The coronavirus outbreak caused an unexpected disruption that made us all rethink marketing, e-commerce and fulfillment. I think one of the most important lessons in resiliency I’ve learned during this time is to make sure that your business can adapt and respond quickly to any supply chain disruption, as well as to constantly changing customer needs.
I learned that it’s important to think strategically through potential shifts in shopping behavior. When the first stay-at-home order was imposed, my company brainstormed a few different responses to likely scenarios while closely monitoring changes to “add to cart” and checkout behavior. With any disruption that keeps people at home, it’s important to figure out if your customers will decide to stop purchasing because there is nowhere to go. If you realize that the answer is yes, then you have to decide how your supply chain can quickly adjust to provide more options for your customers’ need for comfort.
Production is another issue. In our case, factories and fabric houses in Italy and China were all closed, and I couldn’t leave the country. We tried to look at different options for where we could move some sampling, but we weren’t sure where and when things would open. Everything was uncertain. When we did find a factory in China that could start with samples, we had to adjust to working entirely digitally, fitting samples and making corrections online only.
In this scenario, detailed communication is key, and it’s worth spending a lot of extra time on. It can be stressful, especially if you aren’t used to working that way. In times of stress, it might be tempting to decide to skip out on a new season and just take a break while you figure things out. Don’t back down in the face of adversity.
The next unexpected challenge we had to face was that our international packages coming into New York faced substantial delays, increasing our order fulfillment cycle time. One box full of new pieces was “on hold” indefinitely. As a result of this challenge, I began to research more local options as an alternative. I learned that you can diversify your production contractors in a more streamlined way by covering various options and reacting calmly to unpredictable situations. Even if you have to rethink how your supply chain is structured, the most important thing is that you have a plan that allows you to evaluate an array of options instead of committing to a single, fixed path to achieving your goals.
Ultimately, I learned that every setback is an opportunity to think outside the box. Most importantly, you have to listen intently to real-time changes in customer sentiment. When we saw (much to our surprise) that our customers chose to continue buying our sexier statement pieces, we released a small batch of new limited-edition styles online and saw over 100% growth in sales that month.
Every piece you make should still look and feel like your brand. But that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt as you learn about what your customer wants and how you can best fulfill those needs.