The spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused the World Health Organization to increase its risk impact alert from “high” to “very high.” This should serve as a reality check for businesses to get ready.
According to Reuters, the brakes have been applied to consumer spending and worker productivity, as governments and health organizations embrace isolation and quarantine strategies to limit COVID-19’s spread. The coronavirus can’t easily be identified by outward signs. It can be deadly in some and cause mild or no symptoms in others. Stopping the spread of the disease means limiting social interaction.
Countries Are Embracing Isolation to Fight COVID-19
The hardest-hit cities in China, like Wuhan, where the virus originated, went into complete lockdown. This approach seems to be effective. “We’ve seen the comprehensive measures that China has taken and… we believe that that has had an impact on changing the natural trajectory of the outbreak,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization. As a result, other countries are following suit.
- The South Korean government has canceled some regional events.
- U.S.states have closed schools and some companies are encouraging employees to work from home.
- In Italy cities and towns in the north have been placed under full or partial shutdown, effectively quarantining 100,000 people.
- Those trying to leave the city of Qom, ground zero for Iran’s outbreak, are quarantined if they have a fever and display symptoms of coronavirus.
The Virus Will Negatively Impact the Global Economy, but Likely Accelerate the Shift to eCommerce
The economic impact in industries like tourism and dining has been swift. Major Asian airlines like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines have warned of the need for staff to take unpaid leave. 47% of Chinese businesses have also reported that the outbreak has significantly or severely impacted their sales, according to a survey conducted by the Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN). However, many online industries could benefit by enabling consumers to work, socialize and access entertainment and goods while under lockdown.
According to QuestMobile, the average time Chinese citizens spent on the mobile internet climbed from an already high 6.8 hours a day during Chinese New Year, to an astonishing 7.3 hours after the holiday as coronavirus took hold.
How Companies Should Respond
In developing any response to the Coronavirus, it is critical that companies remain sensitive to consumers’ needs and align with the public’s interest. JD.com Provides an excellent example. The Chinese ecommerce company recently announced the creation of 35,000 new jobs for people who have been displaced by the coronavirus in China. The jobs they are creating include full- and part-time positions for warehouse workers, delivery drivers and remote customer-service workers.
This is not the first time JD.com has built its business by addressing a public health crisis. The company started as a brick-and-mortar retailer but relaunched as an online business in response to ecommerce demand driven by the SARS epidemic in 2004.
Steps Every Business Should Take
There are several common-sense actions businesses can take in response to the Coronavirus.
1- Maintain Close Contact with Suppliers: Contact suppliers in any country affected by the virus to check on their status. And maintain communication because the situation can change quickly.
2- Keep Customers Informed: Constantly update customers on the status of their orders in order to mitigate the damage done by delayed or canceled deliveries.
3- Monitor Third-Party Sellers: Maintain careful watch over any third-party sellers that may do business on your platforms to protect customers from false claims and price gouging.
4- Reassure Customers About the Safety of Deliveries: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 can’t be transmitted in packages.
5- Forecast Supply Issues: Review sales over the last few years and identify upcoming spikes in demand. Then make moves now to ensure product availability, such as ordering extra inventory early or developing relationships with geographically diverse suppliers.
Help Customers Respond to Challenges Now to Build Long-Term Relationships
Online sellers, ride-sharing businesses, delivery services, and other participants in the digital economy need to consider both temporary opportunities and challenges, as well as new normals that arise due to shifts in behavior in response to this crisis. By focusing on communication with customers and suppliers, and ensuring that any actions you take support the public good, you can position your business for long-term success by helping customers with short term needs.