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Online Sellers Not Ready for Disasters

Most merchants lack disaster recovery plan, survey finds.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S., thousands of online sellers were left without power, the Internet or a way to reach customers.

It happened to Susan Majzik, a merchant and reader of The Online Seller. She says Hurricane Sandy left 77 percent of Bay Village, Ohio, residents, including her, in the dark.

“It was a challenge to keep up with my eBay business during this time, borrowing time on friends’ computers to send invoices and mail packages on time”

“I was without power for six days!” she told us in November. “It was a challenge to keep up with my eBay business during this time, borrowing time on friends’ computers to send invoices and mail packages on time.”

Majzik was just one of many online sellers who had Mother Nature to contend with in 2012. This year, merchants had to face winter storm Nemo, which left the East Coast covered in snow, and eBay officials asking buyers and sellers to be patient if they were dealing with someone in that part of the U.S.

Such storms can greatly affect online sellers, and a recent survey finds that the impact can be negative.

Mobile and the cloud to the rescue

The poll, conducted by Alibaba.com, Auctiva and Vendio, finds that 74 percent of online sellers do not have disaster recovery plans in case they are faced with a situation that could disrupt communication with buyers and every day sales.

“Mobile and cloud computing technologies might be coming to the rescue, as 62 percent of respondents said they could run their business from a mobile device”

Additionally, the survey notes that 84 percent of online merchants don’t have natural disaster insurance and some say they would have to close their businesses if a storm caused severe damage.

Thirty-seven percent add they don’t know how long it would take them to get their business running as usual if they were faced with a natural disaster.

“Interestingly, mobile and cloud computing technologies might be coming to the rescue, as 62 percent of respondents said they could run their business from a mobile device and 30 percent of them store their business information in the cloud,” adds Joshua Milne a spokesman for Alibaba.com.

Merchants favor email in emergencies

The survey does note that 76 percent of respondents have not been affected by a natural disaster. However, if they were impacted by one, 42 percent said they would save their products, inventory or office materials, and 36 percent would tell customers right away they were facing a natural disaster.

How would they do that? Eighty-six percent say through email, 42 percent through phone or text, 27 percent via their website, and 22 percent through Facebook.

The top way sellers would try to keep shoppers happy during tough times like these would be to communicate with them regularly, keeping buyers informed on the status of their orders and estimated delivery dates.

Merchants should prepare, expert says

Author Dennis L. Prince thinks merchants should prepare for the unexpected. In a recent article called Be Ready for Anything with a Business Continuity Plan, Prince shares ways online sellers can do this.

“A business continuity plan can provide you peace of mind and, more important, a plan of action to keep your business running in case events take a turn for the worse”

He writes that merchants should document everything regarding their business, including business practices, organizational structure and vendor lists, as even the most routine activities can be hard to complete during a natural disaster.

“No one ever expects a disaster, and it’s the reason why many businesses are stopped cold if they’re not prepared to react to such a situation,” he notes.

Taking the time to prepare leaves merchants in a better position to respond and recover if disaster hits, he continues.

“From relatively contained technology disruptions to full-fledged natural disasters, a business continuity plan can provide you peace of mind and, more important, a plan of action to keep your business running in case events take a turn for the worse,” Prince reports.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of TheOnlineSeller.com. In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • adamo

    Excellent article. I was lucky enough to stay up and running through Sandy and Nemo. Every seller should be prepared for unexpected downtime. Fortunately it seems redundancy helps, i.e. mobile devices and computers.



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