We spoke with William On, CEO and co-founder of Shippit, about how Covid-19 is changing his business – as well as the businesses of his e-commerce partners.
In this Q&A, he tells us how Shippit paused to create a continuity plan, adopted flexible practices and changed their mindset to adapt their business to the new reality. William also shares the importance of communication and how banding together as a business community can help a business come out stronger.
Smarter Business: What has your company done to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic? Have you changed how you run your business to keep things moving smoothly? Did you stop and make a plan, or are you adapting on the go?
I’m an ex-management consultant, so I’ve used my experience to ensure most parts are well planned and carefully thought through. We’ve changed our business model away from growth to learning how to survive in the pandemic.
Over the last five years, we’ve been growing at 100% year-on-year. But now we’re forecasting a major drop in retail, which means that we’re going to have to move away from discretionary growth initiatives to survival initiatives.
In the last few weeks, all of our staff have been forced to work from home. But we were prepared – we stopped to do a continuity plan. We looked at all the people risks, dependencies on other companies and our technology – so, things like whether everyone is remote ready, if they have the right workstations in place, the right chairs, monitors, keyboards and other equipment.
We’re thinking about this from a long-term perspective, so we put the plans in place early on. Doing a risk assessment, understanding the impacts and likelihoods, and then putting any mitigations in place are key to doing any business continuity plan. Our strategy is evolving as we adapt to COVID-19 changes and review new data on a daily basis.
Smarter Business: How has COVID-19 affected your small business so far?
We’re seeing a massive shift in what people are purchasing via e-commerce. People are moving away from discretionary items – like fashion, apparel and footwear – to staples. Right now, things like toiletries, cosmetics, pet food and groceries are absolutely booming.
We’ve also seen businesses affected by COVID-19 that are struggling to keep up with the changes, and this is impacting customer experience. When it comes to e-commerce logistics for retailers that are shipping from stores, we’re seeing a lot of challenges.
My main concern is the looming recession. What the government is doing from a stimulus perspective is great. We’re just really worried about the negative impacts of COVID-19 on businesses and consumer confidence in spending, and I think that’s going to result in a general downturn in retail spend.
Smarter Business: How has COVID-19 changed your communication with your employees, business partners and suppliers?
how has covid affected communication in the
In terms of policies and how we’ve started working differently, the big thing is the ‘people’ element. We know that people have things going on outside of work. Being on video calls where pets and kids walk through mid-call is the norm now, but we also have to be conscious of splitting up time between work life and personal life. Being flexible with our staff has been important and I think increased flexibility it’s one of the ways companies can improve their business communication during the pandemic.
“The big thing is the ‘people’ element. Being on video calls where pets and kids walk through mid-call is the norm now, but we also have to be conscious of splitting up time between work life and personal life. Being flexible with our staff has been important."- William On, CEO and co-founder, Shippit
We rely on a few technology partners to look after some key pieces of our technology. Knowing that they’ve got continuity plans in place, talking to them to ensure that they’re going to survive as well, has been super important for us.
And then, on a day-to-day basis, our rituals have changed. We used to be able to pull people into a room and have a discussion when it was needed. Now that’s changed, so every single day, as a leadership team, we consider what needs communicating with our employees during this crisis, discuss what projects we’re working on, and assess what new data came out last night and how that’s going to change the trajectory of our business.
Smarter Business: What advice do you have for small and medium businesses who are assessing what they need to be doing now?
I would say the very first thing is to talk to your suppliers. Fortunately, we’ve been communicating with our landlords quite early on – getting rental relief was huge for us. Now our expenses have been moving away from fixed expenses to variable ones.
“Being able to talk to your supplier, so you can agree on better trading terms, can make a significant difference. People are pretty compassionate now – there’s a sense of community.”- William On, CEO and co-founder, Shippit
Being able to talk to your supplier, so you can agree on better trading terms, can make a significant difference. People are pretty compassionate now – there’s a sense of community. Even reaching out to retailers or other businesses that are going through similar things to your own business can be helpful.
Now at Shippit we’ve got a not-for-profit called the Rocketeers of Retail, and we’ve really fired that up over the last week. We’ve held webinars for close to 150 people. There are key suppliers and key retailers involved. We have guest speakers who are sharing things such as what it looks like to run at 20% of what they were running last year. We’re providing advice that’s unfiltered, which is something that has helped our online community. We’ve created a Slack channel, and we’re going to continue running fortnightly webinars with key retailers so they can report on all the things they’re doing in this changing environment.
At the end of the day, if you can get past this, I feel like there’s going to be somewhat of a slingshot effect for businesses that can adapt. The value of a dollar today is going to be worth a lot more on the other side.