5 Ways Online Stores Can Navigate COVID-19 and Impress Online Shoppers

5 Ways Online Stores Can Navigate COVID-19 and Impress Online Shoppers

Even as the holiday decorations go back into storage and Mariah Carrey retires her microphone for another 11 months, business is still ba-hooming for online brands and retailers. With the encroaching cold of January and talks of more lockdowns on the horizon, more and more shoppers are turning from their old brick-and-mortar ways, to finally enter the new era of online shopping.

As online brand owners and digital retailers, we owe these potential new customers a great first impression into the online shopping community. So let’s look at five things you can do to delight your new and existing customers as they evolve to meet the new world around them.

Fulfillment at the Forefront

Someone has to say it. In today’s understatedly hectic marketplace, with traditional carriers like USPS, UPS, FedEx and even Amazon stretched to their limits due to the massive surge in online shopping, the most important step you can take during right now to secure the success of your online store is to solidify your Fulfillment strategy AKA make sure that customers can actually get your product.

At a time when market uncertainties and shopper anxieties are at an all time high, online retailers must take every precaution to retain their customers’ trust. Retailers that have relied solely on traditional carriers or FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) in the past are now finding resiliency in their operation by diversifying their shipping methods and outsourcing to third party logistics (3PL) companies.

3PL companies easily handle warehousing, forwarding, packing, consulting, order fulfillment, brokerage and transportation documentation, while offering fulfillment management software that seamlessly integrates into your business systems; e.g., Shopify.

Not only that, high shipping costs and long shipping durations are the leading factors in stopping people from purchasing online. Online stores that have been able to reduce both are realizing immense competitive advantages and quickly growing their customer base, as would-be brick-and-mortar customers are confidently becoming online shoppers.

Whether you are just starting an online business or already operate a successful brand, prioritizing your fulfillment strategy is the #1 way to navigate the ecommerce realm during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Know Your Customer Base and How It’s Changing

You may have already noticed, but customers have been forced to change their shopping habits quite a bit. According to a study by JP Morgan, e-commerce now accounts for 16.1% of all U.S. sales, up from 11.8%, and news outlet BBC reported that COVID-19 has effectively eliminated the marginal store revenue accrued through a customer browsing in-person.

What this means is that online retailers need to have a clear picture of their online shoppers and their in-store shoppers, as well as how both of them engage with the digital store. You may already know your customers and have well-defined customer segments and demographic information, so you mustn’t reevaluate who they are, but rather how they now act.

Traditionally, technologically-native shoppers in the Gen Z or Millennial generation have been more inclined to browse in-store followed by purchasing online, while the older generation has statistically favored in-store transactions. COVID-19 has flipped this mantra for some, especially those that are less willing to venture out to shop.

So be sure to understand who is visiting your site now that wasn’t before. You may be welcoming new shoppers that could get frustrated with complicated browsing and checkout processes, or perhaps your customers are engaging with your brand in an entirely new way.

Optimize Your Shopping Journey

Since online shoppers lack the ability to physically touch, try on, and compare items, they may need more product information to feel comfortable completing a purchase. Not only that, customers will be less likely to return a product that is accurately displayed on your store.

For that reason, consider implementing the following to provide the most accurate information to your customers:

  • Clear sizing charts
  • Product comparison tools
  • High-quality product images, including dimensions and materials
  • Customer reviews

Once your customer decides to purchase, make it as easy as possible with a frictionless checkout process. Up until now, the majority online shoppers have been technological natives (i.e., younger), so many retailers may have settled on overly-complicated websites that rely on the customer being tech savvy.

Be aware that new online shoppers could get frazzled by complexity and subsequently abandon the checkout process when it loses them. To avoid this from happening, reevaluate your user journey from landing page to checkout confirmation, paying special attention to:

  • Product categorization
  • Product page layout and information
  • Personal information collection
  • Cart view and editing
  • Payment, shipping and return options

Customer support options like a live chat box needs to be clearly visible so the customer can reach out if they need assistance. Additionally, consider using heat-mapping or other anonymous tracking tools to find where exactly customers are getting frustrated and abandoning the process. This method of discovery along with design and testing is an important way to improve the user experience (UX) of your shopping journey.

Manage Your Returns, Don’t Let Them Manage You

Returns are the unavoidable fallout of online shopping, and the best thing online companies can do is to prepare for them to happen. In our past blogs we’ve detailed the rising number of returns and how online retailers can turn returns into a profitable venture.

When making an online purchase, your brand’s return policy is often the very first thing a customer will look for, along with your shipping options and data privacy policy. So make sure your returns policy is highly transparent and overly generous.

Beyond that, a smooth returns process creates loyal, repeat customers. Be sure to give your customers the ability to, at a minimum, print labels, track their returns, and know the status of their refund.

Refunds are a messy business, and that’s why many 3PLs like ShipHero are partnering with returns management companies like Returnly to automate the return process including the issuance of credit/refund, to make it as easy as possible for the retailers and their customers.

Stay in Touch With Your Customers

The most effective way to weather a crisis and maintain relationships is to keep sustained communication with your customer base, according to Harvard Business Review. In times of chaos, customers may seek to know how your brand is responding, and determine if their brand loyalty should remain. HBR suggests the following approach to communicating with your customer base during a crisis, and it has a lot of HEART.

  • Humanize your company
  • Educate about change
  • Assure stability
  • Revolutionize offerings
  • Tackle the future

By following the above five recommendations, your brand will be sure to win your fair share of the growing number of online shoppers, whether it’s their first time or their millionth.

Ready to tackle fulfillment for your online store? ShipHero is a leading provider of SaaS 3PL software for ecommerce fulfillment that is trusted by over 4000 ecommerce brands and 3PLs every day.

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