The Covid-19 pandemic has affected businesses in unprecedented ways. Demand for online shopping has skyrocketed, but with many states under stay-at-home orders and warehouses shutting down, e-commerce entrepreneurs face unprecedented challenges — and opportunities.
We talked to several e-commerce startups in the Triangle to see how they have been affected by the coronavirus, and what their advice is for the future.
CEO Michael Linnane of Chapel Hill-based FeedStation (we wrote about them here), a cloud-based SaaS solution that gives sellers access to marketplaces like Amazon, said that since the coronavirus outbreak began, e-commerce has experienced disruption across the board.
In a research study by Austin-based ShipStation from the beginning of March, 20 percent of respondents said they experienced a delay or cancellation of an online order. As large warehouses close down in states like New York, this problem will only get worse, Linnane said.
“It’s becoming clear that this problem is going to be with us for a while,” Linnane said, “but it also presents a certain number of opportunities for people to take control over their fulfillment operations.”
There are multiple different ways to make sure your purchasers are getting the products they were guaranteed, Linanne said. This is an opportunity for companies to diversify their fulfillment chains—the delivery services they use to get their products to their customers. Instead of just relying on FedEx or UPS, they should use a couple different companies. This way, if one delivery service is down, their products can still be shipped out and delivered on time.
If all else fails, Linanne said now is the time for e-commerce entrepreneurs to step in and re-establish their relationship with purchasers, instead of solely relying on Amazon or other larger online shopping websites. And now, more than ever, it is vitally important to communicate with customers.
“Most importantly, communicate with your customers that you will be able to fulfill or will not be able to fulfill,” Linanne said. “Just be honest about it. Customers will appreciate your honesty, and they will respect your capabilities when you are able to deliver within your expectations.”
Despite this being a difficult time for the economy, FeedStation is experiencing growth, and specific categories of the marketplace are continuing to expand while others contract. In data released by ChannelAdvisor, the Morrisville-based e-commerce SaaS company, it saw Gross Merchandise Value trends grow for the computers/networking category, but a decline in apparel.
CEO Sam Bayer of Raleigh-based Corevist, a SaaS B2B e-commerce platform (that we wrote a separate story about today), said that although the coronavirus might cause a letup in the economy, there are some supplies that people need.
“For manufacturing, there’s going to be a slowdown,” Bayer said. “For supply chains, there’s going to be a slowdown. But you can’t stop. You need to manufacture.”
CEO Chris Geiss of Durham-based Seguno (remember their hack-a-thon?), an email marketing tool for Shopify merchants, has also seen a greater demand, especially on a platform like Shopify, a software product that allows merchants to easily make their own websites to sell products. During the Great Recession in 2008-’09, Shopify saw a surge in its user base, especially from those who were laid off and decided to set up virtual “stores.”
Although he is unsure what to expect with the economy today, Geiss says he anticipates a variety of people establishing shops online.
“Shopify is one of the easiest platforms to get up and running,” Geiss said. “It services from the bottom to the top of the market. And as more people are looking to get up and running online more quickly, they will look to Shopify.”
Both Geiss and Linanne said they have invested time in hosting and participating in webinars. Geiss said Seguno has hosted webinars to flatten the learning curve and help Shopify merchants get their businesses off the ground as quickly as possible.
“Like all things,” Geiss said, “whether in business or life, when your world gets threatened, the more quickly you adapt, the better odds you have to come out the other side of this.”