Updated: 25th March 2020.
This is an article looking at how Coronavirus or COVID-19 and other black swan events can impact online businesses like eCommerce stores, affiliate websites, and blogs.
While I’m no financial expert and I don’t typically write about sensationalism or trends, given the current state of affairs and the fact my business was born out of the previous recession I have some thoughts to share.
We are now three months into the COVID-19 outbreak and it has started to put real pressure on the global economy.
Between balancing disruption and protecting civilians and workers, governments and companies have begun to take measures like asking people to work from home, canceling public events and even closing borders.
COVID-19 or Coronavirus as it is also known, has the news media gripped right now and in turn our attention. It’s now becoming obvious that this is also starting to affect internet businesses in different ways so I wanted to do a little research.
It sounds over-hyped, but who am I to judge? I’m not an infectious disease expert but I did watch the film Outbreak in the 90s and more recently Contagion though I doubt either are very realistic.
Some sources say that it’s nothing to worry about, that there were 13 million cases of influenza in 2019 according to the CDC and unless you are elderly or have an underlying health issue it’s generally not something people need to change their plans and lifestyle to avoid.
On the other hand governments and major institutions wouldn’t be throwing millions of dollars away in canceling events and investing in preventative measures if it wasn’t serious.
Michael Osterholm an American public health scientist who describes his role as a “medical detective” went on the Joe Rogan podcast to discuss how Coronovirus is going to impact the world and said the pandemic is only just beginning.
His point was that yes, influenza kills millions every year, but this is early days for COVID-19 and it could be 10-15 times worse in terms of impact and fatalities than a bad winter flu. With COVID-19 being a novel virus he doesn’t expect to see a vaccine anytime soon.
Watch this 15-minute clip from the episode which in full is over an hour.
Let’s look at some specific examples of how this is impacting online businesses like eCommerce websites, blogs, and niche sites.
Signs Coronavirus is Impacting Online Businesses
At the moment the travel industry is the most obvious industry to be impacted by the current situation.
Booking.com’s stock is hemorrhaging right now, hotels are having more cancellations than ever and this is inevitably going to lead to lots of job losses or temporary suspensions pushing people to find new work at least in the short-term.
The events business has also taken a big hit when you consider how many major global conferences have been canceled in the last few months.
These include Mobile World Congress, GDC2020(Game Developers Conference), Coachella, SXSW, Facebook’s F8, and Microsoft to name a few of the big ones.
I read an article by a blogger named Tom who runs a popular travel blog where he explains how the recent Coronovirus pandemic has forced him to re-evaluate self-employment the fragility of his situation.
After quitting his job at the end of 2018 to become a full-time blogger, Tom has been able to make his income solely from his travel blog and related activities but due to Coronavirus, travel businesses are being impacted hard and that extends to bloggers of course too.
Tom is taking it in his stride and being proactive, seeing that adding additional income streams and diversification is essential and that this is a wake-up call and an opportunity for growth.
When you research travel-related keywords on Google Trends you actually see a big increase in searches over the past month, but if you look at some of the breakout searches many of them are things like “Travel Ban” or “Trump Travel Ban”.
There are also a lot of people looking to bag a bargain while hysteria takes over leading to some massive price-drops on flights and hotel bookings.
Another example of how this impacting online business is the eCommerce and affiliate marketing space. Vendors selling physical products through their own websites or using Amazon FBA are finding that their shipments from China are being held indefinitely and left with no idea of when they will be able to replenish their stock again.
Many sellers with small inventory are already out of stock or running low and looking for ways to diversify and find solutions closer to home.
Shaun Marrs a marketer who runs several affiliate sites is already experiencing this with Amazon Associates, the platform he uses as an affiliate to recommend products and earn commissions. For several days in February 2020, his product was out of stock and his sales fell, his items are now back in stock but the question remains, how long until this happens again?
Italy has started to shut down the country, some borders are now partially closed with Austria and Switzerland and the Italian government took the measure of temporarily suspending any public events including the Serie A football league.
The financial impact of just that one football (or soccer) league is going to be very negative economically.
Consider how much each football club makes in revenue per game plus all of the staff who are no longer needed. Even if they continued with matches behind closed doors, the loss in revenue is going to be astronomical.
Since then the majority of major countries have begun to enforce a lockdown in some shape or form and limiting any international travel. With that comes the suspension of all major sporting events, conferences, and the Olympics.
We are truly living in unprecedented times!
