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Responding to COVID-19: A Q&A with William On, CEO and co-founder of Shippit

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Shippit is a technology platform that powers delivery for retailers across Australia, connecting e-commerce stores with courier companies. When the realities of COVID-19 struck, the Shippit team acted quickly to make sure they could continue sending thousands of deliveries each month.

We spoke with William On, CEO and co-founder of Shippit, about how COVID-19 is changing his business – as well as the businesses of his e-commerce partners.

In this Q&A, he tells us how Shippit paused to create a continuity plan, adopted flexible practices and changed their mindset to guide them through these rough times. William also shares the importance of communication and how banding together as a business community can help a business come out stronger.

Smarter Business: Have you changed how you run your business to keep things moving smoothly? Did you stop and make a plan in response to COVID-19, or are you adapting on the go?

William On: I’m an ex-management consultant, so I’ve used my experience to ensure most parts are well planned and carefully thought through. We’ve changed our mindset away from growth to survival.

Over the last five years, we’ve been growing at 100% year-on-year. But now we’re forecasting a major drop in retail, which means that we’re going to have to move away from discretionary growth initiatives to survival initiatives.

In the last few weeks, all of our staff have been forced to work from home. But we were prepared – we stopped to do a continuity plan. We looked at all the people risks, dependencies on other companies and our technology – so, things like whether everyone is remote ready, if they have the right workstations in place, the right chairs, monitors, keyboards and other equipment.

We’re thinking about this from a long-term perspective, so we put the plans in place early on. Doing a risk assessment, understanding the impacts and likelihoods, and then putting any mitigations in place are key to doing any business continuity plan. Our strategy is evolving as we review new data on a daily basis.

Smarter Business: How has COVID-19 affected your business so far?

William On: We’re seeing a massive shift in what people are purchasing via e-commerce. People are moving away from discretionary items – like fashion, apparel and footwear – to staples. Right now, things like toiletries, cosmetics, pet food and groceries are absolutely booming.

We’ve also seen businesses that are struggling to keep up with the changes, and this is impacting customer experience. When it comes to e-commerce logistics for retailers that are shipping from store, we’re seeing a lot of challenges.

My main concern is the looming recession. What the government is doing from a stimulus perspective is great. We’re just really worried about consumer confidence in spending, and I think that’s going to result in a general downturn in retail spend.

Smarter Business: What have you done to communicate differently with your team, business partners and suppliers?

William On: In terms of policies and how we’ve started working differently, the big thing is the ‘people’ element. We know that people have things going on outside of work. Being on video calls where pets and kids walk through mid-call is the norm now, but we also have to be conscious of splitting up time between work life and personal life. Being flexible with our staff has been important.

“The big thing is the ‘people’ element. Being on video calls where pets and kids walk through mid-call is the norm now, but we also have to be conscious of splitting up time between work life and personal life. Being flexible with our staff has been important."

- William On, CEO and co-founder, Shippit

We rely on a few technology partners to look after some key pieces of our technology. Knowing that they’ve got continuity plans in place, talking to them to ensure that they’re going to survive as well, has been super important for us.

And then, on a day-to-day basis, our rituals have changed. We used to be able to pull people into a room and have a discussion when it was needed. Now that’s changed, so every single day, as a leadership team, we consider what needs to be communicated to our team, discuss what projects we’re working on, and assess what new data came out last night and how that’s going to change the trajectory of our business.

Smarter Business: What advice do you have for small and medium businesses who are assessing what they need to be doing now?

William On: I would say the very first thing is to talk to your suppliers. Now our expenses have been moving away from fixed expenses to variable ones.

“Being able to talk to your supplier, so you can agree on better trading terms, can make a significant difference. People are pretty compassionate now – there’s a sense of community.”

- William On, CEO and co-founder, Shippit

Being able to talk to your supplier, so you can agree on better trading terms, can make a significant difference. People are pretty compassionate now – there’s a sense of community. Even reaching out to retailers or other businesses that are going through similar things to your own business can be helpful.

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