How eCommerce is Facing the COVID-19 Pandemic: PulseTV, Freestyle Solutions Part Two in our Three Questions Series…this time, we’re bringing you thoughts from PulseTV

PulseTV is a leader in eCommerce and an innovator in marketing. From its origins in as-seen-on-TV sales, to its evolution to creative site construction and product placement, the team at PulseTV has built a brand that delivers value and unique products to their loyal customers.

Anisa Ali joins us to offer insight into how the pandemic has changed their business.

How has the Pandemic affected you?

We are fortunate that we were able to navigate the challenges of the pandemic, support our staff and prosper, even during the challenging conditions COVID-19 presented. 

Like many industries and businesses, the pandemic upended every process we had in place. We had a small percentage of our staff working remotely, but overwhelmingly they couldn’t wait to return to an in-person work environment.

Like so many other businesses experienced, we found it incredibly challenging to handle Customer Service remotely – so we put protocols in place to get that department back ASAP. Everyone on the team worked together to put a plan in place that allowed us to move forward while keeping everyone safe. We added Plexiglas to cubicles and sanitizing stations and areas became the norm. We brought in (and even began selling!) UV Room Sanitizers for further protection.

Giving Back During a Time of Need

As a group, we learned to share our talents and to take risks to change so we could better serve our customers and community. I am proud to say that we were able to quickly source, secure and distribute vital PPE to first responders, hospitals and front-line organizations. 

While we had never handled these products before, we know what we’re good at – assessing needs, sourcing products and setting up distribution quickly. We tapped every contact we knew, and I am so proud to say we filled a need and even managed to donate large amounts of product to those who needed it most. 

A result of our ability to shift gears was we saw business booming. We loved seeing how our team banded together and really stepped up in an unprecedented time, so we made sure that everyone knew how appreciative we were of their dedication to our efforts – we were thrilled that we were even able to offer generous bonuses.  

What steps have you taken in the short and long term?

We started by tapping into our core values of resourcefulness & nimbleness. We identified the need to focus on PPE and realized there was an opportunity for us to move from our traditional B2C model to incorporate a wholesale channel. 

At that point, we reached out to every business relationship we had, found a few new ones, and quickly connected with overseas suppliers who could fill orders. Our ability to source and deliver product was a key differentiator from other companies entering the market, and we were able to land products quickly and meet all of our commitments.  

We had to make a lot of unique changes in our processes. For example, during the worst of the shortages, we had to keep stating that we had PPE in stock and actually were able and ready to ship orders, contrary to what the market was saying. It had to be a concerted effort in terms of messaging so we could effectively combat the general assumptions that everyone was out of stock. We weren’t! And we wanted to get the word out!

As a silver lining, the pandemic provided us with some unique opportunities to partner with local suppliers to produce hand sanitizer and we developed expertise in a new field, purchasing 5 gallon containers to ship sanitizer in. 

We found it challenging to handle pick up of products by local organizations and customers. We looked at curbside pick up at our distribution center, but it was disruptive and handling it from the parking lot of our office building was even more difficult. The process was slow, and we found we were exposing our employees to contact during the height of the pandemic. 

So we pivoted, again.

There are a lot of empty storefronts in the Chicago area, so we took advantage of this to create a new brand, Masks & More Outlet.  

We fitted out several stores quickly, hired and trained employees and were up and running within weeks. The stores have been a great success, and we were thrilled that they brought us back to our roots in retail.  It was a fun project that served the needs of the community by providing vital products at a fair price. With that, our product mix shifted so quickly that PPE became almost 50% of our total sales. 

We navigated the needed change in how we’d been doing business in a number of ways: 

  • Shipping charges – Forced to match peak usage increases from carrier to minimize losses.
  • Slight increase in prices – No one complained about cost because they needed PPE during the peak.
  • Used USPS & FedEx –  Something new in shipping was the COVID surcharge. All carriers instituted it at varying amounts. It was up to us to negotiate it away. It is still in place for most carriers, but we learned we have to engage in pretty constant negotiations with carriers like FedEx and UPS to eliminate, or at least minimize, these surcharges. Staying on top of the ever-changing, ever-increasing shipping costs forced us to develop analysis tools that took data from M.O.M. for what we were charging, and then compare to our shipping bills from USPS and FedEx so we could see how much we are/were losing on shipping. This tool now is invaluable for us in negotiations and adjusting shipping charges to customers.
  • Returns – We’ve managed to keep returns at less than 2% of our sales for many years. Using video to show and explain products helps! 

What is the outlook for your business? 

We’ll continue to grow, putting an emphasis on new, different ways to deal with a global reality of doing business during a pandemic. 

We’ve focused on new Supply Chains that aren’t as dependent on China. There has been an increasing ocean container shortage, resulting in more expensive and lengthy ship times. Currently we’re looking to shift to landing product in Vancouver to avoid the extreme port congestion in Los Angeles, which could prove very profitable on all fronts. Other challenges and opportunities that are top of mind for us right now include:

Challenges:

  • Many products are still stuck in China
  • Our margins (like so many others) are getting squeezed
  • Closeouts, the bread and butter of our historic product mix, are getting expensive
  • Price pressure is everywhere – shipping, low available inventory level in the market, etc.

Opportunities:

  • Looking into various manufacturing opportunities for new products (a spot remover and other products we can make here in the USA)
  • Thrilled to be getting ready to focus on our skincare line again, Third Age Skincare
  • We’re making a concerted effort to source in America when and if possible

No one was prepared for the pandemic volumes, delays and peak surcharges. But we are proud of how we stepped up and met the challenges head on. While the future of our physical stores remains undetermined, we’re excited and look forward to continued growth.   

Check back soon for our next customer discussion! We can’t wait to share more stories with you!

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DID YOU MISS OUR FIRST POST IN THIS SERIES? CHECK OUT: How eCommerce is Facing the COVID-19 Pandemic: B-21 Fine Wine & Spirits