I can see traffic to some of my websites has increased from Italy, likely due to the fact people are stuck at home more and looking for things to do with their time. In the case of this website, it’s likely people trying to learn new skills and find ways to make money from home.
Other countries are likely to take similar measures in the coming weeks and months in an effort to delay the spread of the virus.
Since first publishing this article, the NBA season has been canceled along with the Olympics and pretty much every other sporting event, Donald Trump has banned travel from Europe to the USA for 30 days (excluding the United Kingdom) and apparently Tom Hanks has Coronavirus.
Let’s take a look at the Google Trends data for searches related to Cornovirus at the moment. As you can see it has been growing in search volume heavily between Feb and March 2020 and continues to climb.
You can click the image below to be taken to the live and up to date version of this Google Trends analysis and customize to learn more.
Some people are finding ways to cash in, whether that’s by selling masks (which are largely useless at protecting you) to launching new websites related to COVID-19 that sell a whole range of products.
Curious to find out more, I checked GoDaddy for some domains to see if domains that would likely be available a month or so ago are now be taken.
Sure enough the first one I tried survivecovid.com was taken. It was registered for the first time just 10 days before I checked and when I went to the website I saw a familiar business model.
The owner has purchased the domain and then set up a faux-eCommerce website. This is what I define as a website that looks like an eCommerce store but the products are all external affiliate products that have been imported in bulk from a CSV file.
This spray and pray approach used to be more effective but there are exceptions that can work well, for example when you newsjack and jump on something trending like Coronavirus that also likely doesn’t have as much competition given it’s a new keyphrase.
Personally, that approach isn’t for me. I’m all for newsjacking but ethically speaking, something doesn’t sit right with me about setting up low-quality affiliate websites to profit off such a humanitarian crisis where suffering and death are involved.
If you aren’t an expert then it’s a dangerous, immoral and irresponsible endeavor to share information that could impact somebody’s health or wellbeing negatively. Leave it to the professionals and don’t add noise and misleading information to the SERPs.
Survivalist websites and blogs aimed at “preppers” are experiencing big increases in traffic and sales of things like face masks but with the surge in sales comes the inevitable supply chain issues where products sourced from Asia are being delayed leaving websites with nothing to sell.
Online businesses and affiliate marketers that sell intangible goods, software and digital downloads are able to escape the bottlenecks involved in the physical product supply chain but it remains to be seen if they will be impacted directly or indirectly at some point.
Others that are benefitting financially from the recent crisis include the toilet paper industry along with suppliers of other household essentials and hand sanitizer companies.
In the UK toilet rolls have been selling out left, right and center, as though people are planning to mummify their houses in the hopes it will protect them from the bogey man (Intentional Typo).
Amazon and eBay have both banned people from selling heavily marked-up products like hand-sanitizers as Matt Colvin found out when he started selling bottles of hand sanitizer for $20 when they cost $1 in the stores. You can read about him being banned from selling the items on Amazon on the New York Times website.
He’s now stuck with thousands of bottles in his garage and nowhere to sell them. Personally, I think he deserves what he gets for trying to make massive profits from a humanitarian crisis. Matt is just one of many people driving from town to town ensuring chaos prevails in the hopes they can make some extra money.
Amazon has also announced that it has removed 3900 seller accounts for price gouging and breaking their fair pricing policies. If only eBay had done this after Kobe Bryant passed away and people began to sell his Jerseys for $1000s.
While many people in the retail, travel, and hospitality industries have lost their jobs either temporarily or permanently, on a positive note, Amazon is hiring 100,000 new staff to help them cope with the increased demand while everyone is forced to self-isolate and work from home.
Supermarkets are also hiring and farms unable to rely on foreign workers due to travel bans are petitioning for native citizens to join them to help with the harvest season.
Working at home due to Coronavirus
I am genuinely fortunate to be able to work from home and have done so for 14 years so I’m well accustomed to self-isolation for long periods of time.
For those who aren’t as familiar and now find themselves forced to work remotely by their employers due to the COVID-19 outbreak, my advice is as follows:
- Find a way to draw a line between professional time and personal time. It’s all too easy to burnout but it’s not a bad idea to use this extra time productively. The commute time you have saved can allow you to get an extra hour or so of work done.
- Use your time to learn new skills. If you are at home more than usual why not start a new course and develop a new skill? Turn a negative into a positive and return to your normal work life with more potential than when you left.
