Expert Spotlight: Ecommerce Leaders Discuss How Brands can Navigate the Coronavirus Crisis 

Matthew Boardman
Latest posts by Matthew Boardman (see all)

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Continuing our focus on looking for the helpers during the pain and uncertainty so many are feeling right now, we’re dedicating this blog post to some of the biggest helpers at Kaspien: leaders by title and action who are helping Kaspien and our partners navigate through the immediate and long-term impact of the coronavirus. 

This expert spotlight features five Kaspien leaders:

  • Bryce Burchak, Director of Strategic Initiatives
  • Keri Rhodes, Director of Marketing
  • Darby Meegan, Director of Business Intelligence & Product Management
  • Kelsey Gruis, General Manager of Subscriptions
  • Jed Nelsen, Senior Compliance Manager

We asked these leaders 5 questions about how they’ve been affected by and responded to the coronavirus. 

Learn more about how Kaspien is supporting brands during the coronavirus in our COVID-19 Status Update.

1. How has your team’s work been impacted and how have you adapted?

Bryce Burchak (Strategic Initiatives): To be honest, the biggest change we’ve seen is moving to work from home. My team works closely with our internal departments to accomplish our objectives on time. With our primary objective being to maximize the growth of our partners brands, our work has not changed. We have some different strategies to maximize that growth with the new COVID landscape, but we are still, just as always, focused on identifying and executing tailored solutions for each of our partners to grow their brand

Keri Rhodes (Marketing)COVID-19 has forced us to change our marketing calendar and strategy. Instead of running B2B marketing for tradeshows, spring, and back-to-school, we’ve had to adapt and respond to the coronavirus. We’ve worked with our local and state government to coordinate support for impacted businesses, created new discounts and offers to make accessing tools and services easier for impacted brands, and worked with our supply network to direct PPE equipment to several hospitals.

Darby Meegan (Product Management): We’re now all working remote. The team has had to suddenly become thoughtful about how we do work in a new way – a strange thought, and frankly, something I’ve taken a bit for granted. The team has been super malleable: we’re video chatting more, finding new methods to collaborate and communicate both synchronously and asynchronously, and communicating progress twice as often. The most evident win is that our team understands the vision and shows ownership outside of the normal work structure we’re all used to working in.

Funnily enough, several team members have made comments about there not being a good substitute for whiteboards when we’re problem-solving as a team – a problem we’ll need to solve as we see our team working more and more remote into the future, not just because of this pandemic.

Kelsey Gruis (Subscriptions): Rightfully so, our partners look to us to be the experts on marketplaces. With the uncertainty and turbulent landscape caused by the COVID-19 crisisour brands are concerned about sustainability. While our need to support brands by being the marketplace experts hasn’t changed, I would say the magnitude of marketplace changes has. We’re working really hard to gather answers as fast as we can, and subsequently, adapt as fast as we can. We want to do anything we can to ease our partner’s minds and give them the breathing room to focus on other priorities.

Jed Nelsen (Compliance): COVID-related product restrictions have surged as Amazon unleashed its algorithms to address bad actors. We saw a 5x increase in the number of products restricted. Some of these suspensions were clearly wrong (we saw certain Funko Dolls restricted for having masks on their faces but not being in the HPC category). Our Compliance Team consolidated all the restrictions, prioritized by listings with inventory, and created cases to reinstate products. We had about one week of crazy, but we are beginning to beat the wave back.


2. What are your top priorities to help Kaspien and our partners get through COVID?

Bryce Burchak (Strategic Initiatives): Safety, sustainability, and supply chain, in that order.

It’s important that all of us work to address this situation as safely as possible, and we want to model that for our partners. In doing so, there may be some risks to normal business: most notably, managing an effective supply chain. 

Obviously, Amazon has taken some large internal safety measures, and restricted the flow of some products to their fulfillment centers. In addition, some of our partners have shut down their facilities to protect their employees. Given the distribution network that Kaspien has established over our 12+ years, we have multiple means to deliver our partners’ products to their customers. If companies can no longer handle logistics or product prepping, we have a safe and effective means of handling that for them. Of course, not all products are the same, so we are working closely with brands to discuss how we can accomplish this in the most sustainable manner for their business. 

Bottom line: We’re here for our partners, and we are working extremely hard to leverage our supply chain to mitigate COVID impact in the safest way possible.  

Keri Rhodes (Marketing): The health and safety of our team members, and our unwavering focus on supporting brands through these volatile times. Many brands are being forced to change strategy due to COVID-caused economical shifts, and we have the expertise, technology and resources to help them. Marketing has prepared numerous resources that can help brands adapt quickly, and Kaspien has offered discounted rates to ensure brands can protect their bottom line and sustainability over the next few months. The more that brands can automate and trim fat in their businesses right now, the better positioned they will be as the industry evolves

Darby Meegan (Product Management)Our team’s wellbeing, prioritizing key initiatives, and ensuring we’re all on the same page by over communicating.

