Half a year after the United States joined the rest of the planet in quarantine, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hurt. Every aspect of life and the world has been affected, and commerce is no exception. Yelp reported that over 80 thousand businesses shut their doors forever between May 1 and July 15. The number has only grown since then.
With that said, all is not lost for business owners — especially those with eCommerce stores, where customers can shop from home in safety. Despite the fraught state of the world, it may still be a good time to start an eCommerce business. If you confront the challenges of COVID with a strong strategy and an open mind, your business could survive and even thrive. Here is some advice for growing an online business during this troubled time.
Don’t Exploit the Crisis
First, we should discuss how not to grow your online business during the pandemic. In times of stability, businesses have many options for maximizing profits and minimizing spending. However, not all of them are ethical.
This is especially true in times of crisis. The number of unethical options often increases, along with the temptation to take them. Resisting such urges and taking the high road is important during this troubled time. The COVID-19 disaster should bring out a business’s best side, not its worst.
For example, if your store offers items that many consider essential for coping with the pandemic, do not inflate the prices in anticipation of demand. This seemingly clever practice could backfire, with the high costs scaring away potential customers. Worse, you could be protested for taking advantage of the vulnerable or even prosecuted for price gouging. Changes in price should only reflect changes in expenses.
Many people are struggling to stay afloat right now. They are keeping an eye out for those who help others and those who only help themselves. Conducting business with a sense of ethics may pay off in the long run more than exploitative practices.
Keep Employees Safe with Restructuring
As the pandemic rampaged across the country these past six months, the national unemployment rate skyrocketed. Some are considered more “at-risk” than others, and they must stay home as much as they can for their health. Many others lost their jobs as businesses closed, either for the duration of quarantine or for all time.
With that said, lay-offs should not be your Plan A for saving money. Nor should remaining physically open, which could alienate your concerned and at-risk workers. A business cannot thrive without the labor supporting it. If many prioritize their health over their work — an understandable viewpoint — then you should try to meet them where they are.
In this regard, eCommerce businesses have it easier than others. At least part of the operation is already virtual. You should consider which jobs can be performed from home, rather than an office or other workplace. For roles that absolutely require being physically present, extensive safety measures should be implemented. If you support your workers, their gratitude will be apparent in their output.
All these measures may seem inconvenient for you, especially if quarantine lasts beyond anyone’s expectations. However, expanding the eCommerce side of your business or making the full migration can be a boon to your business. This trying time can be a golden opportunity to make massive changes — not just for your benefit, but for everyone’s.
Get Your Supply Chain in Order
Suppliers, distributors, and shippers are among the types of businesses that the pandemic has most affected. Many of the jobs within these companies require the physical presence of workers. With workplaces cutting capacity to satisfy quarantine measures and at-risk laborers staying home, the number of people present is often lower than ever.
These changes have caused disruptions in supply chains, which may result in extended delivery times and even product shortages. Businesses and customers alike will find this situation less than ideal. The latter group will either accept the change or look for companies that keep up the pace. The former must adapt if they hope to retain their clientele.
Unfortunately, business owners cannot do much to alter their partner companies’ internal issues. What they can do is communicate. When it comes to your own suppliers and shippers, reach out to their management, and learn what you can about their situation. Only with that knowledge can you decide if you should stick with them, negotiate, or look for someone else.
Additionally, you should communicate with your customers as well. Do not fear disappointing them with the truth about delivery delays and temporary unavailability. They will likely be more disappointed if you deceive them. They can also be quite forgiving if you remain transparent. Owning up to a less-than-satisfying situation can win a great deal of trust.
Make the Most of Your eCommerce Tools
One curious effect of the months-long quarantine is that many people are finding themselves with more time. The removal of commutes, office hours, and any activities outside of the house has loosened schedules. The threat of cabin fever encourages people to devote this time to pursuing goals that were long put off.
A discussion of this trend often refers to hobbies, exercise, education, and vocations. However, it can also refer to changes within a business. For example, you may have learned how to build a shopping site with your eCommerce platform. However, you may have been in such a rush to start your business that you did not explore the platform’s full range of eCommerce tools.
Every eCommerce platform comes (or at least should come) with a massive selection of features. Many are essential for starting an online business. Others may not be necessary, but learning how to use them can make it easier to run your website. We mention this because learning how to implement and optimize your platform’s features can create surprisingly positive results.
A tool you may have dismissed at first may cause a significant boost in conversions. An unlikely marketing method may sell more products in a day than you sold in a month. A wise investment in your newly opened time may pave the way for major growth, even during the pandemic.
In a time when many people focus on simply staying afloat, businesses of any size can experience growth and success. Some ways their owners can achieve that include:
- Maintaining ethical business practices, even in the face of temptation
- Investing in employees, rather than risking their health or employment
- Working to maintain or reorient supply chains as needed
- Testing whether the implementation of unfamiliar eCommerce tools can boost the business
Above all else, business owners must embody a few different qualities. They must remain ethical, so they stay on the right side of the law, public opinion, and history. They must remain adaptable, so the business can stay strong in any situation. They must be grounded enough to know the reality of their situation, yet ambitious enough to aim for lofty goals. Growth is not just possible in the time of COVID-19 — it may be easier to reach than you believe.
Jimmy Rodriguez is the VP of eCommerce at Shift4Shop, a completely free, enterprise-grade eCommerce solution. He's dedicated to helping internet retailers succeed online by developing digital marketing strategies and optimized shopping experiences that drive conversions and improve business performance.
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