It has been a strange year, and this is perhaps a contender for the understatement of the decade. Those who entered 2020 with optimism and dreams of growth were no sooner rocked by a global pandemic.
The very nature of the ecommerce business means there are fewer operating costs compared to physical stores. However, COVID-19 has affected businesses of all shapes and sizes. While some global giants have been forced to scale back, others have now closed down completely. With COVID seemingly not going away any time soon, how should ecommerce marketing respond? How do you advertise during these difficult times?
To answer this question, we first need to assess the state of the e-commerce industry.
During the lockdown, people in the United States lost the ability to take simple trips out of the house. This led to an increased demand for electronics and things that could occupy us while at home. There has also been a demand for office supplies and equipment because workers are setting up their own home offices.
Education is another changing sector. Some families are forced to keep their children at home due to school closures. As a result, we’ve seen an increase in sales of educational products and services.
Because families have been kept apart for long periods, there is a need for telecommunications systems. Especially for the elderly, who previously had no means to communicate other than a landline phone, we’ve seen investment in laptops and tablets for Zoom and FaceTime calls.
In summary, once the panic buying stopped, the ‘new essentials’ product category emerged. The old essentials have been replaced by toys and hobbies, electronics, office supplies, educational products, telecommunication, home improvement and hardware, garden products and home gym equipment.
Every generation has uniquely responded to the pandemic. Although it seems to be changing constantly, Millennials and Gen Z consumers were affected the most. According to one study, over 95% of people in these generations (across the US and UK) were concerned about the pandemic and how it might affect the economy. Consequently, they are stockpiling items, reducing spending and avoiding experiences.
On the other hand, only one-third of Gen X consumers are letting current events affect spending habits; this reduces even further to one-quarter for Boomers. It’s clear to see that younger generations see COVID as a long-term problem while the older generations are keeping their spending habits relatively normal. When marketing to the former, this is an important consideration.
When it comes to genders, the results are just as interesting. From the outside, people see that women are more worried about COVID and assume this translates to spending. In reality, men are adjusting their shopping behaviors more than women; 33% compared to 25% Additionally, men are taking advantage of the following more than women:
Given these differences in generations and genders, consider your audience before producing marketing materials or adhering to an older strategy. Since men are cautious about visiting physical stores, ease their minds by taking this into account. Businesses selling home office equipment can take advantage of the fact that this is considered a new essential. Lean into the idea that more people are working from home than ever before (especially considering that this could be the new norm).
We’ve broken down more key strategies below.
With social distancing measures and lockdown, brands should place an emphasis on digital experiences. As a business, you should look to engage people wherever they may be in the world. Slowly invest time and money into new ways you can engage. During COVID, the services with the most creativity and innovation are thriving.
Remember, with everything happening this year, your goal is to relieve pressure from customers and ease their pain points. With no access to physical locations, some companies are launching live chat features and new delivery systems. As an e-commerce service, think about how COVID has affected your audience and implement digital experiences to make up for what has been lost.
As always, you should make it as easy as possible for consumers to buy from you. This means seamless transitions between social media, your website, your store and anywhere else you have a digital presence.
Marketing needs to be personalized more than ever during this global pandemic. Customers need companies that show understanding and compassion; they don’t want robotic companies that avoid world events and pretend everything is normal. By leveraging machine learning and AI tools, you can personalize and tailor offers to consumers as buying habits and behaviors shift.
Personalization is important in this era, and the best e-commerce services know that it makes customers feel like they matter.
As a consumer yourself, one of the signs of lockdown is ‘out of stock.’ With the challenges that warehouses and manufacturers face, resupplying inventory is harder than ever, which leaves customers to resort to competitors or give up. We recommend personalization and machine learning with emails, websites and apps. You can recommend other products that aren’t on backorder and aren’t out of stock. Now rather than going elsewhere, customers get a product that will arrive at a normal time.
From a marketing perspective, it’s important to keep low-stock items out of the spotlight. Wherever the interaction occurs, only suggest items with high inventory. The more pages that consumers encounter where the product is out of stock, the more likely they are to click away in frustration. By doing the opposite, you could gain a customer (and even word of mouth advertising as they recommend your service).
Click and collect—BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store)—might not be available to all e-commerce services, but those who have physical locations should think about adding it. BOPIS is growing in popularity because it gives those who are still cautious about COVID a chance to buy products without too much physical contact. If you were previously charging for this service, it might be time to make it free for all customers to keep up with the competition.
What are other steps to think about? Consider sharing lifestyle content and using AI/machine learning to keep pace. Rather than predicting the market yourself, machine learning will analyze millions of data points to ensure you’re always matching merchandising to consumer demand.
More important than ever, we also believe in bounce prevention during COVID. You should aim to close all transactions quickly, which means displaying messages to those who move the cursor close to the exit button or highlight and copy a price. With a simple reminder of your free shipping, promotion or flexible returns policy, you might just push more people over the line.
Finally, e-commerce marketers should continually test and optimize rather than choosing a strategy and getting complacent. The market and consumer behaviors are changing more than ever, so follow our advice to keep customers happy and stay alive as a business in 2020!
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