The coronavirus pandemic is impacting every facet of NorthShore Care Supply’s online retail business. The adult diapers retailer is making adjustments to its ecommerce strategy daily—and sometimes multiple times a day—to adjust to COVID-19 news and shifting shopper behavior, says Adam Greenberg, the retailer’s owner.
Within the last week, NorthShore Care Supply has stopped shipping products to Amazon warehouses, modified how its warehouse employees fulfill orders, put restrictions on product quantities shoppers can purchase and suspended all of its marketing dollars.
The retailer noticed an increase in sales from its own ecommerce site in the middle of February. As the coronavirus spread in China, NorthShore Care’s customers—the majority of whom have an underlying health condition—started stocking up on adult diapers and wipes, Greenberg says. As the virus spread to Europe and the U.S., sales continued to increase until Friday, March 13, when President Donald Trump announced a state of emergency. Then, it was complete panic buying, Greenberg says.
Sales surged 250% year over year for the four days following that announcement, with shoppers buying three to four months’ worth of supplies at a time, Greenberg says. A normal adult diaper and wipes supply purchase is about one month’s worth, he says. These panic buys have only increased to consumers buying six months or a year’s supply of products at a time, as more U.S. consumers are staying at home unless absolutely necessary.
A spike in orders from Amazon.com
NorthShore Care, which is also a marketplace seller on Amazon.com, noticed surges in its Amazon.com products as well. Once toilet paper became rare to find at stores and online, NorthShore Care observed a surge in sales for its adult and baby wipes on Amazon.com. This became an issue for the retailer for several reasons, Greenberg says.
To start, it couldn’t handle fulfilling the deluge in orders. NorthShore Care fulfills a portion of its Amazon.com SKUs itself out of its own warehouse with seller-fulfilled Prime, which means the retailer guarantees 2-day delivery.
With an increase in orders off its own ecommerce site, plus an increase from Amazon, its warehouse staff quickly fell behind in shipments, Greenberg says. NorthShore Care increased the number of its workers to fulfill the Amazon orders, but that made it fall further behind shipping out orders from shoppers who buy directly off its own site. This is a problem, Greenberg says, as shoppers who buy directly at NorthShoreCare.com are often its most loyal customers, he says.
“Customers that buy directly from our website are getting priority. We have direct relationships with them,” Greenberg says. “Many of the Amazon shipments are not previously our customers and are just panic buying. We love to have them as customers, and it’s nice to have the demand, but then we are falling further behind with our direct-to-consumer and call center orders.”
Plus, NorthShore Care enacted new social distancing practices in its warehouse to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Employees have to be 6 feet apart unless it’s absolutely not possible, and then they have to stay 3 feet apart, he says. Just following these safety guidelines limits its efficiency, such as how it loads cartons onto its trailers, he says.
In addition, many employees have children who are out of school and need to take time off to care for them. Greenberg estimates that its warehouse fulfillment staff is about 20% reduced, and about 50% of its total staff is working remotely.
Combined, all of these issues led NorthShore Care to no longer guarantee 2-day shipping for its seller-fulfilled Amazon.com orders, and to sell through its Amazon.com products but not send replenishments to Amazon’s warehouse, he says. This way, it can prioritize serving its loyal shoppers.
“Supply is not the issue,” Greenberg says. “The main issue is labor.”
The retailer is running about a day behind for shipments, he says.
Product limits to discourage stockpiling
Even though Greenberg is confident NorthShore Care Supply does have enough supply for shoppers, he knows it does not have enough supply for every shopper to have a year’s supply stockpiled. And so, the retailer is working on putting restrictions on the number of products a shopper can buy.
“At some point, supply would be an issue if people are buying 6 months or a year at one time,” Greenberg says. “We want to help as many consumers get some supplies to give them some peace of mind today… Instead of one person getting a year supply and then 10 others not.”
However, the retailer has to toe the line with how it shares messages regarding the limits, Greenberg says. It wants to be subtle without broadcasting and causing concern. “You have to be careful about restrictions and limits, or it could create more panic buying,” he says.
Plus, shoppers are smart. If a shopper sees a limit, she may quickly find a workaround, such as using a different credit card and email address. Right now, NorthShore Care is considering putting on its website that orders of $100 or less will receive priority shipping. It is still deciding on how to put quantity limits on certain products, he says. For each product, the limit will be different, and so it has to figure out a way, technically, to add a different message for each SKU on its site.
It’s also rolled back its marketing to curb demand. As of Monday, March 16, NorthShore Care suspended all of its Google ad campaigns, and a few days ago, it stopped its Amazon marketing ads, email marking and retargeting campaigns as well.
NorthShore Care says it does supply some of its products from China and Italy, where the coronavirus reportedly has had the highest death toll so far. Both countries have reported shortages in raw materials; however, facilities are open and operating with reduced capacity, Greenberg says.
“About 10% of our products come from China. Luckily, we had a very good supply built up from before the Chinese New Year,” Greenberg says.
Greenberg has had supply containers leaving Europe every week, so its supplies for that area are sustainable at this time.
Further threats to staffing because of the coronavirus
NorthShore Care is located in the Chicago area. When Digital Commerce 360 conducted this interview, the city and state have not enacted a shelter in place order, as of March 20, like the state of California has. Greenberg hopes that if Illinois does have a lockdown order, NorthShore Care will be exempt.
“A lot of these orders are essential business,” Greenberg says. “Even though we are not providing healthcare, we are providing healthcare supplies to those who are most at risk and have the most difficulty going to the store and waiting in line for these products.”
The best NorthShore Care can do is to keep up with the news and follow official guidance, he says. “It feels like we have to be very creative to come up with new changes almost on an hourly basis as the landscape is changing very quickly,” Greenberg says.
Overall, Greenberg says he’s humbled by the dedication of his staff. Its warehouse employees are working seven days a week to fulfill orders, up from six days a week, he says.
“The morale is great,” Greenberg says. “People would rather be here helping others as opposed to staying home.”
“Flexibility is one of our core values and it certainly is being tested to the limit, not only be me but by our entire team,” he adds.Favorite