An online retail response to the coronavirus outbreak
Mohammed Patel, MD at baby and child retailer Kiddies Kingdom, explains how his online retail business has tinkered with systems and processes to ensure it can continue trading.
At Kiddies Kingdom, ecommerce is our strength – meaning we have the tools to react well and fast to a sudden increase in demand. Following the lockdown announcement, we experienced an instant surge in online orders, with traffic more than doubling (105 per cent) overnight.
Unlike many other online retail businesses, we’ve been able to be in full operation during this period without compromising on safety, putting us in an incredibly strong position. Many retailers have had to halve workforces due to health and safety and some national stores have shut down the online offering altogether (Next).
As a business, we’re not too big, comprising of less than 50 members of staff in total. Anyone that’s able to work from home has been able to do so easily by using the collaborative tools and communication systems that were already in place. The business is fully cloud based, meaning we have been able to keep our full ecommerce running as normal, including our phone lines. So, from a customer’s perspective, nothing has actually changed.
We have six small warehouses, as opposed to one larger space, so staffing levels are low as a standard. Our warehouses are segmented in layout, allowing staff to continue picking and packing as normal, without compromising the social distancing restrictions.
In terms of staffing, we’ve not had to furlough any of the team due to our ability to adapt to follow government guidelines. Aside from the peak in sales caused by the coronavirus outbreak, Kiddies Kingdom has seen strong organic growth over the past year, so we’ve been looking to expand the team naturally anyway.
We’re keen to not over employ during this period as we’re aware that what we’re experiencing right now is artificial growth, and with such streamline processes in place, it’s unlikely we’ll need to expand too much anyway.
January is the busiest retail month for Kiddies Kingdom, so during this period we put additional measures in place and scale up our resource to meet demand. This has meant we can have an elasticated approach for other spikes in the year, as the resources and staff are there if we need it.
Priorities moving forward
Business will continue as is, providing it is safe to do so. The safety of our team is of utmost importance, so our main priority is to ensure we can continue trading without taking any risks. We will assess staffing based on demand and whether we need to look into new hires to meet this.
We’ll be checking in daily with every team via the collaborative tools that are in place, ensuring everybody is on track and nobody feels stressed or overworked. We want to take advantage of the time that consumers are spending online by taking effective action on our social channels.
We’re always looking at ways we can improve overall user experience, including our website and social platforms. Our new brand and website are due to launch soon and we’re keen to take advantage of the high level of internet activity to collate as much feedback as possible.
Advice for other business leaders?
In such an uncertain time, the key to success is being proactive in your approach. Things have escalated rapidly over the past few weeks, so we’ve always been looking forward to predict what might happen next, with the idea to put processes in place. We held contingency meetings regularly, to assess what we would do if high street stores shut and restrictions were put in place. This meant that we were already prepared ahead of the lockdown – in fact we were already practicing some regulations before they were announced.
We’ve found our staff are extremely productive whilst working at home but are aware that flexible hours can often lead to a burnout culture. For businesses working remotely, introducing employee efficiency monitoring software is an effective way to make sure employees are not under or over working. Similarly, HR tools such as a remote clock in and clock out system, make it easier to monitor the hours of staff working on shifts, such as warehouse packers.
We were lucky to already be using video conferencing and various collaboration tools internally already, so we’ve been able to stay connected easily. All our systems are cloud-based, including VoIP phone systems, meaning applications and data are accessible from virtually any internet-connected device.
The future of retail is online, so whether you have a physical store or not, being able to deliver using an ecommerce platform is essential.
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