8 Challenges E-Commerce Businesses Should Be Prepared to Face During the COVID-19 Crisis

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Keep your e-commerce business running strong even amidst economic crisis

There’s a good chance you’ve heard about the global novel coronavirus pandemic (aka, COVID-19) in the news. Aside from being a truly catastrophic global health crisis, one that has touched every corner of the world, it has also started to sink a once healthy global economy into a bonafide recession overnight. Everyone is feeling the impact of COVID-19.

At a time when more people are forced to self-isolate indoors and practice extreme social distancing measures, they’ve inevitably had to shift their attention away from brick-and-mortar retailers and transact more via e-commerce. While this has given e-commerce businesses a new opportunity to connect with consumers, helping them access the products and services they want and need during this unprecedented time, even digital players whose products are exclusively distributed online have seen disruptions in their operations as well.

And although it may seem like e-commerce businesses would have an initial advantage in managing through this crisis, they certainly can’t be complacent either, especially in the face of troublesome financial headwinds ahead. There are a lot of unexpected circumstances that could rise to the surface at any moment—and rise just as quickly as COVID-19 shut everything down.

Even more, we don’t know how long it will really take before the world’s economy gets a full reboot. But that doesn’t mean we should simply wait and see. No business, just like no human, is immune to a rapidly-spreading virus. In fact, you may have already started feeling the impact it has made. This is just the beginning. We will most likely continue to experience cracks in the e-commerce ecosystem as long as this crisis continues. That’s why it’s so important to prepare now for what lies ahead.

So, to help you stay focused on keeping your e-commerce business running strong through this unpredictable and unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, here are the challenges you could ultimately face at some point in the near future and tips for how you can address them now: 

1. ACCESS TO CAPITAL

Whether you’re experiencing a sudden drop or surge in demand, it’s going to put a strain on your working capital in some way. How do you continue to run payroll and maintain inventory when the market is whipsawing every day? There are two things you can do. First, start exploring all of the capital access options available to you. If you need to tap into them, it’s better to do this proactively than when you’re struggling to make ends meet. Second, when things go back to “normal,” take the time to build a crisis contingency plan, setting aside capital that you can tap into whenever the unexpected strikes.

2. Maintaining your workforce

Within a matter of days, unemployment numbers have skyrocketed. This happened because many businesses could not afford to keep staff on the books while businesses were effectively shut down. As an employer, you have the responsibility to, first and foremost, build a successful business but also to protect the people who make your business tick. As you build a crisis contingency plan, it’s absolutely critical that you do whatever you can to protect your staff from redundancies and unemployment. This doesn’t mean you have to keep your staff on full-time when cash-flow is disrupted. Instead, consider scaling back hours or offering a partial paid leave of absence until things get back on track again. And if a good portion of your business functions can be run remotely, make sure you have a remote working policy and infrastructure in place to ensure that your business’s day-to-day runs flawlessly, even if everyone is working from their own homes. Whatever you do, be sure to take care of your employees; they are your most valuable assets. Maintaining their physical and mental well-being is not only your corporate responsibility but also a tried-and-true strategy for success, one that can help your business successfully weather any crisis, including the one we’re all facing today. 

3. Inventory and supply chain issues

How you go about this will vary significantly based on the kind of business you run, but always prepare to have enough supplies or inventory on-hand in the event that something gets in the way of your production and supply chain from running smoothly. Also, be sure you have a back-up distributor or supplier that you can rely on just in case your go-to suppliers are unexpectedly forced to cease operations. There have been a number of cases already where warehouses containing “non-essential” products have been asked to shut down temporarily or have ceased shipping those “non-essential” products altogether, in order to meet the rapidly growing demand of “essential” products. Whatever you do, be sure to have a Plan B in place.

4. Unexpected HEALTH AND SAFETY costs

The COVID-19 crisis has raised the bar for sanitation and cleanliness across the board. These health requirements trickle from the top down, meaning that every part of your supply chain or day-to-day working environment must take additional precautions to maintain those health standards. Extra cleaning requires additional staff, more cleaning supplies, and a number of other factors that quickly drive up costs. Additionally, some office spaces will likely need to be reconfigured to provide greater distance between workers, and businesses could inevitably be asked to take additional steps to protect the health and well-being of their employees by providing hand sanitizer, protective masks, and temperature testing checkpoints. 

