COVID-19: The Retail eCommerce Picture & What You Can Do6 min read

Sitting at my home desk, I’ve never seen business conditions change as rapidly as they have now. And they continue to change. Even as you read this article.

These are abnormal circumstances where “social distancing,” “self-quarantine,” and “lockdown” are words we hear more often than a pleasant “good morning” or “good day.”

In a matter of weeks, the Coronavirus outbreak has swept across the globe and dramatically shifted the way we live our lives. 

And the online retail industry hasn’t gone unscathed. 

While the outbreak has led many retailers to close their stores temporarily, others have scrambled to deal with the surge in demand. This, in turn, has put a strain on the supply chain and last-mile side of eCommerce retail.

Read on for a bird’s-eye view of the current situation within retail and shipping, its impact on business, and strategies to deal with it.

What’s Happening in the eCommerce World?

1.Surge in Online Traffic

People are staying at home in response to the Coronavirus crisis, and they are doing nearly all their essential shopping online. This has resulted in online sales for essential items zooming 52% compared to the same period last year, and retailers supplying essential goods like groceries and medical supplies are facing an unprecedented surge in demand. 

In response, Amazon has announced that it will be hiring an additional 100,000 employees to meet the surge in demand and has suspended the shipment of all “non-essential” goods.

2.Discounts & Deliveries

The economy is in shock and customers are cautious about spending money, so, in order to keep the inventory moving and to capture the potential audience-market, businesses are giving huge discounts in the form of free shipping or site-wide sales. Some businesses are even giving out freebies.

3.Return & Exchange Policies

Retailers are bending the rules of their return policies in order to cope with the current situation. While some businesses have stopped receiving returns or are disallowing product exchange for the next couple of weeks, apparently to avoid contamination, others have extended their return periods in order to retain their customer base. 

4.Capping Orders

A large number of people are panic buying and stocking up on supplies. With most workers working remotely and others trying to maintain social distance in warehouses, the situation is putting a strain at the fulfillment end. To handle this situation, many retailers are putting a cap on the orders that one can place.

How are Shipping Carriers Coping?

Due to the surge in online shopping, shipping carriers are straining to deliver parcels on time. Major shipping carriers like FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, etc. have sent out updates informing customers about possible delivery delays

All guaranteed or premium services have been suspended for the time being, and no refunds are being provided for service errors like delivery delays. 

In order to help the situation of already panicked customers and to avoid the transmission of Coronavirus, shipping carriers have taken preventive measures such as signatureless deliveries, contactless deliveries, and store pickup. 

Impacts and Solutions

Supply Chain Impact

The pandemic has crippled the global supply chain. Consequently, the fluctuations in demand due to the uncertainty in the prevailing situation have the potential to severely affect the bottom line of your business. 

Here’s what your business can do to deal with the current situation on the supply chain front: 

  • Be in constant communication with your suppliers, revisit your demand, and narrow down the product varieties you offer.
  • Revisit payment terms with your suppliers to smooth out the changes in cash-flow.
  • Retrain and allocate your staff toward high demand categories, and begin looking for alternate suppliers. 

Shipping & Delivery Impact

As we’ve already discussed, shipping carriers are struggling to deliver orders due to the volatile situation, and there has been an increase in delays which, under the prevailing situation, can make it difficult for your business to deal with already panic-stricken customers.

Here’s what you can do on the shipping and delivery front:

  • Prioritize high-demand products and allocate the major portion of your shipping capacity toward them.
  • Create local hubs from where people can collect their goods or use local stores as inventories to ensure the quick supply of goods directly to your customers.
  • Be in the know of your shipping carriers’ moves while exploring alternate ways to deliver goods.

Customer Impact

Now’s when your customers are more vulnerable than ever. The things they need go out of stock quickly, and their parcels do not reach on time. 

In this time of great uncertainty about how their deliveries will be completed, not being empathetic can impair your relationship with them.

Here’s what you can do to have your customers’ back at this time of uncertainty:

  • Be in constant touch with customers about their parcels and let them know that you have their back.
  • Since all major shipping carriers are facing discrepancies in their services and are straining to deliver orders on-time, consider suspending same-day / next-day deliveries temporarily.
  • Expand your order return timeframe to give your customers some flexibility.
  • Bonus tip: Coming off as salesy at this time can show you as insensitive and hurt your prospects. So go easy on the upselling and cross selling and focus on last-mile customer engagement and support. Make sure to clearly communicate the impacts your business is facing on your website.

LateShipment.com Has Your Back

We know it’s a stressful time, and we want to extend all the help we can to support you through it. That’s why we’ve decided to provide our Delivery Experience Management suite for free for now.

With shipping carriers straining to deliver parcels and a high possibility of delays, here are some capabilities of our Delivery Experience Management (DEM) suite that can help you now more than ever in the last mile of parcel shipping:

1.Real-Time Visibility into Shipments in Transit

Monitor all your shipments across carriers, services, and locations unfold in real-time on a single unified dashboard.

Real-time visibility

2.Purpose-Built Dashboard for Your Customer Support Reps

Empower your Support team with critical insights on a purpose-built dashboard that lets them intervene and fix last-mile issues before customer impact.

Support dashboard

3.Send Automated Email & SMS Updates to Your Customers

Engage with your customers in the last mile with timely notifications on their parcel status and show them you’ve got their back.

4.Send Customized Email Updates to Specific Customers

Sometimes, certain parcels need more attention than others. At such times, reach out to specific customers well in advance and allay their concerns.

Proactive handling

Additionally, our solution also allows you to provide customers an on-brand tracking experience through custom tracking pages that reside on your domain rather than on the shipping carrier’s.

You can start using these features in less than 2 minutes without the need for any IT/business process change or coding. And the best thing is that LateShipment.com is a simple cloud-based plug-and-play solution that can seamlessly integrate with the tools you already use.