Outside of some of the extreme health impacts of the coronavirus, everyone’s lives have been disrupted. Our coworkers are trying to find work arounds to celebrate weddings, birthdays, new births, and many other things that deserve clinking glasses, tears of joy and hugs. They’re also trying to find work arounds for supporting loved ones, friends who have lost jobs, their favorite gathering places, struggling to make ends meet, or the passing of loved ones. These are events where video chats can’t suffice. First and foremost, we’re making time to pursue human connection and support where we can.

Now more than ever, our team is ruthlessly prioritizing key initiatives. With the hurricane of potential projects and opportunities to jump on, we’ve paused and tried to measure twice and cut once, then review outcomes. We’ve tried to consistently ask our team, “Are we missing something over here on X? Is this really the most important thing we could be working on? What are we not working on that we should be?”

Kelsey Gruis (Subscriptions)For our partners, our goal is to mitigate as much of this crisis as we can, so you don’t have to worry so much about your business. Your focus should be on your employees and your families health and safety. We’re here. Our teams are able to work safely and effectively from home, and we’re working to answer your questions and provide solutions.

Jed Nelsen (Compliance)From a compliance perspective, our aim is to provide good advice to our partners about Amazon’s policies (such as don’t mention COVID-19 or coronavirus in your listing, or it will get restricted) and ensure that their products are live and available on Amazon, Walmart, etc.


3. From your perspective, what actions can brands take that will be most impactful right now?

Bryce Burchak (Strategic Initiatives): Be creative and get scrappy. There is not one answer for every brand, as each business is unique. The widely applicable recommendation I can offer is to identify the most sustainable supply chain to your end customer. However, focus should not be limited to this. Brands should review the key functions of their business and get creative in how to best address. Take datasupported action quickly; don’t let analysis paralysis stymie your pivot. 

Actions should be prioritized in accordance with estimated impact. If you’re focused on maintaining revenue, that may drive a different action than a cash flow focus. Spend time digging into each supporting process for your top objective and think creatively about how to adjust. For instance, if you’re focused on consistent revenue, have you updated your marketing spend to align with demand trends and increased lead times? You don’t want to create out-of-stocks. 

Keri Rhodes (Marketing)Find ways to scale their current operations in every way, so that they can be nimble and prepared to change as the landscape changes. Brands should be focused on automating and finding the most effective strategies for their advertising, with the goal of increasing sales while cutting costs and time. Brands should also be aware of opportunities to help their bottom line, like recouping as many dollars back from Amazon as possible through tools like Channel Auditor.

Darby Meegan (Product Management)The highest priority is financial stability for your company and your team members.

The Paycheck Protection Program loan went live on April 3rd. Iyour brand needs capital to make ends meet (payroll, rent, mortgage, utilities, and other qualifying debts) this is the place to start. Brands are eligible for up to $10MM depending on their circumstances and if they meet criteria. Applications are available on the SBA website.

Second in my mind is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of their employees. Whatever a company does in a time of crisis either pays dividends or wreaks havoc once things recover. Their response today communicates to their customers and team members the unspoken values the brand holds, it communicates to their retail partners the resilience and longevity the brand holds, and it communicates to their suppliers they’re doing business with a trustworthy partner. 

Third, expand your logistics network – even if only temporarily – to work with providers who can get your goods directly to consumers. Amazon’s supply chain is feeling quite the strain and many experts believe the worst of the virus is yet to come. There are a few options. Deliverr is my recommendation for best directtoconsumer option – they can deliver for Amazon, Walmart, eBay, personal Shopify stores, and beyond. We’ve worked with them for a number of years and value their partnership. Walmart has recently announced their own fulfillment network, which is a great option to get on their rapidly growing marketplace, however, there will be some delays getting up and running in their platform (including an approval process).

Jed Nelsen (Compliance): Think holistically and longterm. Can you pivot your business to provide needed supplies for the crisis? Are you maximizing your channels that are still selling (grocery, online, etc.)? Finally, be careful not to be opportunistic (price gouging, hoarding, or bragging). If you exploit the crisis to grow your profits, the blow to your brand will be swift and painful.


4. What actions can brands take that will be most impactful in the long-term?

Bryce Burchak (Strategic Initiatives)This crisis has made many brands realize how overly dependent they’ve become on their Amazon sales. Now is the time for brands to diversify not only their online presence but also their means of distribution. Other marketplaces are working hard to catch up, with some exciting growth coming from Walmart, eBay, Google, and Shopify in the last 6 months, highlights listed below:

If brands limit their distribution and presence to Amazon, they’ll miss substantial opportunities for exposure, sales, and improved margins on these other marketplaces. This pandemic should be a catalyst for brands to re-assess their ecommerce strategy and work to broaden the number marketplaces they are represented on and explore new fulfillment strategies.

Keri Rhodes (Marketing): Find a partner that has the ability to work through these types of crises and has the team to support brands when they need to focus on operations and logistics. A holistic partner helps avoid frequent and reactionary changes in strategy, which can cause distraction and derail progress.

Darby Meegan (Product Management): Same answers as above: safeguard financial stability, protect your employees and reputation, and expand your logistics network. These efforts will help in both the short-term and long-term.

