10 things for online retailers to think about in a world recovering from COVID-19

The past weeks have been unimaginable for retailers around the world. Aside from how all our personal lives have been affected, businesses are coping with furloughs, supply chain challenges, the temporary shutdown of retail stores, and learning to navigate a retail world in a time of social distancing.

Consumers have had to change the way they shop and business owners have needed to change their business models in order to respond to this new way of life. Many without online stores have had to get online quickly. For retailers without an online presence, there’s no need to worry. Brick-and-mortar shops can get online easily with an Easitill website, and easily integrate their point-of-sale system. But, launching an online store is purely the foundation.

Selling during a Covid-19 world represents an opportunity for sellers to gain and retain new customers over the long term, not just during the temporary lockdown restrictions.

Most online stores rely heavily on repeat business. Thus it’s important to deliver great service to every existing and potential customer — from the initial visit to the delivery of the product.

Here are some tips to consider, to help retain those new customers as the pandemic passes.

1.     Keep on top of your products.

The forgiveness level of overselling published inventory has decreased during the pandemic. With so many retailers running out, consumers have been scrambling online to find everyday essentials and trending products.

Make sure that your stock count has been kept on top of or even keep a buffer amount in stock. Avoid cancelling orders where possible. Cancellations can sometimes generate complaints on social media, affecting both short- and long-term sales.

Adjust your product range to become recession-proof e.g. Cancel holiday and seasonal orders (e.g. swimwear, suitcases), keep home products (BBQ, furniture). Carry lower price variants.

Broaden and multi-source your supplier base to ensure robust end-to-end supply chain resilience. Adjust your thinking to become recession-proof by sourcing high demand relevant products from alternative suppliers or ensure you have backup suppliers ready.

2.     Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

a.      Convey accurate lead times.

Err on the side of caution when displaying lead times on products. With supply chain and workforce interruptions, it’s best to extend the date and surprise customers with earlier deliveries. If an out-of-stock item won’t likely return any time soon, consider disabling it from the store to avoid disappointment.

b.     Send tracking numbers as soon as items ship.

Merchants have no control over recent carrier delays. But keeping customers aware of when their order left your hands can lessen customer service inquires while maintaining the promise of fast turnaround times. Politely remind customers that you did your part.

c.      Communicate.

Send order status updates and follow-up emails. Find ways to reach out later, too, so shoppers will remember your company. Create relevant content to engage customers across various marketing channels.

3.     Deliver Relevant Product Information.

Trust is earned on many levels. It’s not a clear-cut process. Relevant images, videos, and textual content for products play a big role. While it’s impossible to please all shoppers, targeting the biggest group is crucial. For example, when Salsify surveyed 1,000 online shoppers, 60 percent said they required at least three product images to consider clicking the buy button. Thirteen percent said five or more images were necessary.

4.     Maintain and improve your customer relationships.

  • Deliver relevant, timely content that solves customers’ immediate and long-term challenges
  • Make it easy for customers to connect with you
  • Prioritise online chatting with customers
  • Develop easy, time-saving online FAQs for customers
  • Deepen the customer relationship by offering more products and services
  • Engage in your customers’ channel of preference (if they are reaching out through social media respond to them through social media if their channel preference is email, respect and use that channel)
  • Be responsive to all customers, regardless of the channel they choose (because they need to feel valued and trust you to deliver on your promise)

5.     Don’t over-capitalise.

Perception is everything. Don’t give shoppers the impression you’re only about making money. Find unique ways to maintain a personal connection beyond selling products. Give back and help out.

6.     Extend the return and exchange period.

It’s unfair to expect home-bound customers to pack and ship returns unless you provide pre-paid shipping labels and pickup service.

Some events and party shops for example have gone the extra mile. Since many customers purchase decor and accessories for scheduled events (which are now cancelled due to Covid-19), one store has backdated the return policy to orders placed since January 1, 2020. It has also extended refunds from 30 to 60 days and store credit from 60 to 180 days.

7.     Value all customers and sales.

A good number of ecommerce sites are seeing more traffic and orders. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to the long-term. Make even first-time, low-budget customers feel special.

Temporarily shift from the “fewer sales, higher profit” mentality to helping as many consumers as you can. That means focusing on all orders. Consumers are presumably putting off big-ticket purchases during Covid-19, anyway. Thus it makes sense to embrace smaller orders from first-time buyers to enable a long-term relationship.

8.     Recognise shifts in buying habits.

With the government enacting “stay-at-home” and social-distancing, many brick-and-mortar stores have had to close or rethink their business models. Not all of them will survive. This makes ecommerce more important than ever. Study changes in shopping habits and use them to your advantage. Perhaps selling more of what people are buying. Many newer and smaller brands will come out of the pandemic stronger — with new, loyal customers.

9.     Be smart about Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising.

It stands to reason that with more people at home, there are more Google searches going on — and some are turning to ecommerce for products they would have previously purchased in person. But other verticals have seen a decrease in traffic.

It makes sense to consider PPC if you’re not already doing it, especially if your store has items that are relevant to the change in our lives due to coronavirus (including things to entertain kids stuck at home) — but it won’t be right for every business.

Make sure to watch your data closely, and adjust your bidding strategy if necessary. If you see that certain times of day have much lower conversion rates, reduce your bids for those times to save money.

10. Find opportunities for a special offer.

Market to today’s customers.

  • Offer discounts and incentives
  • 73% of top retailers are running sales
  • 40% off is the median discount
  • 90% of shoppers say free delivery is a top incentive, so more businesses than ever are offering this perk.

Promote and use markdowns, sales and promotions that you may have had planned for a later date, now instead of later to avoid excessive revenue decline.

Economic uncertainty, layoffs, and lost jobs may increase price sensitivity in some shoppers. Consider offering a special discount across your store or on specific items that may have higher demand. If consumer spending in your store is down, discounts could be a good way to draw shoppers back.

Conclusion

The retail industry has seen a massive shift in just a few weeks due to COVID-19. From consumer behaviour and spending patterns to navigating a new normal, retailers must look ahead — and online — to find success.

Innovative supply chain solutions, creative and compelling marketing strategies, and a continuously evolving customer experience will light the path for retailers as they navigate a world after the pandemic.