COVID-19 has disrupted the world economy in a way not seen in years. With economic gloom permeating every corner of the globe, businesses have to respond if they want to survive. Ecommerce has become a lifeline for both brick-and-mortar stores and established online retailers. With lockdowns being the new normal, millions of consumers are experimenting with online purchases as regular online shoppers diversify their shopping basket.

Now more than ever, ecommerce businesses must play a leading role in enhancing customer experience, protecting employee interests while taking the center stage in global economic recovery. That cannot happen without a well-oiled fulfillment and logistics machine. We look at some practical insights on how you can perfect your online store’s fulfillment.

  1. Let Market Insights Guide Fulfillment

COVID-19 has left the world in a constant state of flux. As governments struggle to contain the novel coronavirus, various strategies are being tested. Many of them are having a direct impact on commerce. In particular, social distancing rules, lockdowns and curfews have made the business environment unpredictable. Fulfillment procedures have to change so to keep up with market demands while complying with regulations.

Measures taken have altered consumer purchasing behavior, habits, and expectations. People are going online to look for information showing where, when and how they can get what they need. Home delivery, curbside pickup and pickup-in-store requests are up as consumers seek to minimize interpersonal interaction. Ecommerce stores need more flexibility to their suite of fulfillment and logistics options to cater to the delivery needs of different buyers.

  1. Make Your Fulfilment Process Current and Transparent

COVID-19 has seen many enterprises shut down temporarily, with limited service or, in the worst case, go out of business. In this rapidly evolving environment, consumers are on the lookout for real-time updates on your business, product availability and ability to fulfill orders. While the rise of the ‘what’s open near me’ query on Google search primarily relates to brick and mortar stores, it’s indicative of the deep hunger for current information consumers have. 

Update your site’s content to detail the safety precautions you’re taking around package preparation, inventory update, employee safety and consumer well being. If you are unable to deliver to certain areas, update that as soon as the information becomes known to you. Flag products as out of stock or limited availability if they are depleted or rapidly running low. Make sure your shipping and delivery times and locations are always accurate.

  1. Understand Your Current and New Customers

Lockdowns are pushing a new wave of consumers online. While your business should be keen on retaining existing customers, you have to think about the changes you might need to make. Your fulfillment and logistics processes need to meet the expectations of new customers. That begins with gaining a deeper understanding of new buyers. Use audience reports from Google Analytics and other web tools to deep-dive into where site visitors are coming from, their interests and preferences. Use this information to plan out new delivery destinations.

You have to brace for a temporary spike in cancellations, refunds and delays. Elaborate planning will help here but there will be some rough edges as you slowly perfect the fulfillment process. During this process, flexibility is required as you accommodate mistakes made by new customers. To keep returns at the minimum, harness augmented reality (AR) and 3D tech. These can provide online shoppers with an immersive experience of a product before they buy it.

With 3D, shoppers can flip, rotate and zoom product images as they inspect details in advance. With AR, shoppers can view the product in a real-world context thereby having a more accurate sense of proportion. Immersive tech is especially important given the rise of the smartphone as the primary gadget used in online shopping. Small screens can make it difficult for shoppers to grasp the dimensions of the product they are looking at. With AR and 3D, the small-screen challenge is overcome.

  1. Reassure Customers of Returns

Brick-and-mortar retail has always experienced a sizable number of returned purchases. Online stores are even more prone to returns since the customer doesn’t physically handle the product until after they have received it. Many online shoppers prefer to return an item to a store’s physical location even when they bought it online. But thanks to the social distancing rules that have emerged following the COVID-19 pandemic, returning the product to an actual location is no longer an option. 

Online retailers must reassure prospective buyers that as long as lockdown and social distancing rules and regulations are in force, customers can hang onto the items and return them once doors reopen. Time limits can be temporarily suspended as a means of safeguarding both employee and customer safety.

  1. Adapt to Lasting Trends

While COVID-19 may be with us for a while, it’s disruption of everyday business is bound to decline in the coming months and years. The world will return to relative normalcy. However, certain changes including may endure longer. In fact, crises are sometimes the start of long lasting consumer behavior trends. For instance, the SARS outbreak of 2003 triggered the birth of some of the largest online retailers in China today. 

So even as online stores get back to business as usual, they may have to effect some changes in the fulfillment processes to accommodate enduring consumer preferences. For instance, social distancing may accelerate the trend of telecommuting and home-based offices and with that an increase in home deliveries and curbside pickups. 

The world is reopening gradually yet cautiously. Slowly, the average person is getting back to the routines they were accustomed to but had suspended in the wake of COVID-19. It’s a great time for online stores to assess how their fulfillment and logistics processes impact the customer experience. Consumers are benefiting from ecommerce innovation in a manner never seen before. 

As online businesses experiment with different strategies and tactics, consumers are discovering new ways of online shopping, transacting and product delivery. By focusing on optimizing fulfillment, e-businesses can improve their competitiveness and maximize return from the new growth opportunities. Online stores that adapt their fulfillment and logistics processes to the COVID-19 crisis will emerge with a stronger brand, stronger customer relationships and an overall improvement in their customer’s online experience.