How the Pandemic Revealed a Need for Small Business Agility

The sudden shift in eCommerce demand during the pandemic left many small business owners scrambling to keep up. Here's how small businesses had to adapt their operations and order fulfillment process.

By:
Rob Tillman
-
eCommerce Fulfillment

IIn 2020, the percent of US at-home workers peaked at 44%, with 33% out of work entirely. Between lockdown, quarantine, and COVID-19 downsizing, millions of families were fully isolated at home. This had one overwhelming impact on the economy: local businesses lost orders and eCommerce stores exploded with order fulfillment needs and at-home deliveries.

The sudden shift in how families received their household supplies changed so rapidly that many companies on both sides failed in the whiplash. Some local businesses immediately crashed without in-person customers to hold up their monthly existence. At the same time, many eCommerce businesses crumbled under the unexpected and overwhelming pressure of delivery orders. Here’s an overview of how small businesses had to adapt during the pandemic.

Agility and Pandemic Business Survival

However, agile and scalable businesses survived. Those able to adapt to a new wash of orders or shift to their online and delivery business models were able to not only sustain but then grow to support the at-home community that needed their supply—sometimes even in the most unexpected product categories.

Small online companies ballooned with website support, customer service, and strategic outsourcing to 3PL fulfillment companies. Local businesses quickly poured resources into website and app development to reach at-home customers.

Rapid Expansion in eCommerce Business

eCommerce businesses at the peak of the 2020 pandemic were faced with a unique challenge: expand or perish. The sudden impact of increased demand to keep deeper stocks, provide better and more economical shipping, and streamline the delivery experience was crucial. It required every team to find the quickest path to dependable and rapid expansion.

Not only was it necessary to reach out to new suppliers and storage locations, but whole new departments were suddenly created. Many eCommerce brands suddenly needed a legal department and a floor of customer service reps or fulfillment center locations across the country. Outsourcing professional teams can make it possible to attach an entire pro department for the short or long term based on your company's growth plan.

Not Running Out of Stock

The first major challenge was simply not running out of stock. Thousands of eCommerce brands pre-Pandemic were run by a small team with local warehousing and shipping. Retailers had a predictable rate of purchase for each item and fitting customer bases. However, when the locked-down audience logged into every online business with home deliveries, the stock demand landscape changed entirely and prioritizing orders became essential.

Pandemic shoppers were both voracious and fickle. If one online store didn't have what they were searching for in the right color and quantity, they'd go somewhere else. This meant expanding and maintaining stock became a requirement to catch the wave. Delivery time and reliability also became a big issue. Any online seller still shipping through standard mail met the mid-pandemic slowdowns while third-party logistics continued to ship from independent and widespread warehouses.

The challenge not to run out of stock resulted in a logistics expansion for many eCommerce businesses, especially those still shipping out of a single local warehouse or personal storeroom.

Increasing Bandwidth for eCommerce Websites and Apps

The new online traffic also required eCommerce business owners to suddenly need greater bandwidth on their website and app servers. Each time an online customer visits the website or does something on a mobile app, it interacts with your web server. This means larger servers, copied servers, and greater communication bandwidth was needed to support all the new customer visits, store browsing, and order submissions.

It became necessary for eCommerce business owners to get in touch and partner with their server host services. Each hosting provider has scalable bandwidth options to help businesses prepare for sudden or steady increases in online traffic and resource demand.

Upgrading the Online Shopping Experience

eCommerce businesses and local online retailers alike were forced to upgrade their online stores and shopping experience. Outdated websites and clunky checkouts were no longer an option. Any errors or breaks in the conversion funnel could cost potential thousands in revenue from frustrated customers. Websites were rebuilt, modules installed, and mobile apps developed to streamline and improve the customer shopping experience.

The online upgrades not only smoothed out the shopping cart and checkout process, but also made it easier to search for items, select custom options, manage shipping, and schedule restocked orders.

Offering Faster and Lower Cost Shipping

Finally, there was the matter of shipping. During the pandemic, shoppers were braced for check-out to reveal months of delays in shipping or higher-than-expected shipping costs. Many eCommerce businesses were overwhelmed by the shipping demand, unable to use their previous services or methods in such a large volume.

This created the need to expand logistically. Offering faster shipping at lower cost means localized warehouses for shorter order fulfillment trips. For most eCommerce businesses, this meant expanding to include a 3PL fulfillment company that brought widespread warehouse locations and shipping partners to the table as an outsourced logistics department.

Post-Pandemic Small Business Agility

The height of the pandemic in 2020 taught eCommerce businesses an important lesson: agility is the key to future expansion. The lockdown months left their mark and the audience is permanently transformed. Online shopping that was a sudden requirement during early quarantine has become a habit and preference for many. Home delivery is exceedingly convenient and the more reliable the delivery service, the more likely pandemic audiences were to stick with their newly discovered eCommerce business.

Partnering With 3PL Order Fulfillment Experts for Faster Shipping and Order Spike Protection

Most eCommerce business owners get started by handling their own storage and shipping. But if your small business expanded or started up during the pandemic online migration of customers, then logistics are a key element of staying afloat and competing with local delivery services. The best path to quick and affordable expansion is to partner with a 3PL team attuned to the needs of a modern eCommerce business.

Rakuten Super Logistics is dedicated to helping eCommerce businesses expand their shipping and stock availability to widespread customers. Not only does your stock become a part of our distribution network, but we are also ready to embrace your eCommerce business and become your extended logistics team in partnership.

Contact us for a quote and let's discuss how Rakuten Super Logistics can help your eCommerce business handle increased demand and streamline order fulfillment.

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Rakuten Super Logistics is a leading eCommerce order fulfillment company that provides the scalability, flexibility, and cost savings retailers demand.

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