Some industries are obviously feeling the pain from the coronavirus outbreak more acutely than others. The travel and entertainment space, for instance, has been devastated, as have bars and restaurants.

On the other hand, though, some sectors of the economy felt a boost from the current crisis. 21% of respondents to a recent survey said they were doing more shopping online now than before the outbreak. While that’s a potential boon for eCommerce merchants, it’s not without drawbacks.

A Double-Edged Sword for Retailers

Having more customers coming your way sounds great at first. Under the current circumstances, though, there are a number of limitations with which you have to contend:

  • Supply Chain Interruption: The virus outbreak may have already interrupted the supply chains of nearly 75% of all US companies. That will translate to limited inventory, frustrated or upset customers, and canceled orders.
  • Labor Shortages: You could find yourself working with a skeleton crew as the pandemic forces workers to stay home. Important functions like order fulfillment won’t work at their regular capacity. Plus, as labor becomes scarce, it could grow more expensive.
  • Customer Service Delays: Customers need to be able to reach you when they have problems. But with the increased traffic volume and limited staff, customers could end up waiting longer than usual for responses to inquiries.
  • Delivery Trouble: Just as internal labor shortages could impact your operations, the same is true for USPS, UPS, and FedEx. This means buyers experience extended waits for delivery, which may lead to some to panic and even file a chargeback.
  • Volatility in the Market: You need to be able to plan ahead to ensure long-term success. Under current circumstances, though, it’s impossible to make any reliable forecast more than a few days in advance. This makes it hard to plan for investments and future growth.

That’s not a comprehensive list; there will be plenty more unforeseen challenges in the weeks and months ahead. In response, you need to be ready to ensure quality service continues without disruption.

What Can You Do?

You’ll face plenty of obstacles trying to navigate through this time. After all, an outbreak on this scale is unprecedented. That said, it’s certainly not impossible to manage. There are quite a few basic practices you can implement that will serve you well even once this crisis ends. For example, you should:

  • Take a Multilayer Approach: Reliance on one or two fraud detection tools isn’t enough to offer a clear impression of each buyer. Deploying multiple tools including Address Verification Service (AVS), CVV verification, 3-D Secure, and geolocation can offer a much more detailed, dynamic picture to determine each transaction’s authenticity.
  • Share Contact Information: You want to make it as easy as possible for customer to contact you, so they don’t end up filing a chargeback. The best way to do that is ensuring your contact information is easily visible on every page of your site, as well as on social media.
  • Respond Quickly: Don’t let hours (or even days) go by without responding to customer inquiries. You should reply to all emails, as well as messages across social media channels, within one hour. Also, answer all phone calls within three rings. If unable to do so, consider contracting with a third-party answering service to handle overflow call volume.
  • Use AI Wisely: Live service is best, but AI tools like chatbots can streamline processes. Using dynamic chatbots on your site can help resolve simple customer queries immediately. It also funnels more complex issues to a live representative in a timely manner, while creating a logged transcript of the customer’s questions.
  • Maintain Detailed Records: In the event of a dispute, it’s important you have all relevant information about the transaction in question. That’s why you should keep detailed, organized records for each transaction. You should also work with a facilitator to take advantage of the Visa Merchant Purchase Inquiry tool.
  • Communicate Effectively: Keep customers in the loop, and notify them in the event of any potential delays. This can prevent buyers from panicking and filing a chargeback if their goods take longer to arrive than anticipated.

Learning as We Go

This is a challenging time for everyone, regardless of your situation. The coronavirus outbreak represents uncharted territory for eCommerce sellers like you, as well as for the vendors and banks that work alongside you. Some merchants already had business continuity plans (BCPs) in place that could adapt to the circumstances, but few could have accounted for an event on a global scale like this.

Things may never go back to the kind of “normal” we had before. That said, if you adhere to best practices, then riding out the coronavirus pandemic could be relatively smooth. You may even emerge stronger than ever.