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Ecommerce Best Practices: Navigating Logistical Nightmares

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Participating partners: TriNet, Route, Skubana, ShipCalm, Hawke Media, Brex

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted billions of lives, and ecommerce entrepreneurs have felt unprecedented challenges in its wake. Navigating these new logistical hurdles can be intimidating without the right perspective and resources.

During one of its most recent webinars, Brex and its partners shared their experiences serving thousands of ecommerce businesses, offering advice and best practices for tackling these unpredictable times. When navigating logistical nightmares in times of crisis, they provided the following guidance:

1. Take advantage of opportunities and vacuums that present themselves in crises

With the paring down of services by behemoths like Amazon, the playing field is suddenly leveled in favor of smaller ecommerce companies. While some retailers can’t keep enough inventory in stock, others are cancelling purchase orders to deal with inventory excess. Seize the opportunities this crisis presents and be creative in tackling it. As retailers rescind POs and thus relinquish stake in the product, now may be the time to sell that inventory at a lower cost. As Amazon pulls Google ads and trade shows are cancelled, now may be a good time to pour that unspent money into marketing. Look at every hurdle as an opportunity, and be creative in your response.

2. Refine your marketing strategy to maximize page views

With low competition from big names who can afford mega advertising, many SMBs are now ramping up advertising efforts. The world may never see this environment again, and it’s prudent to take advantage of the conditions. An unprecedented number of users are engaging online, creating unique opportunities for brands to understand consumers. Buying habits are not guaranteed to snap back to pre-COVID trends, and the current climate has forced many hesitant consumers into the online arena for the first time. When the world resets, this data will become much more expensive, and will take more time to accumulate. Hawke Media recommends taking advantage of lower advertising costs, and implementing marketing strategies now. Use the opportunity to tell your brand’s story, and enlist campaigns that promote that story. Put money toward advertising, driving revenue and building loyalty. Be bold, and use this time to figure out everything your company needs to reach out to audiences. At a discounted ad spend, it’s an opportunity companies will likely never see again.

3. Build customer trust and loyalty through authenticity

In crises, it is imperative that merchants build trust with their customers. To foster that relationship, companies should focus on targeted lifecycle marketing (email, SMS), which should be driving 20-40% of revenue on a normal day. Relate to customers through authenticity, using heartfelt notes to let them know where you stand as a business. Curate relationships by addressing a number of platforms, and over-communicate through creative messaging and novel channels. Communication is 100x more important now than ever before, so while companies everywhere are talking to their customers, focus instead on connecting with yours.

4. Manage disruptions by evolving with and adapting to the new reality

When Amazon announced it would readdress its protocol for non-essential products, it disrupted the fulfillment landscape. Many online retailers and merchants are now looking for ways to DIY the fulfillment process, fielding in-bound requests and transitioning to fulfill-by-merchant and self-fulfill operating structures. Typically a simple matter of transferring inventory and duplicating or creating new SKUs, the transition is surprisingly straightforward. It’s just a matter of knowing who to turn to.   

5. Diversify across marketplaces, and tailor engagement to that channel

As the environment lends more freedom to online retailers to test particular market efficacy, diversifying content across platforms is critical to getting more eyes on your product. Focused on multi-channel diversification for a decade, Skubana suggests there are ways to strategically pivot your business to address multiple markets. The key is to engage platforms differently, especially when you’re engaging internationally. Treat different market users the same way you would individuals of different countries. Target habits, speaking styles, and customs, and engage accordingly. Don’t spray and pray. And don’t be afraid of non-Amazon channels. Get ‘eyeball share’ wherever you can, and do so when the price per click is decreasing and the competition is low. 

6. Look for alternatives to legacy vendors

With supply chains disrupted and the potential for even more uncertainty, be strategic and innovative when choosing vendors. While warehouses continue to be shut down, logistics partners such as ShipCalm continue to operate. Whenever possible, spread out inventory to other third party logistics facilities that haven’t been affected, or to states that have been affected least. Focus on direct-to-consumer channels, and reorchestrate orders to ship straight from China, now that the country’s economy is beginning to turn around. Appoint one person to lead all COVID-related strategy, moving the company forward by addressing the impact of warehousing, 3PLs, supply chain, and carrier services. 

