March 17, 2020 by Ben Chafetz

Coronavirus COVID-19 and eCommerce: 5 Steps to Take During this Trying Time

COVID-19 coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), and all across the United States and the rest of the world, states and cities are taking dramatic steps to curb its spread. 

How will this affect you in the coming weeks or months as an eCommerce entrepreneur? COVID-19 is likely to remain a serious threat in the coming weeks and months – so you need to start preparing.

In this guide, we’ll give you a few tips and some advice that you can use to ensure your store keeps running smoothly – and that your customers can still get the products they need.

Let’s get started.

Tip #1: Get Ready For An Influx Of Orders

In the UK alone, the market share of eCommerce sales is predicted to double from 20% to 40% during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. In the US, eCommerce sales were expected to make up 12% of all retail sales in 2020 – but COVID-19 could alter these numbers dramatically.

Many states in the US have already implemented restrictions that have forced retailers to close their doors or limit hours – and we can expect these restrictions to become more severe in the coming months and weeks.

That means that eCommerce may be one of the only ways for customers to get the supplies they need. In particular, elderly, immunocompromised individuals and people with certain chronic medical conditions are recommended to stay away from public spaces. They may need to mostly rely on online purchases even for everyday needs like groceries.

In the most heavily affected areas of China, online commerce and deliveries are responsible for keeping entire cities afloat. If we experience similar levels of virus spread, the same may be true in the United States in the near future.

So, before the crisis escalates any further, make sure your website can handle an influx of traffic and orders, and that you and your customer service team are prepared to handle serious growth. 

Tip #2: Be Ready For Stock Shortages & Prepare Accordingly 

So far, COVID-19 has not completely devastated the global supply chain. Current data on this is in short supply, says PriceWaterhouseCoopers, but it’s likely that coronavirus will have a major impact on supply chains throughout the world in the coming months.

We recommend preparing your store accordingly. You can take steps like:

  • Reaching out to your current suppliers and learning more about their current capacity and predicted future deliveries
  • Contacting drop-shipping partners to learn more about their current level of inventory, and confirm that they are still stocking the items that you need to sell
  • Ordering additional inventory for your store to prepare for an influx of orders and/or long-term stock shortages
  • Finding alternative suppliers and products that may be an option for replacing your current items if they sell out and you are not able to get replacements in a timely manner

It’s best to take action now – the longer you wait, the more likely it is that shipments will be delayed or canceled altogether. 

Tip #3: Evaluate Your Options For Shipping Your Items & Prepare For Delays 

The outbreak of COVID-19 has closed down many restaurants and retailers – which has led to a huge influx of eCommerce shopping. Amazon’s delivery infrastructure is already strained, despite spending billions of dollars last year to expand its own in-house shipping network.

Other delivery services like UPS, USPS and FedEx are continuing to operate, but note that there may be delays when shipping items to quarantined or partially shut-down areas.

During this time, it’s important for your customers to understand that you’re doing everything you can to get them their items ASAP – but that there may be issues that are out of your control that prevent them from arriving on time. 

We recommend eliminating any delivery or shipment guarantees. It may also be wise to add a note about COVID-19 delays on your checkout page near your shipping options – this ensures that your customers will know what to expect when ordering from your store.

Tip #4: Sanitize Items Before Shipment, If Possible, and Practice Social Distancing

You shouldn’t just be worried about the impact of COVID-19 on your business – but on the world at large, too. If proper steps are not taken to control its spread, hundreds of thousands of people will become gravely ill, or worse.

If you manage your own inventory or have workers that help you do so, one of the steps you can take is sanitizing the items you’re selling. Obviously, it won’t always be practical to do this. But the small step of using Lysol wipes or disinfectant to clean a package, box, or bag that contains an item, could help top the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, which can live for up to 3 days on most surfaces – and save a life.

In addition, make sure that you and your staff practice proper social distancing. You can meet with staff and clients online rather than in person – and you should avoid going out to public gatherings with more than 25-50 people, as well as bars, restaurants, and retail stores (except for groceries). This ensures that, even if you are affected by COVID-19, you are not spreading it to your staff, customers, or clients.

By taking these kinds of steps, we can “flatten the curve,” and ensure that the medical needs of affected individuals won’t outstrip the ability of hospitals to provide adequate healthcare to those with severe cases of COVID-19 infection.

Tip #5: Keep Your Prices Reasonable to Avoid Trouble With The Authorities 

While it may seem like a good strategy to raise prices on in-demand goods like hand sanitizer, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, or any other items that are in high demand due to the coronavirus outbreak, we recommend against it.

Not only is it a morally incorrect decision to use a pandemic to try to boost profits, but you could find yourself in hot water with the authorities. Recently, a man named Matt Colvin bought 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and other cleaning products and planned to sell them online on Amazon. He was banned from selling them when Amazon instituted strict “no price gouging” policies. 

Days later, his products were seized by the Tennessee Attorney General’s office, which opened up a price-gouging investigation. Colvin ended up donating the sanitizer and other cleaning products he bought, but he may still be in trouble with Tennessee authorities.

Do not use this crisis as an opportunity simply to boost your profits. Consider how your services can help those around you, keep your prices reasonable, and make sure that those in need can afford your products – whatever they may be! 

Prepare for The Coming Crisis – Keep Your Business Afloat and Help Others! 

It’s impossible to say what the landscape of business in the US will look like in the next few months – or even the next few weeks. But it seems likely that eCommerce will become extremely important as more people are required to remain quarantined and to maintain distance from others.

So be prepared.

Make sure your eCommerce store is ready for more traffic, think about how you can prevent the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, and be prepared to wait out the spread of the virus for the long haul.

Thanks for reading and stay healthy.

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