Global supply chain issues aren’t leaving us any time soon. Not just as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, but also as a result of the unpredictable circumstances we live in as a global community. The supply route is called a chain for a reason; it is only as strong as its weakest link. We have no choice but to adapt to the new reality, and the challenges it brings.
A crucial factor in this is being able to communicate with customers throughout the crisis, ensuring that brand trust and image is not diminished in the wake of these unavoidable issues. As we will see, the problems faced actually create an opportunity to strengthen customer relations, if handled well.
What Are the Global Supply Chain Issues?
The sudden and unexpected Covid 19 pandemic had disastrous implications on the global supply chain. The restrictions of movement meant that undelivered stock was building up, but the backlog was unable to be managed as the facilities weren’t there to ship the extra products at the same time as the usual rate.
At the same time, the pandemic meant that more people than ever began to do their shopping online. This also increased demand for the structures that allow this level of online shopping to function smoothly; something that had not been necessary before.
As we began 2022 it seemed as though things may be returning to some kind of normalcy. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, cutting off Ukrainian exports and resulting in Russian businesses sanctioned, and China introduced a series of new lockdown measures to control their surge in covid cases. So in short, it doesn’t look like things are heading back to ‘normal’ any time soon.
At this point it seems that the only thing we can count on is change. The global supply chain is contingent on everything that happens, so short-term there will be problems, but long-term we can learn to build a strategy for handling this.
As we look to the future, there will be a move towards decarbonization and sustainability, as we look to a greener way of living. Nearly two thirds of corporate boards have now included Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals into compensation plans, and environmental regulations will soon start to play their own role. All of these will create even further changes to the supply chain, so it is best to count on the unpredictability of it all.
Small businesses will be far more affected by this than big businesses, as would be expected. Since they are smaller, they have less resources and negotiating power, meaning that in many cases they have no choice but to pay extortionate prices or have no stock. For these businesses it is absolutely vital to plan ahead in order to survive the obstacles.
How To Mitigate Supply Chain Issues Damage
So what can be done in order to help navigate these troublesome waters? A previous Fast Simon blog post on ‘How Ecommerce Merchants Can Adapt And Thrive During Supply Chain Interruptions’ takes a deeper look at actions businesses should consider taking.
Some straightforward and recommended steps that can be taken to try and keep things under control are possible. Firstly, being proactive with timings and quantities of orders can go a long way. Making orders earlier than you usually would buys yourself time, and placing more orders means you have a surplus of inventory that you can rely on.
A second tip is to use AI and machine analytics to keep track of supply chain data that is readily accessible. Don’t let things catch you off guard; there are a lot of software solutions that track and collect planning, logistics, products and finance. These tools will help your business know the best decisions to make based on models of demand and supply patterns.
Thirdly, it’s a good idea to find backup suppliers early. Plan for the worst case scenario- if your usual supplier is unavailable, don’t be left without any alternative. Diversifying suppliers, distributors and partners may be a more expensive solution, but it means that you won’t be left in a worst case scenario; no stock and no means of delivery.
Another solution, which corresponds with the eco-friendly global trajectory, is to keep suppliers local. Find regional alternatives to vendors, which will mean that the project remains closer to home and delivery times should be shortened.
Finally, ensure that the inventory on the ecommerce storefront is kept up to date and current. When things are out of stock, make sure this is clear. Being constantly aware of the stock that is available, and emphasizing this when it comes to merchant merchandising rules is key in order to stay in control. The last thing you want is to find you’re in a huge pile of customer backlog orders and no products to deliver.
Speaking To Customers About Supply Chain Issues
Ok, so you’ve tried to do everything you can to ease the difficulty of the situation, but there still are issues. What to do now? Firstly; don’t panic. You’re not alone in this. All ecommerce businesses are in the same boat, and facing the same issues.
Secondly; don’t keep this to yourself. Talk to your customers. The number one tip we can give you is: over-communicate. The more transparent you are with your customers, the better the outcome will be, and creates the potential for these problems to actually improve brand relations with customers. We’ll explain how.
Explain The Issue
Many people are aware of ‘supply chain issues’ but they don’t really know what this means. Take the time to explain to customers the actual problem businesses are facing, and let them know that you’re only human too. This doesn’t need to be a long boring email either, you could make the communication fun! You could use social media channels, images or videos.
Why not try making a short video on TikTok or Instagram Reels? These can demonstrate how orders are made, what the ‘behind-the-scenes’ situation looks like in your business, so they don’t feel left out, and they understand your situation.
Reassure them that you’re trying as hard as you can, and their best interests are your best interests.
Supply chain issues will eventually be fixed, your relationship with your customers could be permanently broken if you don’t handle the situation well. So make sure customers know what to expect. If products are out of stock, or will take a long time to be delivered, tell customers this before they make the purchase. Be fully transparent, so they do not lose trust in the brand.
This communication could be through banners that pop up on the website as soon as it’s opened or widgets that appear next to individual products. For example; “Order by X to arrive by X” is a simple and clear way to keep customers in the know.
Managing expectations doesn’t mean lowering them, it just means that feelings aren’t hurt and honesty is valued above all else.
If a product has its designated arrival in 7 days, but it seems that it will take longer, tell the customer as early as possible. Updating the customer the day before the product is meant to arrive will not earn you respect. Send them tracking information at every step of the way, so they are always aware of what’s going on.
Using social media to communicate with customers can be useful in terms of providing real-time delivery information. Posting on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook develops fans and customer loyalty as it addresses customer concerns directly.
A more old-school way of doing this is through email lists, which can be useful in updating the bulk of the customer base directly and regularly. If this is used, a useful tool to employ is personalization, so that the customer feels seen in these emails, as if their concerns are being directly addressed. The aim is to make the customer feel valued, not to feel as though the company is just trying to save its back.
Respond to Complaints
Inevitably, even if you have communicated with the customers as clearly as you can, there will still be those who are unhappy. The public is used to fast, free and seamless delivery, so having this luxury revoked will create unhappy responses. Do not disregard these customers.
Keep communication lines open through a number of different channels; email, phone, website chatbot or social media messaging. The more open to communication your company is, the more connected the clients will feel. Speedy responses are necessary, delivered with a caring tone.
Show the customers that their issue is important to you, and you are committed to finding a resolution. Sincere customers lead to brand trust, the customers will feel heard and respected and therefore more likely to make a repeat purchase.
It’s Not All Negative
As you can see, the consequences of these supply chain issues don’t all necessarily need to be negative. If the communication between merchant and customers prove to be smooth, honest and helpful, this is actually a chance to improve brand trust and loyalty. Navigating difficult waters is all part of the ecommerce business world, but when the possibility of turning a strained situation into a power-move is there, it’s worth it to rise to the occasion.