The year is 2020 and lockdowns are in effect throughout the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses in all shapes and sizes have been left wondering what the best course of action is for them and their customers. We've pulled together our top recommendations for ecommerce businesses to keep everyone safe, maintain customer satisfaction (as much as possible) and search engine visibility.
Inform customers of any impact on your business and your response
The first and most important action is to inform your customers of the decisions you're making and give reassurances. If you're able to continue your ecommerce offering, provide details of the extra steps you're taking regards health and safety for your product picking, packing, dispatch and delivery. You may decide to share additional information about potential delays due to courier service demand, or staff shortages that are impacting usual dispatch times.
If you've taken the decision to temporarily suspend your ecommerce proposition, then having clear messaging around this for your customers is vital. To negate further disappointment, you'll want to consider sharing dates that you're likely to re-open as well as clear contact points to keep people to date.
There are several ways to inform customers of important updates. Our chosen process is summarised below:
- Add a notification banner to your website with an initial message stating the action you have taken e.g. temporary store / showroom closures, opening time updates, delivery interruptions or similar
- Create a landing page / blog post to give additional details of how your business has been affected e.g. extra precautionary measures in place regards picking, packing, dispatch and delivery if your business can continue to operate
- Email existing customers to inform them directly of the announcement and further details of the situation linking back to the landing page / blog post in step 2
- Share the announcement on your social media channels, referencing the landing page / blog post created in step 2
Common Issues faced by e-commerce businesses
We've been hearing about many issues ecommerce business are facing right now. Here's a summary of the main pain-points that people are dealing with:
Supply Chain Issues
You may be a business that's experiencing issues receiving orders from suppliers. This has left some companies with no choice but to temporarily suspend trading, a huge blow for any business.
If you find yourself in this position, having an SEO strategy in place is crucial. We've heard from businesses who've been advised to shut down their websites or temporarily apply a password to their store. Doing this is NOT advisable and could have a long-term detrimental impact on your search engine visibility that outlasts COVID-19.
Instead, we'd recommend temporarily making products on your website unavailable to purchase, preventing customers from completing a purchase that would not be fulfilled. Adding an additional option on product pages to capture an email address is also advisable. This will allow you to inform potential customers when you're taking orders again and boost initial sales when you re-open.
Staffing shortages & social distancing
We all need to do out bit in the fight against COVID-19 and follow the governments latest advice to:
- Stay at home
- Avoid all non-essential travel
- Practice social distancing, staying 2 metres away from other people
This has placed additional demands, even for ecommerce businesses to keep the wheels turning through the pandemic.
With so many people self-isolating and practising social distancing, even keeping the warehouse operational could prove difficult. If you find yourself in a position that you can't honour your usual delivery options and terms and conditions, make sure this is clear for your customers. You might even consider removing certain delivery options such as 'next day' and 'express' if it's not realistic you'll be able to fulfil those services.
Increased delivery demands
With more demand for home deliveries on businesses that can continue trading, couriers and delivery services also face higher workloads. Keeping track of all orders with fewer staff could prove difficult, therefore it is vital customers are informed their delivery may take longer than normal.
Steps businesses should consider when informing customers about potential delays are as follows:
- Update order confirmation emails stating there may be possible delays
- Removing delivery options that are no longer applicable e.g. guaranteed next day / express delivery
- Adjust any email automations linked to product purchase and delivery, e.g. number of days before a product review request is sent
Should e-commerce companies continue to trade?
Of course, there's a moral part to this question, but in a word, yes – so long as you're able to operate safely for your staff and customers. There's an argument to say that the more ecommerce businesses continuing to operate, the less the general public will have to go out during lockdown.
Ecommerce businesses have an advantage over brick & mortar stores. Being able to continue to operate via home delivery means a level of income can be maintained, however this still presents numerous challenges.
And with so much uncertainty in the world right now for consumers, businesses need to ensure they're maintaining trust signals by keeping customers informed on how their shopping experience could be impacted. We've received numerous queries on how best to inform customers on decisions that impact business continuity whilst mitigating losses when the world begins to return to normality.
Shopify tips to handle stock issues during the COVID-19 crisis
Here are our top tips to maintain visibility and give a good user experience during this difficult time:
- Keep staff and customers safe! – Ok this isn't a tip for stock handling, but it is the most important tip we can give!
- Don't close your website, password protect it or remove all products as this will have a last impact on search visibility, potentially for months
- Ensure customers are kept informed of any changes you have had to make to your business practices
- If you can keep trading, ensure you update delivery information to be as accurate as possible, hopefully reducing frustrations of customers who continue to place orders
- If you must cease trading, mark products as out of stock preventing any new orders from being placed – for further advice on on ecommerce stock management scenarios read our guide: How to handle 'out of stock' SEO for ecommerce inventory in a crisis
Keep calm & carry on – the current situation is unprecedented but be assured things will return to normal at some point in the future. Ensuring your business can come out of the other side in good shape will rely on a good strategy being implemented now with both users and search engines in mind.
There is no single strategy that will fit every business, as we have all been affected in different ways, however we can help with the right strategy for you. Get in touch - we'd be happy to chat through short term strategies get your business through the storm or longer-term objectives for your business on the other side.