- Use an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planner) – Relying on emails for communication can become a nightmare if you aren’t used to it. Try an ERP like Asana where you can better organize your tasks and team communication. You could also use Slack or Discord to communicate and Asana to organize tasks, responsibilities, and timelines. See my guide on using Asana productivity. This is a great way to quantify the work you are doing and gives you a clear roadmap of what to do next so you avoid procrastination.
- Take breaks and try mini-workouts during the day. If you aren’t leaving the house then you are going to burn fewer calories, so consider doing some exercise that you can at home. Anything from jumping jacks, squats, yoga or pilates will help.
- Invest in a standing desk or standing desk adapter. I personally opted to get an adapter because I already have a perfectly usable desk and wanted something to place on top so I could raise my screens to work standing. I also got a matt that takes a lot of strain off the knees when standing in the same spot for long periods.
- Use your garden or outdoor areas nearby to get some fresh air and sunlight (unless your government has told you not to).
- Try the Pomodoro technique and my other productivity tips.
- Stay calm. Focus on things in your life that you can control, Coronavirus is beyond that scope. There are measures you can take to protect yourself but I’m not the person to be telling you. Refer to your local government for up to date advice on any precautions you can take.
What Can You Do?
Different industries are being affected in different ways but the knock-on effect and indirect consequences are impacting everyone.
Here are some productive ways to use your time if you aren’t able to serve your customers as you normally would.
- Become a better business – Consider offering 25% off all of your services to help small businesses in this time of hardship. That’s what I have been doing. For the next 2-3 months, I am dropping the rates I charge for any services to encourage people to use the time productively. People often ignore how important their website, SEO and marketing materials are and times like this present an opportunity to dedicate resources in those areas.
- Lower prices – As I mentioned in the first point, it’s wise to offer discounted services during this time to help others and increase your lead flow. At the same time, it’s likely lots of companies will have to do the same and if we enter a full global recession then prices may be lowered for a while. If you have the resources now might be the best time to invest in new tools and services and take advantage of the discounts.
- Client focus – If you work with clients, consider the types of industries that may not be as affected and still looking for your services. Of course, that removes anyone in travel, high-street retail, hospitality, and businesses who are suffering supply chain issues. But don’t ignore these sectors entirely, these people need more help than anyone if you have the ability to reach out and offer some pro-bono help with a view to recouping your investment later when things have improved, go for it, get creative!
Did you know that during the bubonic plague between 1665 and 1666, Isaac Newton, while in self-isolation embarked on what he later described as the most intellectually productive period of his life?
He made three of his biggest discoveries while at his family’s farm in Lincolnshire when he was originally supposed to be in Cambridge studying.
That story of the apple that fell from the tree and Newton’s discovery of Gravity, that happened while he was in self-isolation in the countryside. Had it not been for the plague, he wouldn’t have been there.
In 1609, a certain William Shakespeare managed to churn out King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra during the Great Plague that raged through London, closing the theatres.
What are you capable of when you have some spare time on your hands? Why not find out!
Henry Ford, whether you like him or not once said:
“A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.” Advertising is an integral part of a successful business. It is not enough to have a good internal operation.
His point is, just because you stop advertising, it doesn’t mean the world stops and your competitors do the same. Don’t fall behind, now is the time to double down on areas you struggle to give full attention to when you are too tied up being the operator in your business and serving clients.
I believe this is why I was able to launch my career in the 2007/2008 period during the credit crunch because people had to get savvier about their marketing to survive and 12 years ago the digital landscape was a very different place.
Many companies still weren’t online or were in desperate need of help while still throwing the majority of their budget into offline advertising and print.
Just like the last recession, there will be opportunities and there will be industries that are able to thrive.
Use this time and opportunity to focus on something that will be beneficial 2-3 months down the line when the situation hopefully begins to improve.
This article on Linkedin covers the most in-demand skills in 2020, so if you are thinking of switching lanes, this is a good place to start.
As you can see Coronavirus or COVID-19 is already having an impact on a wide range of different businesses and people who work in these businesses at all levels.
This will likely have a knock-on effect and more industries will have to deal with ways to weather the storm but hopefully, it doesn’t lead to a full-blown global recession the likes we experienced in 2008.
Companies are already spending less on marketing and events as they don’t want to invest money in driving demand if they can’t fulfill orders and deliver on their promise.
The longer this continues, the worse things will get.
What do you think about this crisis? Has Coronavirus affected you yet? Why not join in the conversation in our Discord server.
Don’t forget to wash your hands and take hygiene seriously during this pandemic.