taking to stay in business and thank them for their support.

Need Help?

If navigating this season of change and uncertainty is overwhelming, rest assured that you don’t need to do it alone. Enventys Partners is here to help with experts in content, email and digital marketing and ecommerce. Request a quote today.

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