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17 Essential eCommerce Tips For COVID-19

Whatever industry you’re involved in, the COVID-19 pandemic will almost certainly have impacted you, your employees and your customers. We hope that these tips give you some insight into how many of our clients are dealing with lockdown and working their way through the many challenges that this situation is bringing about on a daily basis.

If you need any support in implementing these tips or want to discuss alternative ways to maintain your business during this time, please do get in touch and our team will be happy to help!

1. Don’t Turn Off Your Site

Switching off a website at a time like this is something that should never be done as it could have lasting damage on the performance of the site, particularly its visibility in search engines. However, for some clients, the need arose for them to stop taking orders altogether as they were overwhelmed and unable to fulfil orders at all. So, we explored a few options that protected our clients’ site from lasting damage but also stopped orders from being placed, without needing to turn the site off completely.

The best option we’ve found is to disable payment and shipping methods; replacing the shipping method with a free option that communicates ‘There is a delay on shipping orders’ and replace the payment methods with the ‘check money order’ method. This allows customers to reserve their orders with a disclaimer that the client will be in touch to complete the order once they are trading as usual again.

By applying these steps instead of turning off your site, your website traffic does not come to a halt, rankings on Google do not drop and sales are not lost.

2. Stagger On-Site Purchases

With increased demand but limited capability to pick, pack and dispatch due to social distancing measures, we have seen the need to resolve this issue for some clients.

We have limited on-site purchasing to a select period of time in the day which allows the client to spend the rest of the time fulfilling the orders that have come in during that sales window. This presents other issues in terms of server capacity but thanks to our fantastic hosting team, we’ve been able to scale the client’s server up to cope with the extra demand in that window of time.

There are sometimes other issues with a site condensing all of its business through a small window of time because, without separate servers for the database and the site code, errors can occur when processing large numbers of orders in a short space of time. To remedy this problem, we are able to stagger and delay automated functions like the order confirmation email and we are currently exploring a new checkout queueing process.

3. Set Up Server Auto-Scaling

Auto-scaling your server is a great feature that some hosting providers offer to automatically increase or decrease your server resources to accommodate for sudden changes in traffic. This is especially useful these days as more people have started working from home and rely more on eCommerce businesses to fulfil their day to day needs.

Services like Amazon EC2 help you maintain your eCommerce site availability and allows you to automatically adjust resources according to conditions you define. They also support predictive scaling to automatically schedule the right amount of resources based on predicted demand.

This feature is extremely useful as, depending on the nature of your business, you may experience a sudden decrease or increase in traffic to your website. Auto-scaling lets you control how much you want to pay and ultimately helps you to save on your server hosting bills.

Auto-scaling your server is a great way to automatically increase or decrease your server resources to accommodate for sudden changes in traffic.

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4. Manage Out Of Stock Products Effectively

Choosing the right way to deal with products that may be temporarily out of stock is tough right now and there are easy mistakes that can be made. While there are several ways to deal with products that are out of stock in a normal situation, the scenario we find ourselves in is very specific.

Multiple similar items that are out of stock at the same time, retailers don’t know when they’ll be back in stock, products in high demand that won’t remain in stock for long… the list goes on.

From an SEO perspective, it’s essential that your pages continue to rank so it makes sense to adapt existing product pages instead of redirecting or deleting them. Help your customers in the right way by providing a selection of similar in-stock products on out-of-stock product pages, and by giving customers the option to be notified by email when a specific product is back in stock.

5. Improve Customer Communication

It’s likely you will have had to make changes to your business processes or delivery timescales during this difficult time. The challenge our clients have faced is how best to communicate this to their customer base to ensure things run as smoothly as possible.

The obvious and simplest way to communicate changes to processes or delivery to your customers is to use promotional banners, slider graphics or benefit bars on the site. This is something that we advised at the very beginning of the crisis to help almost all of our clients best communicate changes.

When adding any new information graphics to a site, we recommend they are large, eye-catching, and visible from all pages to ensure the information is seen by every user.

6. Set Up A Firewall

Sometimes an increase in traffic is not always a good thing. This is because it can potentially expose your website to a wider audience that might not have the best intentions. Bot attacks, hackers and scammers are some of the threats that your eCommerce website can suffer from especially during these uncertain times.

