Pausing your eCommerce operations during Covid-19 pandemic

Hints and tips to hibernate your transactional website

According to a new forecast by GlobalData, released on March 24th, UK retail sales are set to lose a massive £12.6bn this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Clothing and footwear brands are predicted to decline the most, losing 20.6% to £11.1bn.

This is hardly a surprising revelation. Alongside the mandated closure of all non-essential bricks and mortar stores, many online retailers are also finding they are unable to fulfil orders without their warehouse staff and critical supply chain.

Many eCommerce businesses have chosen to prioritise the health of their people above all else. Multi-channel retailers like Next, River Island, TK Max and Schuh have already shut down all operations “until further notice”.

So, if you need to pause your commercial activities online, how do you minimise the detrimental impact on your brand?

Below is a handy guide to help you think about the best way to put your transactional website into ‘hibernation’ mode.

Your Seven Step Guide

1. Communicate clearly

It is essential to decide how your brand will communicate the temporary shutdown to customers. You need to consider how you will publicise what is and isn’t operational (e.g. customer services, stores, eCommerce, social media channels, blog). Does your brand have retail stores that have closed? Are store opening times displayed in your store finder and can these be updated to indicate that the stores are ‘closed’?

It’s also important to convey the staff welfare, community/corporate social responsibility (CSR) reasons and messages behind the temporary shutdown of your eCommerce operation.

We recommend a large homepage banner and a smaller site-wide banner, with a hyperlink to a new Covid-19 info page. Decide who, in the organisation, will own and maintain the new Covid-19 info page and how often it will be updated.

2. Stay ‘browsable’

We recommended you ensure your product categories, site search and product pages are still browsable. If you have a feature for customer wishlists / favourites, this should remain operational during the shutdown. We wouldn’t recommend displaying a holding page for your website during the shutdown period. Contact your SEO Agency to get advice about any other recommendations to maintain your search ranking.

3. Make critical decisions

Decide what you will do with outstanding orders. Do you hold, cancel or ship now? Whatever your choice, make sure you clearly communicate with customers and provide the right level of support for them.

Does your brand have a self-service feature that allows customers to search for the status of their outstanding orders online? If this feature is still operational, you can promote it on the homepage to reduce customer confusion and enquiries to your already busy customer service department.

4. Manage transactions

You will need to decide whether to block new orders being placed. Given we are still unsure how long the lockdown will last, this is likely to be necessary to avoid later complications with stock allocations and a backlog of fulfilment. There are different options available to achieve this block:

  • Option 1: Change the available stock position of all products to zero, so they either appear as ‘out of stock’, or ideally with a different message like ‘temporarily unavailable’.
  • Option 2: Allow customers to add to their basket but redirect basket and mini-basket links, so they return the customer to the homepage showing the large Covid-19 banner. Ensure there are no routes to get to the basket page and therefore checkout is blocked.
  • Option 3: Hide or remove the checkout buttons on the basket page, and anywhere else this might be available.

5. Avoid customer confusion

You need to consider which other static content pages the Covid-19 info page affects?

  • Delivery (and store collections, if applicable).
  • Returns.
  • Policies for payment redemption / expiry (e.g. gift vouchers / gift cards / loyalty rewards / store credit notes).

Can these static content pages be temporarily updated, or hyperlinks added directing customers to the Covid-19 info page for updates?

Think about where else in the customer journey delivery information gets communicated (i.e. PLP delivery facets, PDPs may be still browsable). Can this be modified quickly and easily? You could use A-B Testing tools, like Monetate, to temporarily hide or replace this misleading content.

6. Maintain support

It may be that your customers would benefit from a Covid-19 FAQ page answering frequently asked questions like:

  • What happens to orders I’ve already placed?
  • Is it still possible to return items?
  • Why have you closed stores?
  • Why have you closed customer services?
  • When will things reopen?
  • I’ve bought something from a store that I want to return.
  • I have a gift card – how can I spend it?

7. Engage and inspire your customers

What could your brand do to keep customers updated with the latest news, so they are notified when you reopen your stores and/or the eCommerce operation?

  • We recommend encouraging mailing/newsletter sign-up ─ a great chance to boost your sign-up rates. Ensure you increase the prominence of this feature on the homepage.
  • Consider changing the copy on the sign-up page to something like ‘Leave us your email address and we’ll let you know when you can shop again”.
  • Could you increase the prominence of social channels, community pages and the blog with prominent links on the homepage?

All of that said, you may want to think about your paid for social budget – there’s no point advertising products through Google Adwords, Facebook and Instagram – or through affiliates – when you can’t actually sell at the moment, so make sure you consider switching those off.

Handy ‘To Do’ Checklist

Author: Nick Mason