Kelsey Gruis (Subscriptions): Remember that, while we don’t know when, this will pass. It may take time to get back to ‘normal’, but it will. We must continue to be persistent in our presence and brand values, and that means maintaining a strong presence on your online sales channels. Ignoring your ecommerce strategy at this time would be detrimental in the long-term for two reasons: 1) Ecommerce is the current new norm. If people are shopping, its online. 2) Whenever this does go back to ‘normal’, brands who maintained their footing will be the best positioned to recover the quickest.

Jed Nelsen (Compliance): Ensure that you have the right partnerships in place to manage your brand, including marketingsupply chain, legal, etc. When times get tough, who is really adding value to your brand? Also, keep an eye on consumer trends, as tastes and buying behavior will change even once the quarantines are lifted. This pandemic will leave a lasting mark on the economy. 


5. What skills and traits matter most during this crisis, for a business and/or leaders?

Bryce Burchak (Strategic Initiatives): Vision and composure.

This situation has understandably shaken both our current and future world. As leaders, it’s important that you are extremely communicative in navigating your teams through these uncertain times. Ensure everybody is often reminded of the vision you have beyond one day, one week, or one month. It’s important to not lose focus on the end goal with daily news bringing many interruptions. 

That being said, it’s equally important that your vision is inclusive of changes needed to thrive in the postCOVID world.  Now is the time for innovation and adaptability, so if you need to make a pivot, analyze the proposed change, update your vision accordingly, and get the message out ASAP. 

Things are not easy right now. It’s understandable that many are dealing with anxiety and fear as they try to adapt to COVID life. Leaders have the opportunity to address this and set the tone for their business and employees. Maintaining composure is crucial. The top priority should be to protect employees and steer for safety, but do so as a voice of reason and understanding. Don’t get caught up riding the highs or the lows; keep an even-keel and let your teams rely on you to be the calm during the storm. Be the champion of composure for whomever you are leading. 

Keri Rhodes (Marketing): “Find the helpers during tough times.” A great reminder for brands to seek out and provide support within and without their networks. It’s also important for business leaders to remain calm and search for the positives. Events like COVID will make many businesses stronger in the long-run and develop bullet-proof processes that can aid in times of crisis. Businesses and leaders should also be understanding that everyone in the world is being impacted by COVID, so while we are all in this together, people’s lives are being impacted in very different ways. Extending options and being understanding will go a long way for their protecting a business’s most valuable asset: their employees.  

Darby Meegan (Product Management): Vision, teamwork, and ownership.

Vision cannot be beaten. The legendary Peter Drucker is quoted as saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I totally agree, especially if your culture is built on a vision. Regardless of your position in your organization, what is the why behind what you do? If you and your team have a shared sense of purpose, things go smoother. Here at Kaspien, our vision is to be a brand’s ultimate online growth partner. Every team member here is empowered to put brand’s growth first and advocate for it. That vision of what we’re doing permeates our development team that creates tools for our customers and our internal teams, it enables our data and product teams to innovate and dig into data to create new solutions, it gives our operations team some gumption in positioning our partner’s goods the best way possible, and it ensures our Account Managers and Sales team are true advocates for the brands we work with. If we were just selling goods, I guarantee we wouldn’t approach our work with the ferocity and creativity that we do. Our vision is our true north and the engine behind our competitive edge.

Teamwork is always paramount in a business and a team. It becomes increasingly so in a period of urgency. Whether you’re a contributor or the leader, empower your teammates to utilize data, map out their approach, communicate their actions transparently, and make decisions. If your team can operate as a collective unit with each member bringing their distinct experience and perspective to the table, you’ll see times of crisis as a chance to reformat and empower your team. Teams need good process, but effective collaboration is even more important.

Ownership is next. If you can make decisions based on what is the best thing for your customers, you cannot go wrong. You’ll empower those around you. You’ll form partnerships with your vendors, customers, or suppliers. You’ll create momentum and start seeing others rise to the occasion. The bigger impact of ownership, however, is spreads to others. Don’t jump in and take on every project or solve every problem. Trust your team (ahem, see above), and hand over the reins. Teammates, bosses, and coworkers will rise to the occasion and you may be pleasantly surprised about how many key players have been waiting for their opportunity to shine.

Kelsey Gruis (Subscriptions): Empathy. I think understanding that each person (employee, manager, or customer) handles and deals with things, including crises, differently. My personal belief is that we need to meet people where they are at and acknowledge that how I deal with something is different than how you do – and that’s okay. Customers need to see a brands empathy in that way too. We can’t market a brand/product specifically on how I feel about the crisis; we have to take an even-keeled approach that focuses on sustainability and working together.

Jed Nelsen (Compliance): Leaders need to be calm, get good insights from the data, and be decisive. Don’t panic; it only makes things worse. Look to what your data is telling you and ask tough questions that get to the heart of the issues. Finally, if decisions need to be made, make them sooner rather than later and commit.

Chat with the Experts

If you have questions about how your business should be responding to the coronavirus, get in touch with Kaspien’s experts.

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Matthew Boardman
Latest posts by Matthew Boardman (see all)