For so many of us, the pandemic has led to an increase in online shopping—we’ve been stuck inside, so of course, we’re scrolling through our favorite eCommerce sites trying to find a hint of joy. It’s a totally natural coping mechanism for these uncertain times.

But it wasn’t expected. Retail businesses and shipping companies across the world were hit hard by the surge in orders that COVID brought about. Supply chains ground to a halt, causing shortages of everything from toilet paper and hand sanitizer to lumber and paint. 

The Current State of the Customer Experience 

Between the sudden call for social distancing, the loss of a large percentage of their workforce, and manufacturing and inventory shortages due to the unprecedented nature of the demand, many companies struggled to meet consumer expectations.  

The customer experience became less than desirable. Customers became frustrated as their orders were met with backlogs and long shipping times, if they were even fulfilled in the first place. Complaints piled up in customer service email accounts. Social media was full of users tagging brands with stories of extreme delays. The effects of the pandemic on the business world are unlikely to be short-term. 

As Harvard Business Review put it, “the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic has exposed many vulnerabilities in supply chains,” but consumers’ expectations aren’t going to adjust to make business owners’ lives easier. If anything, they’ll only continue to increase.

So what can you do to keep your customers happy as you work on meeting the challenges of the new retail landscape? It’s all about your messaging.

Email Marketing Automation Provides a Solution

In marketing, as in life, communication and empathy are key to building successful relationships—and just like we make a special effort to soothe the people in our lives during difficult times, retailers can ease their customers’ frustrations with supply shortages through communication.

This is especially important for small businesses, which often build customer relationships on the strength of their human touch. Automated, personalized email campaigns aren’t just useful for customer retention and upselling; they’re also a great way for eCommerce businesses to smooth over any unavoidable pain points.

There isn’t much marketers can do about supply shortages, but your team does have the power to make your customers feel seen and understood. Email campaigns can keep subscribers informed on changes to average shipping times or send messages that touch on how customers can maintain their well-being, reminding them that they’re important to you. There are also tons of supply chain email marketing trends to take advantage of within your messaging. 

Work your marketing strategy around distracting from supply issues, getting out in front of them with marketing campaigns that subtly guide your email list away from backordered inventory and toward new products or items without any supply problems.

Tips for Easing Customers’ Minds with Email Marketing

Create a real-time order tracker. When a new customer completes an order, they’ll be put into an automation workflow that updates them with an email every time something happens in the fulfillment process. This means they’ll never be left wondering whether their item has shipped, when they should expect it to arrive, or if it’s delayed (or coming early).

Offer in-stock alternatives. If a customer abandons an item in their online shopping cart because the delivery estimate is too long, you can email them with suggestions of other products that are similar and currently in stock.  

Show your gratitude for customers’ patience. Ideally, this will come in the form of a discount since customers appreciate the acknowledgment of the financial value of their time, but it can also come in the form of extra reward points or free shipping. Your customers know that they could take their business elsewhere, and a little bit of pricing incentive goes a long way toward building and maintaining loyalty.

Remind them why they love your brand. What is it about your brand’s messaging that compels your customers? Beyond product and price, what keeps them opening your emails? Maybe it’s your lighthearted voice, or product-related how-to emails, or the weekly newsletter that highlights a particular employee—whatever it is that keeps your customers engaged, find a way to double down on that and retain your brand personality. 

With 94% of Fortune 1000 companies experiencing supply chain issues as a result of the pandemic, shortages are a very real concern for retailers and other businesses. But just because email marketing isn’t the answer to physical inventory issues doesn’t mean it can’t help keep customers happy despite them.

With the right strategy, thoughtful content, and effective email automation, you can remind your customers that your business is there for them—you care about their experience, you value their business, and you’re going to do everything you can to get their new ukelele to them as soon as possible.