As offices reopen and employees go back to work once this temporary confinement period has been lifted, it’s likely that many of these health and safety measures will continue to be enforced for the foreseeable future (i.e. until a treatment or vaccine has been identified to fight COVID-19). And since every business will inevitably be called upon to combat this global health crisis, it will be up to you to ensure that proper health and safety standards are adhered to at all times. These are unavoidable costs that you must prepare for now.

5. Gaps in insurance coverage

No one could have ever imagined back in January that the world would suddenly shut down. But it happened, and it happened really fast, even though the global economy was humming along stronger than ever before. However, because your business is your lifeblood—and also what supports the livelihood of so many other people—you must have the right protections in place just in case the unexpected occurs. Obviously, in an ideal world, this is something that you’d normally address when business is running smoothly. But failing to invest in extended insurance coverage while things are fine in the world is a way of making short-term trade-offs that can have long-term repercussions—all for the sake of profitability. If the COVID-19 crisis isn’t a lesson in the importance of being prepared for anything, be sure to revisit your insurance policy now to ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place should business-as-usual continue to be interrupted for a lot longer than we all anticipate.

6. Changes in demand

When panic first struck, the first things to fly off the shelves (digital or otherwise) were toilet paper, disinfectant products, cleaning supplies, and shelf-stable food. This meant that people were less focused on “non-essential” items for a brief period of time. However, as this crisis continues to unfold, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around what lies ahead. This is causing consumers to delay previously planned purchases even more, which can quickly sink demand for your products and services overnight. This is further impacted by the closure of national borders; after all, if you can’t get your products to consumers quickly due to cross-border restrictions, they may look to alternative sources to fulfill their needs. Obviously, how you go about sparking demand during a time of crisis will vary significantly based on the kind of e-commerce business you operate, where you are in the world, and how your business’s location is impacted by the crisis at hand. In times like these, it’s important to avoid the tendency of making knee-jerk reactions to a change in demand; instead, strategize all potential solutions for overcoming this temporary hurdle and move forward with the best plan of attack.

7. Managing customer relationships

Changes to the status quo create panic, for obvious reasons. Most businesses tend to think about costs and profitability first, and then immediately begin to trim the “fat.” All too often marketing gets bucketed into this category. But smart businesses know, and this is especially true for e-commerce businesses, that marketing is the key to maintaining a relationship with both current and prospective customers at all times. And in a time like this, it makes the most sense to shift marketing budgets to digital, as that’s where many consumers will end up spending a lot of their time while in isolation at home. Investing in marketing during a time of crisis not only continues to build on those customer relationships, but it also provides you with an opportunity to surface new promotions that could sway prospective customers, those that wouldn’t have seen your promotions under different circumstances, to join your camp.

8. Staying flexible amidst constant change

The truth is, no one is ever really prepared for a crisis, especially knowing that no two crises are ever really alike. Each has its own twists and turns that rattle businesses and consumers to the core. This is why you must continue to plan and even re-plan for what lies ahead. None of us can truly predict how the COVID-19 crisis will ebb and flow with each passing day. But you still need to think through all possible scenarios as well as the solutions that you will bring to the table to address whatever happens in real-time. Even though much of what’s going on right now is quite unpredictable and constantly in a state of flux, your business should be ready to pivot quickly whether the situation improves or worsens. You need a plan for both, as that will help you stay proactive (versus reactive) as this crisis continues on.

As odd as this may sound, there’s no better time than during a crisis to think about how you can build a stronger, more resilient e-commerce business for the long-term. Moments like this have a unique way of exposing our weaknesses and shining a spotlight on our strengths. The team at Nexway is here to be your spotlight and to help you succeed through the COVID-19 crisis.

Let Nexway help. Contact us now to get started.

The Nexway Team

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