Twenty-five years ago, the realm of customer demands was very different. The prolific growth of digital commerce has opened customers up to countless shopping opportunities, with brands and retailers tirelessly trying to compete with Amazon’s wide product assortment, low prices and expedited shipping.

Just weeks after announcing the expansion of its same-day delivery service for Prime members, Amazon is now experiencing delayed delivery times due to unforeseen out-of-stocks caused by the recent COVID-19 outbreak. This issue is compounded by a new attendance policy the e-commerce giant implemented earlier this month that allows warehouse workers to take unlimited paid time off through the end of March.

Despite hiring a reported 100,000 workers to accommodate the rise in online orders since the outbreak, Amazon is still dealing with disruptions that ultimately impact the customer experience (and their bottom line). Last week, Amazon announced that it is now limiting inbound shipments to essential products like household and medical items, leaving many sellers that are reliant on Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) scrambling to implement new fulfillment solutions to continue serving customers.

With new restrictions and limitations occurring daily—and even hourly—many predict the current situation will get worse before it gets better. So how can you ensure minimal disruption to your operations and continue to fulfill your customers’ needs in this unpredictable environment?

  • Explore new fulfillment services and partners. If you relied on FBA and do not have the physical infrastructure to manage order fulfillment on your own, seek the help of an experienced partner that can tailor a cost-effective solution to enable rapid, nationwide shipping and delivery. A distributed logistics network can help improve delivery service and reduce transportation costs.
  • Implement intelligent software solutions. As the outbreak intensifies and more restrictions are placed on retailers, many customers will increase use of online ordering. To avoid inventory issues, utilize an advanced technology stack that is capable of integrating all sales channels, fulfillment methods and facilities and providing total inventory visibility across the entire supply chain through a single platform.
  • Utilize automation to support warehouse workers. Minimize service disruptions due to labor limitations by employing autonomous mobile robot (AMR) solutions. While automation can sometimes require a large upfront investment, Tompkins Robotics’ t-Sort system is fully modular and additional robots can be added or removed instantaneously without any interruption or downtime—a great perk for retailers that need to ramp up or downgrade operations during an outbreak.
  • Leverage brick-and-mortar locations to expand fulfillment options. Many retailers may opt—or be forced—to close stores to the public during the outbreak. Utilize these locations as micro-fulfillment centers by implementing a ship-from-store model to help accommodate growing e-commerce orders and enable rapid, cost-effective delivery. Stores can also use curbside pickup as a way for customers to quickly receive orders while limiting contact with other humans.
  • Employ a “sell anywhere” strategy. When a pandemic strikes, it is more important than ever to embrace a “sell anywhere” approach. As more stores continue to close or reduce hours—and online retailers face disruptions from increased demand—offering your products through a variety of sales channels improves your chances to reach customers where they prefer to shop.

Like the proliferation of digital commerce transformed and heightened customer demands, the recent COVID-19 outbreak will acclimate customers to a new set of expectations. All companies must respond to this new realm of customer demands and not just recover from COVID-19, but realize it is a whole new ball game.

We will be doing a new blog series on the impacts of COVID-19 over the next week. Be sure to check back daily for each installment. Tomorrow we will be looking at COVID-19 and digital commerce. Learn more about the impacts in the related articles below or visit our newsroom to stay up to date on our latest news.