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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. Lausanne

    Such a great article! The tips you give are very relevant and useful. We need to adapt to the new circumstances and I like your way to see that. Thanks.

  2. Jeremy Lawson

    Great article! The need of the hour is definitely communications. Communicating with clients, customers and suppliers is the essence to maintain trust in the business. Adapting products to the current scenario is essential too. Brands and marketers need to step outside of their comfort zones of business-as-usual and capitalize on behavior changes among their customers.

  3. Rick

    thinking about shutting down my store until things get fixed. orders are taking way too long and no communication. had a customer order on
    Apr 29 2020,still waiting haven’t heard anything, i have let the customer know of the delays but they don’t care. i may have to refund customer and eat the hat. Are any orders actually being shipped or no? delays seems to be getting longer now.

    1. Alise Zindiga

      Hey Rick, we are facing longer fulfillment times at the moment and shipping delays are expected all over the world. Orders are being shipped out and there are more and more flights available now, so we hope to see these times improving. If you are concerned about your order, please contact our Customer Support at support@printful.com.

  4. Pete

    Great article, I have not launched my online store yet because of the delays. Not your fault totally as shipping is also a problem. It took 11 days for usps to deliver a phone case you fulfilled in a couple of days. Waiting now almost 3 weeks for fulfillment then another 2-3 weeks for delivery is tough. Almost like ordering from China. I have been waiting for 2 months for an order from China. It is a good feeling to know that Printful is so professional, caring and transparent. I will stick with it and hopefully will be able to launch in a few months when things get closer to normal on fulfillment. 3 weeks now for DTG is to long.

    1. Daniela Bergmane

      Hey there, thanks for the kind feedback — we really appreciate it. That’s sad to hear that you haven’t launched your online store solely due to the delays. At the moment, there are delays in both fulfillment and shipping, and there’s no denying that. However, we’re working really hard to improve our fulfillment times by, for example, investing in new tech, as well as hiring and onboarding new teammates. Hopefully, the results of these actions start to show soon. Regardless, I believe that now, despite the delays, is a great time to kick off a new online business. We’re seeing large volume of incoming orders, which clearly means that the demand is there, and people are switching to online shopping more than ever before. Of course, you should be open and honest with your customers in times like these, but, as long as you are, then your customers also should be understanding. Hope it all works out for you and all the best! 🙂

  5. Harpoon magnet fishing

    Man, what a hard month to be a small business. It seems like everybody is having similar problems with delays. But What is cool is that e-commerce is still doing really well. And there’s a lot of companies that are supporting and helping small businesses.

    1. Alise Zindiga

      This is so true – while we are experience a lot of challenges, we are still happy and grateful to be a part of a business that can still operate during Covid-19.

  6. Felecia Day

    Why I u defat and delays will happen, but Amazon has been back up and running as normal and another printing company in use has been shipping and fulfilling orders as normal as well. How long is it going to take Printful to be up and printing and shipping DTG as normal. It is really bad for business even if you communicate it to your customers. Some people don’t want to wait that long. These are like dropshipping estimates. I have a customer who has waited for almost a month for two shirts. I sent another one of my designs to a different company and the customer for it in 6 days. Same great quality and price. I love printful, but I think I may have to switch companies until you get back up and running with faster shipping times. I hope this is not the new norm.

    1. Alise Zindiga

      Hey Felicia, we are sorry to upset you! We are aware that our fulfillment times have a place for improvements at the moment, and we are doing everything we can to fix this. Scaling up, unfortunately, didn’t help as much as expected, therefore, we’ve temporarily disabled push function for AOP and DTG+embroidery in the US products, which is a similar action to what Amazon did as well. We hope that this will help to fight our backlog better, however, in the meantime we suggest exploring our non-apparel categories that are currently being fulfilled within couple of days.

      1. TC

        Thank you for keeping us update. In my opinion, I think Amazon should not always be used as a benchmark because we choose Printful for the fact that you’re different from Amazon. If you keep mentioning about Amazon, it sounds like Amazon is better and we should choose Amazon instead.

        1. Alise Zindiga

          Thanks for the comment, it’s a valid point! We don’t want to always compare us with Amazon, but oftentimes it’s a great example that everyone understands and doesn’t require additional explanations.

  7. Gianluca Martorelli

    Hi,
    what if you are new and you want to start your business now? the fullfilment is locked for new businesses. What do you think and suggest at this moment and when should we start to be able to sell and promote our products? Considering that the costs of service are monthly should i start in month instead?

    1. Edward Zarins

      Hey! We don’t have a monthly fee and you can start with product categories that have good fulfillment times and that can be added to your store right now. You can look into the non-apparel items. Check this page for current fulfillment estimates by product category: https://www.printful.com/covid-19

  8. Al

    These delays, and the disabling of new products really puts new business owners at a major disadvantage if your shop doesn’t sell mugs and keychains… Right now I am stuck with the few designs I could create before the shutdown of DTG and Embroidery which is really a big inconvenience to my web development and advertising campaigns… I’ve found another white label service to shift my T-Shirts designs to that is pretty fast and great quality, but not having the ability to add the remainder of the designs I’ve created for my shop in my templates leaves me with not much to sell, and I will switch to a different company until you guys get back to normal.

    1. Alise Zindiga

      He Al, we are doing this to fight our backlogs in the bestselling categories, and will enable it as soon as our fulfillment times improve. Your comments are very reasonable and we do understand that some niches can’t switch to other product categories that easily. At the moment we are working really hard to get back on track—our fulfillment times in the EU are already back to normal and we hope to achieve the same results in the US very soon.

  9. Garry Buzil

    We are planning to launch our store in about 3 weeks. We are only offering POD (t shirts) and embroidered (hats) product. We have created the following message that will appear on our homepage as soon as a customer connects with our website.

    “CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19)
    Please note that due to the pandemic we are all experiencing, fulfillment and shipping will likely take longer than we would like. Please allow up to 25 days to receive your purchase. We promise that as the situation improves, we will speed up the shipping times tremendously. Our goal is to ship within 2 days after receiving your order.”

    What do you think”

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