How COVID-19 Affects Store Owners: June 2020 Update

Guest Author

Back in February 2020, we wanted to know how much time store owners were spending on specific areas of their business, what worked, and what didn’t. We set up a survey, collated the data, built graphs, and shared analysis.

But in a matter of weeks, the pandemic had impacted the way people live their lives, especially how they shop. As cities began to implement lockdowns and regulations for sheltering at home, businesses were forced to shut their doors and adapt how they operate.

Our original data forms a snapshot of how ecommerce stores were operating in February, right before businesses began to feel the full effects of COVID-19.

Asking store owners the same questions we did before, we can track how the coronavirus has changed their roles and responsibilities, goals, even the outlook of their business as the global pandemic continues to develop.

A Store Owner Says:
Keep an eye out for quotes from real store owners explaining how COVID-19 has affected their business.

01 IT concerns are playing a much larger role in ecommerce stores than they were before COVID-19.

Before COVID-19, IT—ensuring technology works correctly such as ESPs, video conferencing tools, shop platforms, etc.—wasn’t high on a store owner’s priority list. But these days, IT is not only their highest priority, but also what they see as their biggest key to success and the number one task they’re responsible for on a daily basis.

27% of store owners say IT is their #1 priority

We asked store owners what roles they’re primarily responsible for on a daily basis: In February they told us Finance. In June, they told us IT. 

32% said IT is their primary role in Feb 2020  vs 48% said IT is their primary role in June 2020

30% of respondents said that IT would be their biggest key to success in 2020, compared to only 9% who chose IT before COVID-19.

9% said IT is the key to success in Feb 2020 vs 30% said IT is the key to success in June 2020

A Store Owner Says:

In the initial stages of the pandemic, we felt exhausted. We were swamped with work and fulfilling orders. Keeping track of inventory and packing material was overwhelming.

02 More store owners are conducting all of their business online.

The emphasis on technology makes sense considering how much of their business is being conducted online. Before COVID-19, the majority of respondents said 26-50% of their business happened online. June 2020, the majority said 51-70% of their business happens online.

In Feb 2020, the majority said 26-50% of their business happened online
vs in June 2020, the majority said 51-75% of their business happens online.
14% said 76-100% of their business happened online in Feb 2020
28% 76-100% of their business happened online in June 2020

Similarly, the biggest change these store owners have experienced since the spread of COVID-19 is operating 100% online.

43% say they’re operating 100% online in June 2020

A Store Owner Says:

I feel hopeful that this pandemic is slowly passing on. I am grateful that I’m healthy and still working.

03 COVID-19 has changed store owners’ initiatives for the rest of 2020. 

Surprisingly, COVID-19 does not seem to have dramatically disrupted store owners by forcing them to postpone certain initiatives.

When we asked store owners why they were not pursuing certain goals for 2020, their responses were evenly split when it came to citing COVID-19 as the reason why. 

According to store owners, COVID-19 was even less of a factor when it came to choosing their goals for 2020, especially for low-cost investments such as growing a social media following. What might be more surprising is the amount of store owners still pursuing high-investment goals such as launching new products. 

So while the pandemic has clearly changed how ecommerce stores operate, COVID-19 does not seem to have altered stores’ goals and initiatives for the year across the board.

But even as stores’ initiatives and goals for the year remain constant despite COVID-19, store owners cite addressing COVID-19 concerns—such as supply chain management, addressing employee concerns, implementing remote policies and technology, resolving customer concerns, etc.—as the number one task that’s coming between them and their key priorities.

43% say COVID-19 concerns are interrupting their top priorities

A Store Owner Says:

I feel nervous and overwhelmed at times but I also feel hopeful. I worry about businesses surviving and I worry about the economic conditions in the future.

04 More store owners are utilizing automation to enable them to do more.

One of the key differences between what ecommerce store owners told us earlier this year and more recently relates to how they solve bandwidth limitations. Before COVID-19, the majority of respondents—30%—told us they solved bandwidth issues by simply doing more.

By June, using technology to automate processes has become the most common response. As we stated earlier this year, eventually store owners will run out of bandwidth and doing more would no longer be a viable solution. 

With the rise of COVID-19 and the changes it’s caused—lost revenue, fewer employees, more tasks, operating fully online—automation has become store owners’ go-to solution.

28% chose automation in Feb 2020 vs 34% chose automation in June 2020 

In a similar vein, store owners are working fewer hours than they were before COVID-19. While we can’t say exactly what has caused this shift, it’s easy to see that offloading tasks to automation would result in fewer hours worked than taking on more themselves—the way many store owners were managing their workload before COVID-19.

