By now you have heard about the Coronavirus.

The virus causing the coronavirus disease 2019—called COVID-19—continues to spread across the globe, and online retailers are wondering, “How will the coronavirus affect my online business?” Events, like Shoptalk, Adobe Summit & Magento Imagine and South by Southwest, are postponed or canceled. Many retailers are having online sales spikes in flu-related products, such as cleaning supplies and health products. However, the long-term impact for the coronavirus is not yet known, and many retailers are lowering their sales forecasts for the year. Retailers that manufacture or supply their goods from China are unsure of how this will impact their supply chain, or how this will impact demand for their products.

The sad reality is that it is spreading quickly and will continue to spread for a while.

Did you know that we are getting roughly 15,000 new cases a day and it’s growing fast?

No one really knows how many people will be infected (or will pass away sadly), but it has caused the global stock markets to crash, which means as a business (or even a marketer), you will be affected.

47% of retailers expect some downside in revenue due to the coronavirus, according to a survey conducted in March 2020 of 304 retailers by Digital Commerce 360. 33% of retailers say it’s too early to tell.  However, a majority of retailers, 58%, say the virus will impact consumer confidence, and 22% say there will be a significant impact. Consumer confidence is often used as a measure of how consumers feel about the economy.

It doesn’t matter if your products or services are designed for in-store experiences, now is the time to re-think how your business can evolve to ensure it survives this changing dynamic. Whether it’s creating new product lines, better leveraging content marketing and social media strategies to keep customers connected to your brand, or even thinking bigger about new business ideas that capitalize exclusively in a digital world, you’ve got to think differently. Subscription-based delivery services and remote focused technology offerings are going to explode in growth as more and more people choose to shop and make their buying decisions from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

The coronavirus increases sales for health products

Online sales have increased 52% compared with the same time frame a year ago, and the number of online shoppers has increased 8.8% since the coronavirus began, according to SaaS platform provider Quantum Metric. The firm analyzed 5.5 billion anonymous and aggregated online and mobile visits to retailer websites from U.S. consumers. Jan. 1 and Feb. 29.

Site search provider Bloomreach found similar increases for its 250-plus retailer clients, such as grocery chain Albertsons Cos. Online sales increased the week of Feb. 22-29 compared with the prior week for health related items. The coronavirus has increased sales for the following:

  • Masks sales increased 590% from the week prior
  • Hand sanitizer sales increased 420% from the week prior
  • Clorox/Lysol wipes sales increased 184% from the week prior
  • Disinfectants sales increased 178% from the week prior
  • Gloves sales increased 151% from the week prior
  • Bottled/packaged water sales increased 78% from the week prior
  • Vitamins sales increased 78% from the week prior
  • Tissues sales increased 43% from the week prior
  • Hand soap sales increased 33% from the week prior
  • Toilet paper and paper towels sales increased 26% from the week prior

Mask retailer Debrief Me can testify to the influx in sales since the coronavirus news spread. The retailer sells masks in different colors and styles that consumers wear for anti-pollution measures and to prevent the spread of viruses and germs. The retailer says its masks are engineered to block 99% of all contaminants found in the air.

Influx in online shopping

As more consumers continue avoiding crowded public places, they’ll increasingly turn to online shopping to get their essentials. In fact, JD.com, China’s largest online retailer, has seen sales of common household staples quadruple over the same time period last year.

With the growth of ecommerce, coronavirus shouldn’t disrupt the economy as much as the SARS outbreak did in 2002. However, it will still bring strain to online-based businesses who need to deal with potentially delayed deliveries or out-of-stock items because of increased demand.

On Amazon, it is extremely important to not let any of your products run out of stock in order to avoid being punished by Amazon’s organic search and advertising algorithms. If your product is out of stock for over 30 days, it will be treated as if it has no sales history once it comes back in stock.

In other words, your product’s ranking for its most important key words drops significantly and will thus show up much lower in search results.

Fears over having products go out of stock may be part of what fueled some third-party sellers to price gouge on Amazon when the virus first started taking hold in the U.S.

Some of the biggest culprits included a pack of two 12-ounce Purell hand sanitizer bottles being sold for over $100 and Clorox wipes being sold for 8x their typical cost. The items have since been completely removed and a company spokesperson told ABC News that there is “no place for price gouging on Amazon.”

Overall, prices on Amazon spiked at least 50% for most surgical masks and hand sanitizers when coronavirus arrived in the U.S.

In addition to price gougers, counterfeiters have also been taking advantage of consumers’ coronavirus fears, selling products that claim to cure the virus or that don’t meet safety standards.

For example, latex-free gloves that claimed to “prevent coronavirus, flu, and pneumonia” as well as plastic face masks that claimed to “isolate saliva-carrying viruses” had to be removed. Over the last week of February alone, Amazon removed over one million items for violating such policies.

If your brand sells items related to hygiene and sickness, you’ve already seen an influx in sales. Compared to this time period last year, U.S. sales of hand sanitizer are up 54%, with thermometer sales up 34% and aerosol disinfectant sales up 19%.

Focus on keeping your products in stock and be up front with customers if there are going to be any delays.

