We’re met with news stories everyday about online businesses facing challenges and uncertain futures during coronavirus. We asked our founders their thoughts on e-commerce at the moment.
1. How do you feel about the current situation (Covid-19) and e-commerce? What opportunities and risks arise for online retailers?
The situation is tragic – there is no question about it. That being said, online retailers can still see positives from the situation. All bricks and mortar stores that do not sell essential goods are closed. Therefore, certain goods can only be ordered online. Even groups of people who usually rarely or never shop online are now discovering the convenience of e-commerce.
In addition, there are some industries that are experiencing a significant increase in order volumes. These include electronics, IT, fitness equipment providers, toy manufacturers and DIY stores. Pure-play e-commerce retailers or retailers with a multichannel strategy currently seem to be adapting better in this situation.
However, it is not all good news for retailers. Logistics associated with increased orders are at great risk during the coronavirus crisis and retailers need to prepare themselves. If one of the supply-chain or delivery employees becomes infected with the virus, smooth delivery may no longer be guaranteed. This can lead to warehouse closures or staff shortages. Additionally, retailers are at risk of products going out-of-stock.
Retailers that rely on marketplaces may also be affected. According to this Wired article, Amazon is only delivering essentials goods in France and Italy and elsewhere it has stopped accepting any new goods into its warehouses. This means the retailers that usually rely on Amazon for sales may suffer and will need to promote their own stores. Sadly, we cannot predict what else will happen in the coming weeks.
2. What can online retailers do to support their customers and alleviate their concerns?
What is particularly important now? Retailers should keep a cool head and not panic. For many, this experience can be positive if the right preparations are made. Outstanding customer experience is currently more important than ever and there should be a focus on optimising this. Customers are feeling uncertain and do not know when their parcel will arrive, or whether it will arrive at all. Due to the closure of bricks and mortar stores, some orders have also been left in the stores. So in this critical time, it is even more important that customers are informed proactively about the status of their order and any delivery delays. By doing this, customers will not call customer service centres and this will take the pressure off providers so they can focus on product support and advice.
3. What do you think will happen after Covid-19? How will e-commerce change?
One thing is certain: developments that would otherwise have taken months, or even years, to do are currently happening in days. Retailers are almost being forced to advance their digitisation and e-commerce businesses to adapt to this new climate. All this whilst navigating the pressures of teams working from home and not being in the same office, plus the constantly changing situation.
We expect to see one of the highest leaps in e-commerce growth in recent years. Why is that? It’s quite simple: customers who previously bought in store are now buying online. Even when everything returns to normal, this purchasing behaviour will remain. Perhaps not all, but adoption of online shopping will be much higher. In addition, many products that people traditionally bought in bricks and mortar stores and are now being bought online. Again, we expect to see this high adoption rate of purchasing these goods online remain.
Additionally, e-commerce has the competitive advantage of being able to adapt and react to changes quickly. As such, retailers should be investing in e-commerce innovations as it will continue to become more popular now and in the future.
Market share is now being redistributed and retailers will focus more on a multi-channel strategy. Amazon’s restrictions are their way of showing who controls sales. This shows that a dependency on a retail giant for business can be damaging to retailers in the long run.
4. How can you help your customers in the current situation and best support them?
Above all, it is very important to us that our customers continue to be satisfied and that they are able to continue working with us. One of our corporate values is “Relentless focus on customer value” – this has never been more true! We like to act as consultants for our customers, showing them how they can increase their customer experience. This can currently be done, for example, by adding a Covid-19 message to their shipping messages so that customers are aware that there may be delivery problems at the moment. Some of our customers have already used this option. We successfully integrated it into emails and the track & trace page within a few days of the crisis worsening. By introducing this messaging, it means that customer service staff are not overwhelmed with WISMO enquiries. We’ve seen reports across all industries of a massive influx in shipping-related questions.
We are extremely flexible and can adapt to the requirements of our customers. This also means that, in addition to shipping communication, we can monitor internal processes.
5. Does sending and delivering packages actually increase the risk of contracting coronavirus?
Put simply, no. There are already many articles outlining that the risk of getting infected through a parcel is very low. The World Health Organisation has also stated that the ‘likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low’.
Carriers have already taken precautions to ensure both their drivers and the consumer is safe. Customers can no longer sign for the delivery and many are asking the customer to state a safe location for the courier to leave the parcel so that physical contact is limited. Our data has also showed us that delivery has become faster. These extra precautions are meaning that carriers are actually saving time on delivery. However, it is still important that customers are washing their hands thoroughly after receiving any parcel.
To summarise: we should be making it as easy as possible for couriers to deliver parcels right now, in order to limit the drivers exposure and limit unnecessary risk to them.
6. How do you protect your employees at parcelLab? Are you operating from home offices?
The situation is not normal for anyone and we’re working tirelessly to ensure our employees are doing well and they’re not missing anything. We want everyone to feel comfortable, despite the current situation. For this reason, we gave our employees the opportunity to work from home right from the start if they needed to. Each employee has been offered the necessary equipment that they need to ensure they have the same working conditions that we provide in the office.
We have all been working from home for over two weeks, following government advice in the UK, France and Germany. To make this work, we have implemented daily video calls within our teams to inform each other what is happening and what we’re currently working on. We also have a whole company call once a week to share highlights and learnings with the rest of the business. These calls are very important to us because we don’t want our team spirit to be lost now we’re at home. We also rely on regular check-ins via forms which we send to all employees three times a week. These give people the opportunity to tell us how they are and if they need anything.
In addition, we want to keep the fun atmosphere we’re so proud of at parcelLab. We’ve organised digital afterwork events and even have ‘MTV cribs’, where our employees can show off their homes. Team moral remains high which is great!
Are you a retailer that needs help proactively communicating with your customers right now? Get in touch with us – we’re happy to happy!