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How to Navigate Covid-19 as an Online Store Owner

By Reading Time: 8 minutes

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. Governments are taking measures to slow down the spread of Covid-19. Citizens are practicing social distancing and limiting non-essential travel. We’re all doing our best to navigate this new normal.

Online businesses also face unique questions and uncertainties. However, we’re glad to see that even now, people are still choosing to buy online.

Printful is following the guidelines issued by the CDC, WHO, and local authorities to keep our team safe. Everyone who can is working from home, and we’re increasing the frequency of cleanings at our fulfillment centers, taking extra care to disinfect highly trafficked areas.

The safety measures we’ve taken (social distancing, the use of PPE, regular cleanings, etc.) as well as the industry-wide changes are making us reduce our speed by more than double. We’re seeing delays in our supply chain, including distributors and shipping carriers.

Even so, we’re committed to work hard and fulfill your orders so you can keep running your business. In these circumstances, we believe slow and steady wins the race.

In this blog post, we’re going to talk about what you can do for your business right now: how to talk to your customers about delays and manage their expectations, how to adapt, and how to look ahead.

The sooner you start adapting your brand communication to this global slowdown, the better. It’s all for the sake of creating a sense of security for your customers.

While refunds are always an option in ecommerce, you can reassure your customers that orders are on their way (and not on hold) by being transparent and proactive. Remember that even Amazon has expressed it’s experiencing delays of up to 1 month, yet business is still on track—customers know it’s worth the wait.

To get a headstart on the wording, scroll to the bottom of this post for free copy templates about Covid-19 that you can use in your store, social media, and email.

Research what’s available to you

Governments and companies alike are starting to offer relief. Research what’s available in your area and what applies to you and your business. Start with Shopify’s compilation of social relief measures by country.

Here are some other offers that might help you run your business: 

  • Etsy is investing in offsite ads and offering merchants extra time to pay the bills.
  • Shopify now offers extended free trials, gift cards, live webinars, local delivery and curb-side pickup.
  • BigCommerce has created several ecommerce and coronavirus focused resources to help businesses navigate this new environment. 
  • Adobe has enabled distance learning globally for schools impacted by Covid-19.
  • Wix has created an informative guide for business owners.
  • Canva offers coronavirus prints and social media templates.

Stay current

The news is changing every day. Follow current updates (while taking breaks when you feel overwhelmed), acknowledge what’s going on in the world, and adapt your strategies. Here are the categories you should consider when looking through your store.

Your products

The fastest declining ecommerce categories show that people are quick to adapt to changes, and your store should be too.

Ecommerce-category-decline
Source: Visual Capitalist

So, just like you might rotate your products based on seasons and holidays, see how your products tie in with the current events. With people avoiding crowds and beaches, rash guards might not be a bestselling product.

Instead, put your efforts into the products people are buying now. Expanding or highlighting your home & living category while everyone is spending time at home makes sense. Case in point: US retailer Anthropologie and its Cozy-At-Home collection.

Anthropologie-Cozy-At-Home-Collection
Source: Anthropologie

The collection gives Anthropologie’s customers an opportunity to browse through a selection of products that might make their living space comfier— anything from incense and mugs to scrunchies and journals.

Creating topical collections is a great way to put a spotlight on products your customers are looking for.

Amazon’s front page also highlights the product categories that can be enjoyed while staying at home, like decor, digital and audio books, and board games.

Amazon-highlights
Source: Amazon

If your main focus is apparel, follow the news on shopping trends emerging all around the world. For example, retail chains such as Walmart report that their sales for tops are increasing, while sales for bottoms are not. 

British retailer Asos is always quick to react to fashion trends. Early on in March, their main page already displayed loungewear and smart top collections for people who care about their at-home outfits.

Asos-products-loungewear
Source: Asos

Get inspiration for your catalog by researching the activities people do when they’re at home. It could be anything from reading to baking and working out. Perhaps now’s the right time to create home workout outfits. To make the launch more interesting, add your favorite workout routine to the product description, campaign emails, or social media posts.

Under-Armor-promotion
Source: UnderArmour

Your messaging

You don’t have to mention Covid-19 in every single marketing material, but be sensitive to what people are experiencing and do acknowledge that things are moving slower than usual. Now might not be the time to make jokes about getting sick, or promote an all-over skirt as the perfect date night outfit. 

But you can still have some fun with your messaging and make your customers crack a smile. Just like Brixton headwear did in their most recent campaign.

Brixton-hats-promo-screen
Source: Brixton

Engage with your followers by recognizing that everyone is now facing a different reality. For example, H&M created an #AtHomeWithHM hashtag to build a stronger sense of community and stay in touch even when being apart.

Your finances

Now’s also the moment to take a critical look at where you’re investing your money. Even if the crisis hasn’t affected your finances at the moment, think in the long term. Save where you can to make sure you get through any potential difficulties with less hassle:

  • Your website and tools. Do an audit of your website and stop spending on whatever you don’t need right now. For example, if your email platform plan charges per emails sent, you can send out less emails and downgrade to a cheaper option.
  • Your campaigns. You can also run an audit of your marketing campaigns. Got a low-performing Facebook ad? Stop running it. While you might not want to drop all of your marketing activities, you definitely want to focus on the platforms that work.

The changes you make now don’t have to be permanent. Think of them as precautions you can reverse after the situation stabilizes. But while there’s so much uncertainty, it’s better to think twice before spending your budget.

Communicate with customers about delays

First of all, assure your customers that you’re still accepting orders, and follow updates from Printful and any other providers you work with so you understand what’s going on.

Follow this FAQ for up-to-date news on Printful production, products, and shipping. Study the information, communicate to your customers what they should expect, and send them extra love for supporting your business.