Delivery and supply chain concerns

With the proliferation of online shopping and delivery demand comes inevitable delays. Consumers who are working from home, on sick leave, or trying to avoid contact with others are ordering more products to be delivered to their house. A shopper who tried to purchase items from Amazon on March 5 received a message warning that increased demand was leading to shorter supply and longer delivery times.

This comes at a time when consumers value fast delivery times more than ever before, with Amazon Prime promising free two-hour delivery for some products. Other major suppliers like Walmart and Target are competing for similar options.

Ecommerce supply chains will be strained by COVID-19 as well as factory closures in China.

These factor closures will also impact mass merchants like Target and Walmart, who will almost certainly experience supply chain disruption, a drop in casual shopping, and an increase in purchases of essential toiletries, groceries, and health items.

Additionally, some food delivery companies, such as Postmates and DoorDash, are testing or rolling out contactless delivery options. With 32% of consumers reducing their frequency of eating at restaurants because of coronavirus fears, such apps are seeing an influx in traffic.

Your brand may have never considered advertising on this type of app, but now may be the time to do it!

What’s a brand to do? 

Determining how to proceed with events and keeping items in stock are only two items on the marketer’s to-do list as the coronavirus outbreak continues.

What other steps does your ecommerce brand need to take to thrive despite the COVID-19 disruption?

While overall ad spend is down, TV ad spend could see an uptick. With more consumers staying home to work and keeping coronavirus coverage up on their television, switching more of your ad budget to video platforms like television and even YouTube could be a good idea.

As we know, transparency is one of the most important characteristics that today’s consumers look for in a brand. When it comes to coronavirus, proactively addressing customer frustrations and fears (e.g. delivery delays, out-of-stock products, the cleanliness of your warehouse), will support your brand’s reputation and encourage customer loyalty.

Tell consumers about the coronavirus protections you’re putting in place. On top of that, consider providing your agents with additional training on handling any inquiries with appropriate sensitivity.

Additionally, make sure that your display advertising game is up to par. App downloads (especially of news apps) may increase as people spend an increasing amount of time at home. In addition to the delivery apps previously mentioned, app downloads in general have surged as a result of coronavirus. In China, app downloads over the first two weeks of February were 40% higher than the average for all of 2019.

How to help your favorite small businesses survive the coronavirus crisis

Coronavirus is shaking up business and consumer behavior on a massive scale. Both the public and private sectors are scrambling to slow the spread of the illness and contain COVID-19 infections. While the full economic consequences of this black swan event are still unclear, we know that the effects that the virus—and the drastic measures being taken to contain it—are already precipitating change across industries.

Work from home. Self-quarantine. Canceled sporting events. Social distancing may help mitigate the coronavirus crisis, but it also threatens to devastate small businesses.

The drop in foot traffic and a reluctance to go out will leave shops and restaurants empty.
In Seattle, already hard hit by the outbreak, a recent survey found that 60% of small businesses there are considering wage cuts and staffing cutbacks, while 35% said they may have to close. More than 80% expect the situation to get worse.
While federal, state and local governments will need to step in with financial help and other policy measures, there also are some small ways that individuals, if they have the means, can help their favorite small businesses stay afloat through the crisis.

Businesses are going to struggle for a while

Even if the virus slows down fast as the numbers have dropped in China, businesses are going to struggle for well over a year because they will have to make up for their losses.

For example, in China the virus caused retail sales to drop by 20.5% and the unemployment rate jumped to 6.2 in February.

When companies like Apple shut down their stores to help reduce the spread, it means less income and less profit. Sure they are able to pay their employees during their temporary shutdown, but not all companies have their bank balance and most won’t be able to do the same.

Just look at the travel industry. The virus is expected to lose them 820 billion dollars. Virgin Atlantic just asked their staff to take an 8-week unpaid leave.

The ports are also empty and the first rounds of layoffs have already started.

It’s estimated that in total COVID-19 will cost the global economy $2.7 trillion.

And not only are people losing money but they are losing traffic and conversions.

Organic traffic is down in most industries

During an economic downturn, you’ll find that you will have less competition, which means it is easier and faster to get results, and in some cases, you’ll be able to get deals, such as a potential reduction in pay-per-click advertising.

Just think of it this way: out of all the publicly traded companies in the United States, if the market keeps going down, many of them will struggle to pay off their debt, which has exploded to $75 trillion.

This means some companies will either go bankrupt, get bought out, or get bailed out by the government. Some may be able to cut costs enough to pay their bills, but for most, it will be too late.

Again, this just means less competition for you.

If you are lucky enough to be sitting on some cash during the recession this is the best time to buy out other companies. The ideal ones to buy are media companies.

The more eyeballs you control, the more power you will hold in the future. Plus, by controlling eyeballs, it gives you the ability to sell anything you want in the future. Whether you believe in the seriousness of this particular virus shouldn’t matter. What should is the reaction and behaviors of the world from it, and the fact of the matter is, people are going to change their buying behaviors more than ever.

Hopefully, the Coronavirus passes soon and it has minimal impact on lives. For the time being, try not to socialize with others too much or go into crowded places.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, pin this blog post to keep an eye out for updates on how the virus will impact your brand and ecommerce in general. We’ll keep updating it as more news comes in.

PS: Please be safe and, if possible, stay indoors.

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