Setting up a DNS level firewall like Cloudflare WAF can greatly reduce the risk your site can face. They provide an intelligent, integrated and scalable solution to protect your business-critical web applications from malicious attacks, with no changes to your existing infrastructure.

They can also offer other useful services like speed optimisations, encryption and DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) protection that can boost your eCommerce site performance and overall security.

7. Use CAPTCHA On Your Forms

Sometimes having general site-wide protection is not enough – you will also need specific security measures to prevent malicious access to customer-facing features like user login, newsletter subscriptions, contact forms or anything that requires any kind of data from a customer.

Using a service like Google reCAPTCHA can offer a good level of protection for these kinds of features that are really common in eCommerce websites. reCAPTCHA is a free service that protects your website from spam and abuse. It uses an advanced risk analysis engine and adaptive challenges to keep automated software from engaging in abusive activities on your site. It does this while letting your valid users pass through with ease.

8. Consider Alternative Finance Options

It’s not just businesses that are keeping a watchful eye on their cash right now – shoppers are doing exactly the same. Providing your customers with the option to buy now and pay later through a third-party finance provider could be the difference between making a sale and missing out entirely.

With thousands of people across the UK being furloughed from their jobs or taking a reduction in pay, money for most is tighter than ever before. Spreading out the cost of purchase could, therefore, be incredibly useful to your customers, and gives your business the security of a steady flow of additional revenue over the next few months – everybody wins!

Providing your customers with the option to buy now and pay later through a third-party finance provider could be the difference between making a sale and missing out entirely.

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9. Investigate Free Shipping Rates

While delivery times are a little unpredictable at the moment, a way to keep your customers happy if delays do occur is to look at ways you can offer free delivery. Free delivery also came up on top as the number one motive for purchasing over price in YouGov and Magento’s 2020 eCommerce Shopping Trends survey so it’s definitely a trend to be tapping into now more than ever.

An easy way to offer free delivery is to consider absorbing shipping rates into product prices, as this way you can highlight that you offer free shipping without losing any overheads. Plus with price being a secondary factor to shipping, it’s likely this technique will see better conversion. To reduce admin time, we recommend increasing all prices by x%

10. Increase Delivery Options

Whilst on the topic of delivery now is the time to ensure you are offering responsible delivery methods and working to give more options than normal. Offering free delivery is recommended but perhaps there is also the potential to offer more of a premium for faster delivery if the service is available.

In line with the government’s current social distancing rules, it is now essential that you are offering contact-free delivery. Contact-free delivery typically requires delivery staff to leave the parcel at the customer’s door and stand a safe distance away whilst waiting for the item to be collected. To ensure your customers are aware you are complying with government standards and trust their package will be delivered safely, it’s important this information is clearly displayed to the customer at the checkout.

It’s also a good idea to send out additional email marketing informing customers of contact-free delivery and consider adding this information to delivery confirmation email templates.

11. Improve Business Efficiencies

While times may be a little tougher than usual and profit margins are squeezed, now is the prime time to ensure your business is working as efficiently as possible. Perhaps there are processes which you can work to automate, ways to reduce labour time and costs, or potential ERP or third party software you could use.

An ERP in eCommerce is an enterprise resource planning platform which can integrate product planning, development, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and stores the information in a single database. For example, implementing an ERP on your store to handle stock management and pick, pack and dispatch would help to reduce administrative and operational costs as well as improve business productivity and alleviate stock management pressures at these hard times.

12. Consider Subscription Products

One of the most remarkable growth areas in recent years has been the subscription marketplace, where platforms like Netflix and more recently Disney+ have exploded into homes around the world with millions of subscribers. Away from visual media, there are subscription options for almost anything you can think of – razors, socks, tea, chocolate, makeup, wine, clothing; the list goes on!

Could this revenue model work for your business? Are there products you stock that could be offered on a weekly/monthly subscription basis? Now is the perfect time to dedicate some of your focus to starting up this type of offering.

A lot will depend on your product range and the speed or regularity in which customers will need new products, but it’s likely that you’ll have at least one product that could be offered out in subscription form – and a steady flow of sign-ups for this type of service could prove very lucrative during the lockdown and beyond.

Are there products you stock that could be offered on a weekly/monthly subscription basis? Could this revenue model work for your business? Now is the perfect time to test the theory!

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13. Review User Behaviour

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting our lives in so many ways, but perhaps most notably how we spend our time and money on a day-to-day basis.

