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Tips for eCommerce Stores Impacted Positively or Negatively by COVID-19

While the COVID-19 crisis consumes much of our attention on a daily basis, it’s important as a small business owner to remain focused, no matter how hard it may be.  Now is not the time to turn your attention away from what matters most – your eCommerce store.

Right now there are two types of stores: a) one who’s sales are up, and b) one who’s sales are down.  Today we’re going to talk about things you should be doing based on which group your store falls into.

Stores Experiencing an Increase in Sales
For the most part, stores that are seeing an increase in sales are those which sell consumables.  Shoppers who would normally purchase these items at a bricks-and-mortar location and now turning to the Internet to have them delivered to their door.

While you may think these are one or two order customers and they’ll disappear once the crisis is over, that’s not true.  Now is the perfect time to turn these first-time buyers into long term customers.

  • Give them Excellent Service – while you should be doing this every day, providing customers with a great experience now is more important than ever.  A great number of customers are shopping online for the very first time. They’re not familiar with how the “faceless” world of eCommerce works.  Show them that you DO appreciate their business by writing “thank you” on their packing slip. Follow up with a personal email asking them how everything was with their order and offer to assist with placing another.
  • Ship On Time – UPS, FedEx, and the USPS are overwhelmed with packages right now and yes, there are delays in getting packages delivered on time.  Don’t make that situation any worse by letting your processing time lag. If you’re busy, do what it takes to maintain your turn-around time.  Customers are more likely to understand a delay on the carrier’s end than one on yours.
  • Don’t Make Returns Difficult – yes, none of us want to deal with the hassle of returns right now, but it’s still a part of doing business.  You may be fearful of accepting returns due to the possibility of contamination, but you can take steps to avoid it by having a procedure in place to disinfect incoming returns, providing workers with the appropriate PPE, and holding returned goods in a separate area away from other product for handling at a later date.  While many companies are switching to a no-returns policy, it’s advisable to consider whether or not such a move is needed for your operation.
  • Keep Marketing – now is not the time to cut advertising if your sales are up.  However, it is the time to take a deep-dive into your pay-per-click campaigns.  Campaigns that may have been doing well before the pandemic, may not be doing well now, and vice-versa.  Adjust budgets and pause/restart campaigns based on what’s working and what isn’t. Create new ads based on your hot selling items right now and keep a close eye on your ROI.
  • Embrace Social – People are spending more time than ever on social media.  If there’s ever been a time to get active on your company’s social channels, it’s right now.  Post frequently, engage your audience, and interact with them by asking questions, commenting on their comments, and having fun with them – after all, we could all use a bit of levity right about now.
  • Don’t Forget eMail – email marketing is a great way to reward your customers and keep them up-to-date with what’s new at your store.  Many are looking for deals, so give them a few! Free shipping, percent off orders, free gifts, these are all promotions that work well and keep customers coming back time and time again.

Stores Experiencing a Decrease in Sales
It’s inevitable that some eCommerce store owners are worried about what the future holds for their business as sales have shrunk and income has taken a dip.  While it may be hard to see light at the end of the tunnel, it’s important to remember that this is temporary.

eCommerce owners are resilient!  We’re risk-takers! Many of us have weathered tough economic times, cut-throat competitors, and a sharp dip in sales before and we’ve pulled through.

  • Financial Aid – as I wrote about the other day, there are federal programs designed to help small business owners weather the impact of COVID-19.  These loan programs can be a lifeline for many entrepreneurs right now. Don’t be afraid to tap into these resources!
  • Watch Expenses – it goes without saying that it’s important to keep a sharp eye on expenses right now.  Look at your monthly fixed costs and work with the provider of those services to see if reductions can be made, or recurring payments can be deferred.  Also, many back-office applications we use on a daily basis, such as Microsoft Office and even Adobe Photoshop can be replaced by free or lower-cost ones.  Don’t overlook anything!
  • Pull Back but don’t Stop Advertising – while it may be tempting to pause pay-per-click campaigns, now is not the time to do that.  It is the time however to take a look at your campaigns and keep the necessary ones as well as ones that continue to convert running.  Also, if you’re seeing demand for certain products, don’t be afraid to create new campaigns targeting those items and test their effectiveness.
  • Reach Out to Customers – just like I mentioned earlier, email marketing works and it’s a great way to stay in contact with your customers.  Send out a blast checking in with them and give them a deal to come and make a purchase.
  • Use Social to Your Advantage – again, social media can be used to provide a much-needed lift right now.  If you’ve been neglecting your company’s social channels, start spending time there interacting with visitors, posting, and warming them up for a sale.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Cut – I saved this for last because it may be inevitable and it needs to be considered.  If you just can’t sustain your full staff due to a decrease in sales, don’t wait until it’s too late.  While it may be a difficult decision to furlough members of your staff, it may be necessary. If you have to do it, show empathy, provide them with the resources they need to file for unemployment, and let them know their job will be waiting for them when things get better.  Under the federal CARES Act, eligible workers who are now unemployed can qualify for an additional $600 per week on top of their state unemployment.

Have other things to add to these lists?  Feel free to comment and let us, and other store owners, know what you’re doing during this time.

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