How COVID-19 Is Impacting
E-Commerce Today

The coronavirus is affecting many industries, with some experiencing dramatic falls in demand, while others reap record sales. Consumers are increasingly shifting toward online retail as more and people are set to undergo self-isolation over the coming weeks and months. Even those severely affected are pivoting to provide services online to eliminate the need for face-to-face contact.

While it’s true the short-term economic impact may lead to a global recession; it’s important to stress that the ill effects are likely to be short-lived.1 Those with an existing or new e-commerce presence will be best placed to see less of an impact, and may even exhibit phenomenal growth during this period.

People will be staying at home either forcibly or voluntarily over the next few months, so the need for online merchants to provide food, entertainment, hygiene, and home products is going to be greater than ever. With that in mind, what steps can online merchants take to fulfil the demand and continue to thrive?

Pivot to Include Inventory of In-Demand Items

A beneficial strategy is for online retailers to increase supplies of products that are going to be in high demand over the coming weeks and months. Non-perishable food is going to be one of the most popular products worldwide over the coming weeks as many individuals look to self-isolate for up to 14 days at a time.

Following closely behind food will be hygiene products that can help prevent the spread of the disease. Face masks, gloves, bottles of hand sanitiser, surgical gowns, and goggles are all already sold out in many countries. If you’re in an industry where these products fit your existing product line up (and you can reliably source them), these products should sell in ever-increasing amounts as demand continues to soar.

However, while food and hygiene products are going to be the most popular items in the case of any virus outbreak, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other prospects for online merchants in different verticals.

Boredom is going to be a real issue for both adults and children alike while being trapped indoors. Therefore, the demand for entertainment products is going to soar in response to people attempting to keep themselves amused while in isolation. Gaming companies can ramp up production and pivot to make a range of products that can be bought and downloaded online.

As mentioned, then there’s the opportunity for companies who traditionally do a large portion of business in face-to-face settings to move their offerings online. Financial providers can run their application and approval processes online, and insurance companies can do the same for their offerings. The onset of the virus may present an opportunity for innovation, as opposed to despair.

Cross-Promote, Bundle, and Offer Discounts on Popular Items

For online merchants looking to increase conversions, special promotions on these products can help to get them “flying off the shelves”. As mentioned, gaming products are going to be in high demand, so why not add discounts for bulk orders? You could even cross-promote them on each respective product page to drive up sales (e.g. two driving games that would go well together).

Bundling is another way for e-commerce sites to increase revenue during the epidemic. Start by monitoring sales traffic, then select two or more popular items to bundle together at a discounted price.

For instance, if you sell digital products such as online courses, can you bundle them all together and offer them at a discount? By presenting many items grouped as “one product”, online retailers can provide shoppers with excellent value while driving up Average Purchase Values (APVs).

If you’re an online merchant, the idea of jacking up the prices on items in high demand is tempting, but price gouging is a practice that should be avoided at all costs. Here’s why.

Avoid Price Gouging Your Customers

In crisis conditions, there are always going to be those companies who look to take advantage of unprecedented demand levels for specific products by increasing the prices attached to them. However, this practice (known as price gouging) can not only cost you sales; it can also land you in trouble with the authorities.

Many countries and local authorities have enacted emergency legislation to clamp down on retailers charging artificially high prices for necessary products.2 While this should undoubtedly act as a deterrent, a more significant threat may come in the form of the court of public opinion.

Customers have a long memory, and if you turn around to increase prices when your loyal customers need you the most, the relationship may become irreparably damaged. Furthermore, price gouging retailers are being named and shamed online by both official authorities and by consumers taking to social media.3 The negative publicity associated with this practice renders it unworthy of the risks.

E-commerce stores with dynamic pricing algorithms will need to tweak rules to allow prices to remain static during periods of high demand to avoid becoming an inadvertent part of the problem.

Step Up Credit Card and eWallet Processing Capabilities

Up to a fifth of all workers could be off sick at any one time during the height of the outbreak, severely impacting the ability of some employees to earn their usual wage values.4 Even those that do not fall ill may suffer as a result of a temporary closure of their workplace, leaving them unable to earn anything.

Combined with an inability to visit bank branches in quarantined areas, customers will increasingly utilise credit lines to spread payments out over a more extended period while their earnings are low.

Therefore, as an online merchant, you will need to make sure more flexible payment methods such as credit cards and alternative payment methods are appropriately catered for on your checkout page. This is especially true for online stores based in countries where other payment methods are traditionally much more accessible.

Make Alterations to Anti-Fraud Tools

Declined transactions are a problem for online merchants at any time, but they will hurt even more at a time when you should be taking record sales numbers. While anti-fraud technology has made huge strides over recent years, the types of unusual purchases made at a time of crisis will result in the decline of many genuine transactions.

For instance, a $200 purchase of several in-app gaming upgrades made by a brand new customer is more likely to be flagged or declined based on its abnormality. Online merchants will have to alter the rules on their fraud detection software (if they can) to prevent the decline of genuine transactions.

With so many scams circulating in this current state of uncertainty, many banks and acquirers may be looking to tighten up payment security, so it’s crucial to keep open lines of communication to keep conversions high.

Prepare Your Online Store for COVID-19

If you’re an e-commerce operation, or you can shift large proportions of your business infrastructure online, the recent coronavirus outbreak presents you with an opportunity offer your customer still a service using digital channels to individuals who look to self-isolate and protect themselves. However, it’s not all smooth sailing, you may face issues when trying to secure supplies of in-demand products, and you could face legal action and negative publicity if you give in to the temptation of increasing prices to reflect demand.

Additionally, even those who do want to buy from your online store may not be able to thanks to a lack of flexible payment options or tight fraud controls, which could prevent anomalous transactions from being authorised by card issuers or acquirers.

By integrating a checkout page provided by a payment partner with a proven track record like SafeCharge, not only will your e-commerce store gain access to up to 250 payment methods, but you will also benefit from a highly-customisable anti-fraud rules engine. With artificially intelligent algorithms implementing new rules during this period, the likelihood of an emergency high-value payments being approved will increase, driving up sales as a result.

Better still, by choosing SafeCharge as your payments partner, you can rest assured you will have high uptime and robust Business Continuity Planning (BCP) protocols should the outbreak extend to temporarily-catastrophic levels. These measures will help to ensure your business can continue to operate throughout even the most challenging of periods.

SafeCharge online payment specialists are available to answer your questions and discuss how to improve your businesses payments operations during this turbulent time. You can write to us at info@safecharge.com, and we will swiftly respond.

About the author:
Erik Diepering, VP Retail Europe, SafeCharge, a Nuvei company
“I thrive in situations where there’s an opportunity to improve or grow something and to impact change. Impact as a result and discovering a way to drive positive change fuels my energy.”
Erik, a Dutch native, leads SafeCharge’s retail directions across the European continent. He has 20 years of professional experience at scale-ups, blue-chip and tech companies related to eCommerce, payments, fraud management, marketplaces and mobility.

1  https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/09/economy/global-recession-coronavirus/index.html
2 https://www.forbes.com/sites/joanverdon/2020/03/04/coronavirus-related-price-gouging-is-a-risky-business-for-retailers/#561de5af17a0
3 http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-02/08/c_138766488.htm
4 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-51718917

SafeCharge Limited is an Electronic Money Institution authorised and regulated by the Central Bank of Cyprus and is a principal member of Mastercard, Visa and Unionpay International (CUP). SafeCharge Financial Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority as a Payment Institution. Both SafeCharge companies are wholly owned by SafeCharge International Group Limited.