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Hope for Entrepreneurs: How COVID-19 is impacting ecommerce and what you can do about it

Hope for Entrepreneurs: How COVID-19 is impacting ecommerce and what you can do about it

The recent Coronavirus outbreak has the year off to a tough start, to say the least. At the time of this post, there are approximately 415,113 confirmed cases of COVID-19. And as we’ve learned in recent weeks, a pandemic of this capacity is not limited to hospital sickbays and densely populated areas. The global economy has suffered a massive blow, with stocks plummeting in response to poor investor sentiment and general fear from the public. While this certainly doesn’t paint a pretty picture, it does provide valuable insight into the vulnerabilities that lay within our globalized economic structure, predominantly with regard to manufacturing and international supply chains.

All considered, we’re left with a number of questions, namely, what does this mean for business owners? And more specifically, how will this impact Shopify merchants?

While the answer is far some simple, in this post we’re going to explore some of the challenges merchants may face during this time, and actions you can take to help keep your business on track.

Navigating broken supply chains

Perhaps the most obvious and serious implication is the collapse of global supply chains, which have a direct impact on merchants’ ability to send, receive and manage inventory. Mass layoffs taking place throughout the manufacturing sector mean that businesses relying on consumer goods are particularly vulnerable to low or non-existent inventory levels and shipping delays. While this can be challenging enough in of itself, it creates a secondary problem for the global market, scarcity. Just as once friendly neighbors may grow increasingly competitive over dwindling items at your local supermarket, businesses are also forced into a competition when it comes to pre-ordering and stocking inventory from overseas. In this fight for survival, large corporations and franchises are willing to pay more, for less, driving the price up to unsustainable numbers for small businesses.

While these repercussions can be felt on a global scale, there are things you can do to maintain some level of inventory for your customers during this time. For example, consider finding a local supplier or business who may be interested in working with you. While this may not work for everyone, it’s a potentially viable option for some, such as clothing boutiques or merchants selling art, or furniture. Chances are if you live in a moderately sized metro area you should be able to find a business or local creator that’s open to working with you, and who knows, it may even result in a mutually beneficial partnership for years to come.

To further illustrate, if you’re a clothing boutique, consider selling local or domestically manufactured items direct-to-consumer. While it may have an effect on your current margins, it certainly beats empty shelves and you can always readjust your bottom line once things settle.

Marketing in a crisis

Perhaps you have a great deal of inventory, and the challenge you’re facing is simply finding customers. After all, with the media monopolizing social channels with daily updates, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make your voice heard. The solution? Don’t try. At least, not in the typical sense as one might do with respect to outbound marketing strategies. While maintaining a strong and consistent flow of customers is, of course, an ideal scenario, it may not necessarily be realistic due to external pressures beyond your control, and that’s okay.

Rather, focus on what you can control. For example, your Facebook ad engagement might have dropped significantly on cold-traffic campaigns over the past 2-weeks. Instead of increasing your budget trying to capture the attention of distracted and worried consumers, reallocate those dollars to retargeting campaigns. Focus on the customers you do have, or similarly, your website visitors. In the very least, this group is already familiar with your brand and thus, closer to a purchase decision. Engage, support and welcome them into your community, brand loyalty is imperative in an economic downturn.

Finding opportunity in the midst of chaos and learning how to adapt

Yes, you read that correctly, believe it or not, there are still opportunities to be found. While layoffs and unemployment are certainly an unpleasant reality, for some, being freed from a role they’ve been unhappy in for years may present an opportunity to explore something new entirely, such as starting their own business.

Again, just to reiterate, the catalyst for change in this scenario is certainly disastrous and in no way are we attempting to diminish the hardships people are going through as a result.

The effect, however, remains the same. We now have a significant percentage of the global workforce suddenly finding themselves unemployed, thus freeing up a substantial amount of time, attention and intellect, all of which are absolutely crucial elements when it comes to starting a successful business. Already have a successful business? Balance out some much-needed R&R with a project and give your online store some attention. After all, as of right now it’s likely your only storefront. Here’s a quick list of things you can do to improve your existing store:

  • Revamp your homepage (add a slideshow, video, testimonials, etc..)
  • Add new product imagery (see our recent post on Shopify's product media update)
  • Start a blog and contribute weekly thought-leadership pieces that are relevant to your niche and audience
  • Host a webinar or masterclass (informative and/or demonstrative). 
  • Enable curbside pickup for your business

Looking for a larger project?

Consider whether there's other ways in which you can adapt by asking yourself the following: what aspects of my business can I bring online?

The trick here is getting creative with non-physical goods. Offer music lessons and memberships to online classes, art people can buy and print themselves, design your own t-shirt, monthly subscriptions for home delivery options, etc! By diversifying your business, not only will you open up new channels for cash flow, but you'll also be helping people cope with the reality of social distancing and being stuck at home. Not to mention, it's yet another great way to combat broken supply chains and low-inventory should your business model allow for it.

A message of hope for merchants and entrepreneurs

Whether you’re a new or existing merchant, our main priority at Pixel Union during this time is supporting our community. We believe that helping one another and embodying a message of hope and optimism is needed now more than ever, and we’re willing to do exactly that whenever and wherever we can. If you have any questions, with respect to how the pandemic might affect your business or any Pixel Union products, please do not hesitate to reach out. We are here to help.

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