While Printful is a white-label service, it’s a good idea to let your customers know that you work with a print-on-demand drop shipper and that you’re communicating with them about any updates.

Second, let customers know about updates in shipping delays as soon as you can and proactively manage their expectations about order fulfillment under the given circumstances.

Make it clear to your customers that both fulfillment and shipping are currently expected to take longer. To avoid miscommunication, double-check that you’re providing the estimates in business days as Printful does.

Be ready to update your site info and messaging more often than usual. The faster you react to the changes and the more transparent you are about the impact of this “new normal” on your business, the more likely it is that your customers will hang in there and wait for their orders.

Update your communication channels

Here are some questions you might anticipate from your customers:

  • How does Covid-19 affect [your store]? 
  • Will I receive my order? 
  • Are any shipping delays expected?

Answer them in all the channels your customers expect to hear from you. To give you a hand with wording, you’ll find free copy templates about Covid-19 that you can use in your store, social media, and email at the bottom of this post.

Storefront

Your customers spend a lot of time interacting with your products on your storefront, so it’s the first place you need to update with essential info.

If you run your store on a marketplace, be sure to update the estimated fulfillment and/or delivery times to reflect the expected delays.

Here are some of the sections of your site you should definitely consider adjusting:

  • Product descriptions. In the example below, Asos’ site-wide announcement about their returns policy update is also included in every product description. Good placement, too: just below the Add to bag button.
Asos-product-description-example
Source: Asos
  • Shipping page. The Lululemon site is updated throughout to reflect changes related to Covid-19, and its shipping section is no exception.
Lululemon-shipping-example
Source: Lululemon
  • FAQs. In the Superdry help center, the first item on the list is the one that currently matters the most.
Superdry-faq-example
Source: Superdry
  • A popup or header banner. If Amazon needs one, you also need one.
Amazon-banner-example
Source: Amazon

These are just the basics to consider. To make sure you’ve got the main locations in your storefront sorted out, do a thorough review of your entire site and think about the pages you direct your customers to the most.

It’s also a good idea to choose a page—likely your Shipping page or FAQ—that’ll serve as your store’s go-to bulletin board. You can then inform your customers to check in on the page regularly and share the link in your ongoing messaging.

Email

Chances are, you send out at least four types of emails every day: transactional (e.g. an order confirmation), automatic (a welcome email after signing up to your newsletter or store), marketing (a promo campaign), and customer support.

Here are three ways you can incorporate relevant Covid-19 details into your emails without much effort.

  • Header block. If your email builder allows it, you can add a header to all your outgoing emails with the most important information and/or a link to the “bulletin board” page of your store.
Printful-email-header
  • Intro paragraph. Add one or two sentences at the beginning of the email. Format it a bit to make it stand out, and include a URL if necessary.
Printful-email-intro
  • Human touch. For newsletters, campaigns, and updates, you can go beyond the copy+paste route and use clever wording to address what’s on everyone’s mind.
Printful-email-promo

To make answering customer emails (and DMs) easier and more consistent, create a document for yourself with a number of reply templates. Feel free to take inspiration from the ones we’ve added at the end of this article.

Remember to let your brand, personality, and love for your customers shine through and resist the temptation to just copy + paste!

Social media

In a way, social media is filling the emptiness created by social distancing. Our favorite platforms offer both access to the news and an escape from it, so it’s important to provide content that’s worth the audience’s time.

  • Keep the news on top. Whether it’s through a pinned post on Facebook or Stories Highlights on Instagram, let your social media followers know that your store info is up to date. Publish regular updates as needed—as the news changes.
Asos-instagram-example
Source: Asos via Instagram
  • Lighten the mood. To engage with your customers and followers, share what projects you’re working on and what’s on your mind in general. Now that there’s so much uncertainty around, it’s important to show support to others and raise spirits.
Printful_Instagram_challenge
Source: Printful via Instagram
  • Be your brand. Use this time to remind your audiences why you started your business in the first place and what it means to you. Curate content that embodies your brand and create posts that you couldn’t resist sharing yourself. People want to support small businesses, so make it easy for your customers to support you.
ModCloth-Facebook-post
Retro vibes are all part of ModCloth’s identity. Source: ModCloth via Facebook

Small businesses are getting creative and adapting to stay afloat during this time. Think of what you can do differently, too. Go behind the scenes, host challenges and giveaways, or even promote gift cards or coupons your customers can buy now and spend on a product later.

Take it slow, but keep it moving

Hopefully, soon, Covid-19 will be contained and we’ll slowly start getting back to normal. Where do you want your store to be when that time comes? If you have the time and resources, start thinking ahead now.

Now’s a good time for ecommerce, and a good opportunity for online sellers. Stay true to your brand’s vision, keep going, and be transparent about order delays and the situation you find your business in.

But most importantly, stay safe! Follow your regional public health guidelines and do your part to flatten the curve. Uncertainty is always scary, but we’re in this together, and only together is how we’ll pull through.

While there are things that are out of your control, try to focus on what you can control and keep yourself busy with things that bring you joy.

Click on the button below to download free copy templates about Covid-19 that you can add to your store.

This article was originally published in March 2020; it has since been updated.

Nora covers all things ecommerce for the Printful blog. She appreciates good dad jokes, new books, freshly baked cookies, and evening jogs.

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  1. Stu

    Hi, my basic men’s unisex t-shirt POD orders are currently taking 21 days to fulfil – what’s going on? I’m getting increasingly irate customers and you are promising 2-7 business days on your site. Please advise!

    1. Alise Zindiga

      Our fulfillment times depend on the product category and region. We’re fully back on track in the EU, however, DTG category in the US still takes 4-9 business days and AOP 7-12 business days. Please feel free to contact our Customer Support via support@printful.com or chat to find out more details about your particular order.

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