Here are a handful of quick tips to help e-commerce businesses stay afloat during the next few months of the coronavirus crisis.

1. Cutting store costs

This is obviously a tough time for businesses and the obvious move will be to trim expenses and make your business leaner and more efficient. There are a number of things you can do right now:

  • Review Shopify apps. Do you have a number of paid apps installed on your store? Have a look at removing some of the premium apps either with a free app alternative or a coded solution to minimise monthly costs. 
  • Downgrade your Shopify subscription. If you're on the top Shopify plan, it might be worth temporarily downgrading to a lower plan. You may lose out on specific features and lower transaction fee but this may be a viable solution for you. Check out the subscription plans here. Shopify has also announced the gift card feature is available for all plans.
  • Combine multiple stores. If you're paying for multiple international stores, it may be best to strategise to combine these into one store to reduce subscriptions and app costs. Shopify payments now accept international currencies so it might be possible for you to tweak store content to cater to a worldwide audience. 
  • Reduce Google Ads spending. It's more cost-effective to focus on existing customers than it is to attract first-time customers. Now might be a good time to reduce those acquisition costs and appeal to existing customers.

2. Planning for the future

Sales may be slowing down but that doesn't mean your output has to.

  • Produce content. There's going to be a lot of people in self-isolation and quarantine over the next few months but they will still have access to the internet. Now’s a fantastic time to start writing or producing video/audio content that showcases your products/expertise. Can you produce quality content to keep people engaged with your brand so in the future you're their first port of call when they have the funds and ability to buy your product?
  • Social media. Since more of us are staying indoors, there’s going to be more actual discussions happening on social media. Who needs your help? What’s the general tenor of the market you’re targeting?
  • Diversify. Can you create new digital products that can be purchased and consumed over the internet? Although delivery companies are introducing 'touchless delivery', there may be disruptions in delivering non-essential products through the delivery networks. 
  • Gift cards. Purchasing a gift card for someone is an immediate way to put cash into the business. Can you initiate a marketing campaign to promote the buying of gift cards?
  • Wait it out. Trends have shown people get worn out and after a crisis they react with a desire to splurge and buy things. If we can get over the next few months, we may start to see rebound spending.

3. Going forward

There's no doubt that this pandemic is going present some tough challenges ahead and it goes without saying the most important issue is the health and wellbeing of those most vulnerable. However, from a business perspective, there are some positives in operating an independent small to medium-sized e-commerce business:

  • Big companies and organisations are complex machines with many moving parts. Being a small or medium-sized company means you can respond quickly to challenges and rewire how things are done internally. 
  • As you already know, having an online store means you don't rely fully on footfall nor do you have to pay the usual bricks and mortar store costs. Depending on the strength of your supply chain, this will most likely put you in a stronger position.
  • People are starting to buy from their local communities in order to help preserve local independent businesses. Can you tap into the community spirit and focus on local marketing efforts?

Although consumer confidence is shakey right now and we may see many big companies topple in the next few months, I foresee three main opportunities:

  • In a thriving economy, people gladly buy products that align with their values, and in a downturn they spend less and do business with companies they respect and trust. Therefore, in strengthening those good relationships with existing customers, you can strengthen the longevity of your business.
  • Growth adds complexity and rachets up stress. By being small, your business has the ability to adapt when things change. You can creatively solve problems in new and unique ways without throwing 'more' at the problem. This is an opportunity to redefine work and adapt to changes.
  • This is a transition time and businesses can use it to get ahead. Everything seems apocalyptic right now (and it kind of is) but with each crisis/recession, there is a recovery period that ushers in a new generation of independent, profitable and sustainable businesses. If you can not only ride out the storm but also accelerate activity, then it could put you in good stead for future growth.

[Edit: 1st April 2020]

We've now created a discounted quick store setup service to help small businesses get their online store up and running within 7 days. All profits to go to Age UK Somerset.