7. Set and manage expectations with proactive communication

As the crisis - and global response to it - continues to evolve, it’s important to keep current on updated policy changes and their impact on your business. Major carrier services have begun serving up changes on money back, shipping, and service guarantees. Some have suspended services on international shipping, while others have added exclusions and conditions for delivery. SMBs can find themselves in hot water with customers if they are not clear on the changes carriers have made, how those changes will affect product delivery, and whether refunds are available in certain situations. Consumer uncertainty can be avoided by over-communicating disruptions prominently on websites and deliverables. Route offers tools SMBs can add to their checkout processes that will assuage fears and elevate customer trust.

8. Extend the value of your business by being experience-focused

Crises are great truth-tellers, and can be a crash course in social responsibility.

The “winners” of a crisis are the ones who acknowledge what customers are going through, and then address it. In a world in love with Amazon, focus on what sets Amazon apart. Fill the void left when Amazon rearranged its priorities. When branching out to new selling platforms, maintain the experience that brings buyers to Amazon in the first place - and keeps them there. As shoppers are leaving Amazon in search of new options, reel them in by providing the same experience they had before. If you can’t match Amazon prices, then exceed Amazon expectations. Focus on post-purchase experience, and position your company against post-COVID Amazon with creative offers like free shipping and product bundling. Set yourself apart now, and it will pay dividends in the aftermath.

9. Find creative ways to conserve, manage, and extend cash flow

When the selling cycle is disrupted, merchants that have historically been able to pay for shipping, ads, and inventory may not have the resources to do so now. Brex recommends identifying ways to maximize float - the period between when you make investments and when you earn cash on them. The Brex card for ecommerce offers extended 30-day float on purchases, aggressive cash back on spends, and 60 day net terms. Aside from credit lines, funds from government stimulus loans and traditional financing alternatives are also great resources for extending cash flow. To drive profitability, consider variable non-payroll costs, and procure technology that can automate business operations. Launch gift cards to generate future revenue, and focus on activating loyal repeat customers and newsletter subscribers. Offer incentives that show you’re there for support and you understand what they’re going through, and get them to open their wallet.

10. Set your company up for post-COVID success

Tactically speaking, how you react during a crisis could determine current and future profitability. Identify areas where you can establish processes now that will set your business up for success and keep you profitable down the road. Lean on HR partners like TriNet for workforce and employment resources to keep your company staffed and productive.  Although consumer conversion is not guaranteed in the current climate, it’s a great time to be educating people. Eyeballs are cheap right now, and those eyeballs will become fingers when this is all over.

 Times are uncertain, but uncertainty does not necessitate gloom. Perhaps ecommerce will get the jumpstart it needed, and continue to thrive the way it may not have otherwise. The COVID crisis could benefit the ecommerce market significantly, and SMBs can benefit too - if they play their cards right.

To re-watch the webinar, click here.

ABOUT OUR PARTNERS

ShipCalm: ShipCalm is an ecommerce fulfillment company and third-party logistics provider for small and midsize businesses.  With a modern approach to technology, and fulfillment facilities strategically located for both the east and west coasts, ShipCalm is the perfect partner to scale your companies operations.

Pascal Ferrari, pascal.ferrari@shipcalm.com

Skubana: Skubana is a software that enables multichannel brands and retailers to unify their back-office operations. Skubana powers orders, inventory and business intelligence for the world's top high-volume brands and retailers.

Emily Garcia, emily@skubana.com

Route: The Route App automatically connects to everything you’ve ordered from all your favorite retailers while allowing you to visually track your packages, anytime, anywhere.

Parker Debenham, parkerd@route.com

TriNet: TriNet is a Professional Employer Organization, or PEO. They offer big company benefits, healthcare, HR Services and payroll to companies of all sizes at a per employee, per month predictable cost.

Courtney Hayes, Courtney.Hayes@trinet.com 

Hawke Media: Hawke was founded on the idea that every modern business needs a CMO-level expert to lead digital marketing efforts. They customize data-driven, performance-focused solutions to help launch, scale, and invigorate businesses of all sizes, industries, and revenue models. Their comprehensive à la carte menu of services and month-to-month contracts mean you get only what you need, when you need it.

Gabrielle San Nicola, gab@hawkemedia.com

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