65% worked 31-50 hours in Feb 2020 vs 74% work 31-50 hours in June 2020 
20% work 50+ hours in Feb 2020 vs 10% work 50+ hours June 2020

A Store Owner Says:

I’m worried but motivated! With the end of the lockdown in my area, I am hopeful things will start to settle down and the company and economy will both move down a positive path.

05 Addressing coronavirus-specific initiatives is consuming a lot of store owners’ time.

Store owners told us that addressing coronavirus-specific concerns is consuming much of their time, keeping them so busy they have little time left to devote to their highest priority initiatives. 

32% spend 26-50% of their day on COVID-19  
26% spend 51-75% of their day on COVID-19
9% spend 76-100% of their day on COVID-19

It turns out that 32% of store owners are spending between a fourth and half of their day working on COVID-19 tasks. As many as 9% are spending virtually all of their days on tasks directly related to the coronavirus.

The most time-consuming of these tasks? Creating new policies and processes to keep employees and customers safe. The second most time-consuming is implementing remote policies and technology, showing another reason why store owners showed such a greater emphasis on IT during this time.

A Store Owner Says:

Though I’m stressed, I know we will get through this. A vaccine and other cures will be found. Although unemployment is worse than in previous years, I don’t feel as bad as I did in 2008-2009 because this time we know what we are dealing with.

06 Loss of revenue is a major challenge.

This will come as no surprise to store owners. While transitioning to 100% online work was the biggest challenge, loss of revenue came in as the second biggest issue facing store owners in a world still grappling with COVID-19.

Amid this loss of revenue, more than half of store owners we surveyed have applied for some of the small business relief. More surprising is the 38% that have not.

A Store Owner Says:

The changes we are making in our business model have me feeling confident that we’ll succeed. Plus, I’m hopeful a cure will be found and that we will get a handle on it all.

07 Store owners have adapted how they communicate with employees and customers.

Social media is the number one way store owners communicate with customers, sharing important updates on how they’re reacting to the ever-changing news cycle. People are also relying more on online meetings via Zoom and Hangouts to stay in touch and build that personal connection customers want.

Email newsletters ranked as the third most effective way for store owners to communicate with customers, but 68% of the store owners we surveyed said email has become more important than it was before COVID-19.

68% say email is more important than ever

A Store Owner Says:

This pandemic will change a lot. However, we are pushing forward and already have the resources our business needs to overcome the obstacles of social distancing, PPE, and other safety measures. This will be a constant team effort.

08 More than anything, store owners are hopeful.

Despite everything that’s happened in the course of 2020, store owners’ predominant feeling is hope. When looking back at the past three months, they experience a mix of emotions, but they predominantly feel hopeful, anxious, and determined.

When it comes to looking ahead to their store’s ability to adapt and succeed over the next 3 months, there’s a focus on positivity. They feel hopeful, determined, and even confident.

When asked about the current state of the economy, store owners are more discouraged. While hopeful is still the primary emotion, they also feel anxious and scared.

When store owners look forward to the uncertain future of the economy, they feel primarily hopeful and confident, though also anxious. 

Now that we’ve been living in a COVID-19 world for some months, store owners have adjusted. They’ve incorporated new technologies and built a strategy for a fully digital world. Slowly, the unknown becomes the norm, and store owners feel more and more confident in their ability to thrive in an uncertain future.

These results show us that while COVID-19 has changed how ecommerce store owners operate, it hasn’t changed what they want to achieve. Stores continue to pursue growth and cultivating a relationship with customers. Now more than ever, getting to know customers will help stores build relationships that persevere through hard times and uncertain waters.

A Store Owner Says:

During this pandemic, I was able to focus and reflect regarding what I usually took for granted every day because of a busy schedule. Though it’s a blessing to spend more time with my family, I feel sad for those who have been affected, especially those whose loved ones have perished and those who have lost income. But I am doing what I can to support and give back to everyone.

09 About CM Commerce

CM Commerce is an easy-to-use ecommerce email marketing tool, created by entrepreneurs who know first hand how tricky it can be to feel confident in where you spend your time and your budget when you’re managing a thousand daily tasks. 

We’ve been there. We know you’re strapped for time, and you need tools and resources that proactively work for you, now more than ever.

Since most store owners don’t have a background in traditional business marketing, these insights are meant to support you as you decide how you allocate your resources in order to see the best results for your store and survive an ever-changing landscape.

CM Commerce aims to streamline your marketing process so you can get back to doing what you love, while never missing an opportunity to nurture your customers and grow your business.