Coping with sudden demand in a WooCommerce shop

Covid-19 has brought many challenges for shop owners. Whilst some shops are at a standstill, others have experienced a sudden increase in demand which can quickly overwhelm the capacity of the team to fulfil orders. In this article I explain possible strategies to cope with a sudden increase in demand.

But first, why does a shop need to worry about a sudden spike? Surely it’s good news to be in demand? Yes and No. When I went to school I was taught that sudden growth can destroy a business just as much as no growth. The reasons are simple: it takes time to find & train employees and to implement quality controlled procedures to handle a large number of sales. Whilst a small business with about 10 sales per day might be perfectly okay with informal “we just know” arrangements, if this increases to a 100 or a 1000 per day, suddenly it becomes a very different challenge. For a business to thrive, controlled and planned growth is the aim.

But what if Covid-19 has suddenly changed your industry and you find that your services and shop are in high demand? First off, I recommend that you make an honest assessment what you and your team can handle. It’s no good accepting orders when stock supplies or capacity to fulfil orders aren’t available. It only leads to more work with dissatisfied customers chasing up orders and handling refunds.

Information

Honesty is the best policy; and when a sudden crisis hits your business, the most simple strategy is often the best. Use your website to put up a quick notice how Covid-19 affects your business, how long deliveries are likely to take and what customers can expect. Where possible, put this information into multiple places so customers will be sure to see it. Possible options are:

  • Homepage notice, ideally higher up and in easy to read, large font size but bear in mind that customers coming from a search engine may not see your homepage. In WordPress, the homepage is usually a static page which can easily be modified in WP Admin.
  • Pop-up notifications that appear on a page and have to be dismissed by clicking on them. In WooCommerce, the “Demo Store” notice is perfect for important updates, just make sure you remember to disable it once the crisis is over.
  • Product Details page. A common notification that can be added to all product detail pages centrally can be a great way to show important delivery information to customers.
  • Site Header. Highly visible on all pages, a message shown right at the top of the page will make key information stand out.

And with all of the above, where space is at a premium, the messages can be used to link to a dedicated blog post or page giving more details of how your business is affected and what customers can expect.

Limiting the number of orders per day

If your team is overwhelmed by demand, one strategy is to limit the number of orders per day. Once the number has been reached, “add to basket” buttons and/or checkout is disabled and customers see a message asking them to save their basket and try again tomorrow. This is something I’ve seen used by several UK plant nurseries. It’s easy to understand for customers and allows a spreading out of orders over several days. On the downside, cart abandonment by casual buyers is likely to increase.

Crocus.co.uk website message informing customers that no more orders can be accepted today.

Implement a Minimum Order Value

Another strategy is imposing a minimum order value. This encourages customers to place one larger order rather than several smaller ones; and allows your business to focus on high value orders rather than be distracted by many small ones. Minimum Order Values can be done through plugins, or if you’re a developer there are plenty of tutorials online showing how this can be done with a few lines of code in Woo.

Go Virtual

If you have products that can also be made available online either as a download or through streaming, then encourage customers to buy these formats rather than a physical hard copy. Use a streaming service like Vimeo; or make downloads available through Amazon AWS.

Go local

With borders in Europe closed, some areas under quarantine restrictions, airplanes parked up and international travel ground to a halt, delivering to other countries may prove difficult or even impossible. A quick solution is to temporarily restrict delivery to your own country and to show for the others a message that due to circumstances you cannot currently deliver to their area (but hope to be able to do so again soon). This can easily be done in the WooCommerce shipping settings.

Secondly, if you provide a local service and/or have local suppliers, then make this part of your marketing. Customers are likely to be reassured by a local supply chain and keen to show support to local businesses. In my native Austria local shopping has seen considerable support as customers want to use their spending power to support the businesses that make up our neighbourhood and pay taxes in our own country.

Limit the product range

When things get super busy, it can help to simplify. If you have a broad product range with some items harder to get hold off or to ship, consider temporarily suspending sales on these items until things are calmer. If you use the stock management in WooCommerce a simple “out of stock” message will do; or you could put the products into Draft status temporarily to hide them from the site.

Suspend Marketing

If your shop is too busy to cope, take a look at your marketing and check what can be put on hold. Online ads can usually be paused quickly. For other marketing campaigns maybe you can do a quick last minute tweak to add a notice about the current situation and how it affects deliveries and availability.

Don’t Panic

Good advice for galactic hitch-hikers, but also for shops. When things are too busy, it’s easy to just plough on to exhaustion. But before your shop hits burn out, it’s really important to take a breath and plan. Take a moment to calmly look at what needs doing, send an email to your developer to ask for quick changes to your site, an update on your website to give customers the latest information about deliveries.

Read the Room

And lastly, even if you’re very busy, take a moment, consider how Covid-19 affects your team and your customers and what you can do to help. For example, customers may wish to support your business by placing an order but may be equally worried whether the staff handling the order can do so in a safe manner. A message on your website explaining what measures your business has taken to keep both staff and customers safe is likely to be appreciated by everyone.

And with this last thought, #staySafe and #stayWell!

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