Because of the current limitations, marketing as a whole has had to change its approach in a very short space of time to maintain success. A recent survey by Econsultancy has shown that 9 out of 10 UK marketers are reviewing their current campaigns as the way shoppers spend continues to evolve.

Utilising the power of data is key at this difficult time, and all businesses should be aware of which pages are attracting the most traffic to their store. You can then use this information to drive an increase in sales performance from your paid ads on Google and across social media channels, giving your business a boost across its most popular products and hopefully growing revenue in both the short and long term.

14. Encourage Pre-Order Of Popular Products

Despite the negative impact on some retailers across the country, it’s fair to say that customers are fully aware of these challenges and in some cases want to help businesses if they can. People also have the time to wait for things to be delivered and a lot more patience because of the circumstances, especially with items that aren’t essential.

One way to take advantage of this support is to encourage your customers to pre-order popular products, either by paying a deposit or paying in full. Although you aren’t able to fulfil the order immediately, the customer has the satisfaction of knowing their order is secured and the business can enjoy the influx of cash a preorder brings about.

A well-targeted email to the inbox of loyal customers advertising a pre-order offer for your most popular products could be a great way to boost your cash flow in the short-term.

15. Update Your Ad Copy

With your Google Ads, Microsoft Ads and social media ad campaigns, review all of your ad copy to ensure it’s still relevant and is sensitive to different audiences and how they might be feeling during the pandemic. Make sure you highlight in your ad copy that you are still open for online orders and state any changes in your services and delivery. Don’t forget to review the ad copy in all areas including your ad headlines, descriptions and ad extensions.

Making your ads relevant, current and emphatic to your customers will help to make your ads stand out on the SERPs and increase the likelihood of a potential customer clicking on your ad vs. a competitor’s ad.

Take the time to review all of your ad copy to ensure it’s still relevant and is sensitive to different audiences and how they might be feeling during the pandemic.

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16. Strongly Consider Social Media Advertising

With a dramatic increase in the use of social media globally, this creates a huge opportunity for eCommerce stores to increase sales through feed and catalogue advertising to new and existing customers. Whatever your budget, there are options to remarket to those who have viewed a product or added to cart, upsell to those who have purchased recently and acquire new customers with the comprehensive targeting options available on social media platforms.

Delivering ads to those who have already purchased from you or have shown an interest in your products by adding them to the cart, typically have higher conversion rates, so this is a great starting point to boost revenue almost immediately whilst sustaining a good ROI.

17. Promote Gift Cards

Almost every industry has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s fair to say that some will have seen a negative impact on sales – which is why the option of promoting gift cards may bring some immediate relief to cash flow problems.

It’s also worth noting that many members of the public have indicated a desire to support local businesses – both online and offline – with gift cards allowing them to show friends and family they can’t be with right now that they are thinking of them in this difficult time.

At a basic level, gift cards are simply tiny credits given out by a business to customers with no cost of goods sold attached. When a customer purchases a gift card, the business can use that money instantly – perfect for a steady stream of contributions towards rent, salaries or other bills during this lockdown period. Not only that, but gift cards also are a great way to maintain brand awareness and ensure your business is at the forefront of customers’ minds when the lockdown is lifted and normality resumes.

18. Bonus Tip!

Well done on making it this far! As a reward, we have one final bonus tip for you – extend your returns policy.

Many of the top retailers in the UK and abroad have extended their returns window since the COVID-19 outbreak. This gives customers the added confidence to purchase items they are not 100% sure about without the worry of potentially having to venture out in order to return the item in the near future. More time to decide and return the item means more confidence to buy the product in the first place.

This is particularly relevant for the clothing sector which traditionally sees high levels of returns, but it can be equally applied across all industries. We’ve already seen that even a small extension on returns can prove to be a differentiator when compared to competitors that have chosen not to extend their returns window.

Key Takeaways

  • ‘Keep calm and carry on’ – don’t panic and switch off your site, there are ways around these tough times
  • Look at alternative delivery options, delayed payment alternatives and gift card promotions as a way to keep sales afloat
  • Review and revisit all your marketing channels to ensure an appropriate and accurate message is being communicated at all times – keep your customers up-to-date!
  • Stay ahead of the curve by monitoring your store’s data through Google Analytics or similar, and making informed decisions based on the successes and failures you can see.
  • Ensure your site is protected from online threats and your server is ready to deal with varying volumes of traffic.