Coronavirus and e-commerce: Tips for coping with increased demand

With all non-essential stores in the UK closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, consumers are taking to their smartphones to satiate their desire to shop, and ecommerce brands like yours will no doubt be inundated with orders. Whether you sell garden equipment or food and drink, the chances are that you have seen a spike in your traffic, and need some assistance coping with increased demand during these highly challenging circumstances.

As a B2B ecommerce business, being able to fulfil orders so that your clients and resellers can operate at normal capacity is critical. If you don’t, they’ll look for alternative suppliers and may not come back to you once the COVID-19 pandemic settles, satisfied with a rival brand.

Below, we’ve put together some tips and tricks to ensure you come out on top…

Level up your warehouse

Let’s start with the obvious one: if you’re experiencing an increase in sales, consider the benefits of taking on temporary staff to assist with distribution and packaging, and speak with your delivery company about their availability to ensure they can meet your needs. If you usually send 100 parcels a day and suddenly jump to 500, you may run into some logistical issues, especially at a time when distribution firms are being stretched in every direction.

If you can’t find new staff, think of ways to become more efficient. Manage inventory so that orders are packed as soon as they’re placed to stay ahead, offer existing packers overtime, run offers on arriving stock so it can be packed up and shipped as soon as it gets to your site, have merchandise delivered directly to clients from your manufacturers, and keep your warehouse open for longer, adhering to labour regulations and government guidelines.

Contact your web host

If you’re expecting a peak in demand or you’re already struggling to cope with traffic on your website, speak to your web hosting provider as soon as possible to ramp up your capacity.

It could mean moving to a dedicated server or using a content delivery network (CDN) such as Cloudflare to distribute server load and demand and ensure your store doesn’t go down.

If you’re using a B2B ecommerce platform such as Comgem, this should be covered for you.

Stock up

Ecommerce brands can usually predict peaks in demand (summer, Christmas, Easter) and order merchandise in advance to accommodate this, but the COVID-19 crisis came out of the blue with no major warning. Where possible, manufacture or stock up on products that are in high demand and consider working with other suppliers to increase your capacity.

It may be that you have to pay more for merchandise than usual, or order in larger quantities to ensure stock, so calculate the opportunity costs and adapt your stock levels accordingly.

Let customers know

We all know that the coronavirus has had a significant impact on supply chains, stock levels and distribution, but adding a banner to the top of your site is a good way to communicate with your customers. Many presume that, because you’re a digital retailer, you won’t have to jump through the same hoops as businesses with a physical store, so be transparent about the challenges you’re facing. Your clients will appreciate your honesty and will be able to adapt their own strategies if they know they’re not going to be able to get hold of essentials.

The key is to carefully manage expectations. If delivery times are going to fall because of staff shortages and social distancing, inform your clients and offer them some sort of compensation like a coupon or free delivery voucher for a future purchase where possible.

Monitor performance

In these unprecedented times, monitoring the status of your business on a regular basis is critical so that you can identify challenges and resolve major issues. Make sure you’re on the ball with shipping status, traffic volumes, site speed, stock availability, and your marketing messages. If everyone’s on the same page, you’ll find it much easier to manage your affairs.

If you’re a multichannel B2B ecommerce brand, you should also be keeping on top of product listings on third-party websites like Amazon and eBay, ensuring pricing is consistent and that stock availability is being properly managed. If you typically offer one-day delivery but cannot because of shortages or logistics hold-ups, adjust your messaging so customers are not disappointed or leave negative feedback on your website or third-party seller profile.

Optimise inventory

Finally, consider limiting product lines to ensure key products are being delivered. If you’re limited on space or don’t have the capital to invest in bulk orders, you should clear out any non-essential inventory that’s in low demand by running a sale or special offer, and using data and following industry trends to identify and purchase high-demand “essential” goods.

There you have it - food for thought on optimising your ecommerce business to cope with increased demand during the coronavirus pandemic. Identify your place in the market at this unusual time, prioritise key stock, communicate with customers, and you’ll be able to operate without too many headaches. We wish you the very best of luck during these crazy times.