Common Shopify theme changes you might need during coronavirus pandemic
by Michael Hill
As coronavirus continues to spread, it’s changing almost every aspect of life in countries around the world — and bringing new challenges and opportunities to Shopify store owners.
Running a business is always challenging and stressful, and even more so now.
As a business owner, there are a variety of resources, settings and built-in tools in both the Shopify platform and your theme that can help you communicate your challenges to customers, disable certain features or help ease customer concerns.
Before you start: Logging your changes
Before you start making changes to your Shopify theme and store content that are needed for the “new reality” we’re living in, it’s important to lay out a plan for making sure you can revert back — either in stages or all at once — once things start to get back to normal.
A good way to do this is by keeping a detailed log of every change you make — whether you expect it to be temporary or permanent, including a reminder of the URL or admin screen used to make the change and notes about filenames or line numbers for code changes.
In many cases, fulfillment and shipping times will be either extended or evolving, so it’s a good idea to make this as clear as possible to shoppers to help manage expectations.
In general, it’s probably a good idea to make some kind of note on your site about the potential for delayed shipping and fulfillment since it’s likely that almost every business could be affected at some point.
If needed, you should also adjust your terms and conditions to reflect that shipping times cannot be guaranteed. Even outside of the coronavirus pandemic, it may be a good idea to remove any references to guaranteed (instead refer to “best effort”) delivery dates since events such as natural disasters can pop up and delay delivery.
Also consider expanding return windows to accommodate any delays in shipping. An alternative is to switch to going by “postmark” dates or when the return package first enters the system, though keep in mind that some customers may experience extra challenges finding ways to drop off return parcels and carriers may not scan them right away.
When updating policy pages, it can sometimes be a good idea to add new blocks of text, rather than delete portions of your policy, that clearly indicate the dates your temporary policies are in effect (this can be left “opened ended”). Also be sure to track these in your log of changes.
Consider using your site’s announcement bar as a quick and easy way to let shoppers know that shipping and delivery times may be affected by the outbreak.
You can also use your store’s announcement banner (or other global message) to broadcast a sitewide notice about shipping changes or create and link to a central coronavirus or COVID-19 information and FAQ page.
This page should list easy to read information about all aspects of your business affected by coronavirus as well as links, where available, for more information — including safety measures you’re taking, shipping times, payment term changes, return policy modifications and no contact delivery options.
Don’t be afraid to link directly to your shipping partners’ websites (most of them have a coronavirus update page) so that you don’t have to worry about updating your site all the time with the most recent changes.
In general, avoid trying to give tips about staying healthy and safe during coronavirus because some recommendations change. Instead, link to your country’s official coronavirus resource page (in the U.S. it’s coronavirus.gov) to do your small part in making sure that people are reading reliable, accurate information.
If your Shopify theme doesn’t have an announcement bar, or if you’re using it for something else or you want to add additional messaging, a small theme customization can typically be done to add this messaging in more than one place automatically — just be sure you get a list of all the code changes the developer makes, including line items. Again, also back up your theme before you let anyone make changes.
When writing and adding FAQs, consider new concerns customers may have — such as safety precautions during fulfillment or germs on packaging, but be careful to avoid making any promises about guaranteeing packaging is “clean” or free from any viruses since that’s almost impossible to promise.
If you’re experiencing inventory challenges on certain products, you will need to make a determination on whether or not to keep these pages live and decide whether or not you will accept orders for these products.
If you’re letting Shopify manage your inventory and don’t allow overselling, then customers shouldn’t be able to order items if the current inventory levels dip below zero. Keep in mind that if you use a third-party fulfillment center, there may be additional integration steps required to make sure inventory is synched between the warehouse and Shopify.
If your store sells high demand items, there’s a slight chance that low inventory items could be accidentally oversold, so you may want to add special notes to your terms or product descriptions that orders are subject to inventory availability and offer customers a clear policy for what you do in these cases.
You can also consider enabling the inventory management feature temporarily and, instead of direct integration, set inventory levels to a bit below what you are certain you have in stock or can realistically fulfill — but just make sure to update these settings periodically as needed.
If you have to move or change fulfillment centers during this time, be sure to make any adjustments these services require you to make with Shopify to keep inventory in sync. If that’s too complex and you’re only using a temporary solution, manually updating the inventory could be a better way to go.
Allowing overselling is generally only a good idea if you are absolutely certain that you have a reliable way of getting new inventory (which is probably pretty iffy these days) and you communicate this clearly to customers. Keep in mind that what was “reliable” a few weeks ago is not necessarily “reliable” today, so this type of strategy should be used with caution.
It can be a good idea to add special notes to descriptions on products that are in high demand or will require extra time. The simplest way to do this is to just edit each product description (make sure you make a note of each product you add it to so you can easily make updates if circumstances change).
If you do run into inventory problems after an order is taken, be transparent in your communications with customers. If you’re not sure when things will be back in stock, tell them and offer to accommodate any way you can.
For themes with a “back in stock” notification form or app that provides a similar service, you may want to add a note using either the language file or app settings that contains a message explaining that inventory replenishment might take longer than normal due to current circumstances.
It could be a smart move to make sure the password page’s content is ready to go (just not live) so your backup person just has to activate it.
If you don’t want to take your store offline and risk losing rankings, you might consider disabling shopping features with custom code so people can still discover your store.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a team of people who can keep your store busy, it might be worth meeting with team leads to discuss contingency plans (remotely, preferably) for if any of you become ill. Make sure you all have any contact information or logins needed to fill in for each other.
These tips can also be used if you decide to shut down your business temporarily during the outbreak.
A closing note
We are living under extraordinary circumstances. Please remember the important things — friends, family and life — over everything else. Don’t let your Shopify business overrun your life by spending hours trying to make sure you have inventory or shipping. If things become overwhelming either ask for help or consider taking a breather — even just a day or two can make a big difference.
Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn. While comments and feedback are always appreciated, Michael regrets that, due to the volume of inquires received, personal responses are not possible. For specific assistance or support with Out of the Sandbox themes, visit the help center.