In order to survive and thrive in the post-coronavirus world, retailers should consider prioritizing e-commerce as a main revenue stream.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has shaken the world economy and shifted consumer behaviors and spending habits in unprecedented ways. With 30 million Americans filing for unemployment within a six week period and people in at least 42 states experiencing stay-at-home orders, it would be easy to assume that spending has decreased across the board.
In certain categories like jewelry and apparel, this notion has rung true. That said, social distancing has led to a new definition of “home” that now includes work, school, and restaurants. This, in turn, has resulted in a spike in the number of people turning to online shopping for things like groceries, baby products, home decor, and hobby/leisure products.
The e-commerce industry has grown aggressively with 1.5 billion new visitors within three months, a five percent increase. Ebay, being the second most visited e-commerce platform, has seen a large spike in watches, collectibles, clothing, and outdoor leisure products. As represented in the graph below, we can see most categories have had over a 100% increase in sales during February and March.
Many experts speculate that this shift towards e-commerce will persist even after businesses return to “normal”. In order to survive and thrive in the post-coronavirus world, retailers should consider prioritizing e-commerce as a main revenue stream. For retailers considering launching or reopening e-commerce operations, here are the key courses of action that need to be taken to ensure safety and success.
Worker safety is a top priority for retailers opening up their e-commerce operations. Ensuring employees are protected will reduce the burden on our health care system and protect customers as well.
E-commerce giants like Amazon and Patagonia have laid out a number of new safety precautions to promote social distancing and reduce health risks. These precautions include things like PPE, changes to operational SOPs, and health monitoring for employees.
Providing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
The CDC has given recommendations for PPE for health care workers that can easily be adapted for retail and e-commerce departments. Keeping at least a three month’s supply of reusable face masks and disposable gloves in stock and providing them to all employees will cover their basic protection needs. These pieces of equipment should be in addition to any normal PPE requirements.
Changes to Operational SOPs
Enforcing social distancing for your employees can be accomplished through several operational changes. Patagonia has re-opened their e-commerce warehouse with a staff of less than 20% of the normal workforce to reduce potential points of contact. Reducing staffing and/or shift work is an effective way to help ensure social distancing. Naturally, with a reduced workforce certain operational processes may need to be changed including delegation of responsibilities, types of services completed in the warehouse, and expectations around efficiency and performance. For example, signage to control traffic flow within a warehouse lessens the contact and touchpoints between employees.
In addition to reducing staffing, an increase in cleaning and sanitization practices is critical to ensuring worker and consumer safety. Cleaning all surfaces between shifts and instituting more rigorous cleaning procedures is integral in maintaining a safe work environment.
Some of the nation’s largest employers like Walmart and Amazon have started using no contact forehead thermometers as a means of reducing risk for their employees. Employees that show temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit are sent home with no penalty for any attendance policies in place.
Consumer safety and satisfaction are pivotal in a post-COVID world. With supply chains severely disrupted and a reduced workforce, expectation setting and flexibility will be critical in ensuring customer satisfaction.
There are a number of ways to appropriately set expectations with customers on delivery timelines and potential delays in customer service. Effective ways to promote this information to customers include:
- Banners and notifications in online listings and on your website to indicate the potential for delays
- Remove expedited shipping options
- Update customer service verbiage to align customers with appropriate expectations
- Update your business voicemail service or VOIP to manage customer expectations on wait times
- Update your newsletter, blog, and other digital presences
Though these delays may initially cause frustration among your customer base, setting clear expectations can mitigate the impact of these issues. Further, they will undoubtedly appreciate your transparency and the flexibility of at-home delivery.
Analysis of E-commerce Operations
Many retailers have both in-store and online sales operations. For retailers experimenting with e-commerce or simply adapting to new consumer trends, a detailed analysis of your supply chain and revenue streams by product category ensures a more successful operation.
Many e-commerce operations for businesses are scaling up in order to offset lost revenue at brick and mortar locations. Conducting an analysis of your retail and e-commerce operations will assist your organization with actualizing the true potential of the value in your existing supply chain. As you pivot your operation due to COVID, define your e-commerce department’s pitfalls, areas for improvement, and opportunities for growth.
During the COVID-19 outbreak Upright Labs helped a client generate a 25% increase in revenue for a particular product category by sending all of their inventory to their e-commerce department.
Streamline E-commerce Operations
With social distancing measures in place and a reduced workforce in e-commerce departments, streamlining operations is an integral part of effectively managing your business.
One essential element of keeping workers safe and ensuring greater operational efficiency is reducing touchpoints and manual entry of data throughout your supply chain. Keeping important information on inventory, listings, picking, and shipping in one place powered by a SKU based system reduces the need for in person interactions and keeps your whole team on the same page.
Upright Lister allows for multichannel inventory management and listing to ebay, shopgoodwill, offerup, and others via one listing form. Product tracking at stores, listing, inventory management, real-time rate shipping, and reports, are all built out in a streamlined manner to reduce touchpoints and time while providing greater transparency for product and employee movement. Systems like this are critical to e-commerce operations that are scaling.
Strong E-commerce Leadership
None of these measures will be successful without a strong leader in place to push forward these important operational precautions, and monitor the mental health of your team. A strong e-commerce director helps your organization manage the complexities of team management and recruitment during a pivotal time in our country while growing your business in a sustainable fashion.
If you don’t currently have an e-commerce department or strong leadership in place, you can outsource your leadership for an interim period to ensure stability in growth. For example, Upright Labs partners with retailers to help grow their e-commerce business and drive value to their bottom line.
E-commerce is an increasingly important offering for consumers in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our expertise and operational insights have allowed us to optimize and implement over two million square feet of e-commerce operations via Upright Services and process over 100 million dollars in gross revenue with Upright Lister. During COVID-19 specifically, we’ve assisted over 20 retailers in scaling their e-commerce departments while navigating the increasing consumer demand to shop online. We welcome you to experience the value by partnering with Upright Labs, a customer-focused and transformative software and service provider. If you’re interested in boosting your e-commerce business, schedule a free 30 minute consultation with our team of experts.
The Upright Labs Service team has worked with 30+ organizations, representing over $1 billion in retail sales and 1000+ stores. We don’t just offer our experience and strategic advisory; we roll up our sleeves and get in the trenches with you.