Should I close my online store due to COVID-19?

We are in a period of unprecedented and rapid change brought about by COVID-19. The retail landscape is unrecognisable to what it was just a few weeks ago. Entire sections of the economy are being closed down in the interest of public safety and people are being urged to stay at home. The challenge for retail is without precedent. This has prompted many of our clients to ask us "should I close down my eCommerce site?".

The quick answer is "no".

Online retail is likely to become the only sales channel you can rely on staying open during the various stages of the pandemic and restricted public movement.

Obviously the way you operate your online store will have to change and the safety of the community and your team should always be at the front of mind. But it is clear that online is much better placed than physical stores to be able to evolve and manage these changes.

As always, the key in times of change, is to provide excellent customer communication and transparency:

  • If it becomes unclear when you'll be able to dispatch orders, say so.
  • If Click and Collect is not available due to store closures, turn it off.
  • Increase your customer service levels across all your communication channels and be ready to help field more customer queries.
  • Change the wording on your site and your emails to help manage customer expectations.
  • Provide transparency about how you are handling COVID-19. Tell them what processes and procedures you are putting in place in your warehouse too.
  • If you are forced to shut down fulfillment, tell customers that you had done so and orders will start going out again ASAP. And then keep them regularly updated.
  • Change pricing if needed and tell your customers why that is necessary.
  • Put yourself in the position of your customers (as always) and think about what support and reassurance they need and adjust your language and tone to suit.

Customers understand that the world has changed. Nobody is immune from the impact of COVID-19. They will understand that old norms are out the window. But you should not be sending them emails and other communications as if things were unchanged. That will appear naive and insensitive. All customer touch points will need some editing and rewording. And as things evolve you'll likely need to keep evolving those communications too.

Online retail has never been more important than it is right now. Websites can stay online, many back end function like marketing and customer service can operate remotely and warehouses or closed stores can change their ways of working to meet social distancing rules and still perform a fulfillment function.

It is the latter that requires the most consideration. And more specifically, how do you keep your team safe and keep operating?

Some of the key considerations are:

  • Putting procedures in place that help team members maintain social distancing at all times
  • Support and encourage employees to not attend work if they have any symptoms<
  • Take employees temperatures regularly.
  • Add additional hand washing stations and make everyone wash their hands frequently
  • Enforce rigorous cleaning of all surfaces throughout the day especially shared computer equipment and hard surfaces
  • Run with a skeleton staff (to make social distancing possible) and extend hours of operation to make up for the difference
  • Employ additional staff to help monitor adherence to your COVID-19 policies.

The above is not an exhaustive list and you should seek government guidance for additional processes and procedures.

It is also important that you and your team fully understand what businesses can stay open during the various stages of lock-down. More services that you may otherwise think, are considered "essential" services - see this article.

Even a full lock-down may not mean that your fulfillment location or delivery company needs to close. Please be sure to check regularly for updates from the government.

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Posted ineCommerce