2020 brought unprecedented change to the retail and e-commerce industries. Not only did a worldwide pandemic interrupt the supply chain while also dramatically boosting online shopping, but social unrest changed priorities for many companies.
As an e-commerce business owner, what can you do to navigate these difficult times and prepare for other future challenges? The good news is that even disruption brings new opportunities. Continuity planning is the key to succeeding.
Review Where Your Original Continuity Plan Broke Down
If you’re reading this article, your business survived 2020. That probably means that you had a continuity plan in place. If not, you are a master of on-your-feet planning and reaction. However, you probably don’t want to do that again!
Instead, look at where you needed better continuity and disaster planning in 2020. Then, fill those gaps now with additional strategies and clearer communication.
For instance, maybe your original plan was too broad and didn’t give your department managers enough details. Or perhaps you had plans for some breakdowns but not others.
Now that you’ve been through a difficult time, you can improve your planning for the next challenge you face.
Make a Plan for Supply Disruption
One of the things that caught all businesses flat-footed in 2020 was the disruption of supply chains. Even if you could maintain consumer demand, you couldn’t fulfill orders without the appropriate components and products.
Diversifying suppliers is one of the top priorities for companies in 2021. Make sure you not only don’t have all your eggs in one basket but that you have backup suppliers in case something breaks down.
Anything from a pandemic to a flood to an earthquake can disrupt supply chains in a big way. Even before COVID-19, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan affected supply chains around the world. Other natural disasters have had similar consequences.
Finding backup suppliers to protect your supply chain will not only help you now but will also prove invaluable in future natural disasters or other disruptions.
What Do You Need to Operate?
In a crisis, you’re often reduced to your most essential operations. What are those in your business? Hopefully, 2020 will make that very clear so that you can protect those areas moving forward.
Once you have the clarity, set up backups and emergency procedures to ensure that those essential operations keep moving forward even if the world shuts down. That way, you can keep your business operating and take advantage of the opportunities available.
For instance, you might have discovered challenges in your last-mile delivery during COVID-19. Many e-commerce companies used pop-up fulfillment centers to solve this problem. These smaller facilities are temporary but allow inventory to be closer to consumers and reduce friction in delivery. Having a solid strategy like this in place in the future will help ensure your products get to customers no matter what the future holds.
You might have also discovered that some of the things you thought were critical didn’t matter that much. Of course, it would be best if you still had plans for those areas, but they may not need to be as robust or expensive.
Prepare for and Integrate More Remote Work
Having to transition to remote work overnight caught a lot of businesses by surprise. There was no time to plan — you had to grab your things and not come back to the office for months.
Now that we’ve reached 2021, you’ve had time to test and evaluate different work-from-home strategies. You can determine what works best for you and deploy additional technological solutions to make it happen.
Best of all, many companies found that remote work was a significant benefit in many ways. It’s an important trend to embrace as we move forward. So why not think about ways to incorporate it into your company framework?
You can look for candidates who are willing to work remotely using specific job search platforms like FlexJobs or Remote.co. Then, use interview questionnaires and video interviews to evaluate talent and determine who to hire.
Training might be challenging, but using tools like Slack and video conferencing can provide the information your team needs, along with the ability to collaborate and ask questions. In addition, project management tools like Asana or Trello can keep work on track even as everyone works from home.
A recent study showed that 65% of retailers are optimistic about 2021, and 56% plan to rely on a mix of in-office and remote work moving forward. So there’s no reason for you not to take advantage of the productivity and flexibility gains remote work brings.
Reduce Risk and Embrace Opportunities
E-commerce is a field where companies are always looking for ways to gain an edge while also managing their risks. 2020 brought a variety of challenges, which showed us all where we can shore up our planning.
Whether you decide to take advantage of third-party logistics or investigate how technology can make you more efficient, planning for continuity and future crises is essential.