The Rise of eCommerce Marketing After COVID-19

Use eCommerce marketing to take advantage of the growing population of regular online shoppers, while avoiding the pitfalls of this digital transformation.

As news of the COVID-19 pandemic spread almost as fast as the coronavirus itself, governments started encouraging people and businesses to take social distancing measures. Soon after, even the brick-and-mortar businesses that didn’t have to close their doors, often cut hours to reduce the risks to staff and customers. Both businesses and customers have experienced dramatic changes in a very short time. Still, this sudden shift in shopping behavior has allowed eCommerce to boom.

How does the COVID-19 crisis impact eCommerce marketing?

As with all crises, some dramatic changes are likely to remain permanent. For instance, business reliance upon eCommerce marketing had already grown at a steady pace. During the pandemic, buying and selling online suddenly spiked. These growth figures come from the Salesforce Global Shopping Index for the first quarter of 2020:

  • Traffic growth: 16%
  • Digital commerce growth: 20%
  • Individual shopper growth: 4%

Certainly, marketers expect eCommerce growth over time. Still, these figures from the first quarter of 2020 surpassed the 2019 holiday season, which was considered a productive one. When compared to last year, home goods increased by 51 percent. Active apparel grew by 34% and toys by 31%. Such essential goods as food and personal care items spiked up 200 percent.

Is the rise of eCommerce marketing permanent?

Each holiday season attracts new eCommerce business. As new shoppers get introduced to online shopping or at least, shopping at new sites, the first quarter has always surpassed the first quarter for the previous year. However, analysts don’t necessarily expect as much activity in the first quarter as occurred during the holiday season.

According to CIO Magazine’s report on the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior and eCommerce marketing, none of this is temporary. They believe that the current crisis will create the sort of emotional bookmark that 911 and Pearl Harbor did. Some of these rapidly upset routines will cause people to revaluate and change behaviors long after the crisis has passed.

To support this assertion, consider new research from the Capgemini Research Institute:

  • Before the coronavirus pandemic, 59 percent of consumers reported a lot of interaction with brick-and-mortar stores. Just about a quarter of consumers said they expected to frequent stores as much afterwards.
  • Within the next six or nine months, less than 40 percent of consumers said that they expected to return to previous levels of visiting physical outlets.
  • Before the pandemic, about 30 percent of consumers reported a high level of engagement with online stores; however, 37 percent now report this behavior.

In other words, consumers anticipate shopping online more and in physical stores less.

Will the eCommerce boom end physical stores?

Because of these survey results, Capgemini analysts agreed with CIO’s assessment that this bump in online spending would continue even after the crisis ends. At the same time, even the Amazon marketing agency doesn’t want to see local, physical stores vanish.

For instance, Amazon purchased Whole Foods and opened outlets to give their customers a better experience. Prime subscriptions offer customers the choice to either save money online or inside a store. People can see, touch, and even smell products. Customers also can choose in-store pickup for deliveries, an option that has proven increasingly popular with other omnichannel outlets.

Capgemini also doesn’t expect physical stores to vanish; however, shoppers may have higher expectations in the future. It’s intuitive to predict that survey respondents said they would pay more attention to sanitization issues in stores. They also said that they would be more likely to patronize physical or online businesses that communicated a strong sense of purpose and a commitment to sustainability. Customers will return to stores. At the same time, they may visit stores less and be much pickier about which ones they choose to frequent.

Vital eCommerce marketing tips

Ecommerce marketing may enjoy a boom because of the coronavirus. At the same time, even businesses with existing eCommerce platforms have to overcome some obstacles:

  • Pre-coronavirus, many businesses focused mostly or solely upon foot traffic and have had to abruptly change their strategy to include eCommerce marketing. This increases competition for keywords, consumer attention, and of course, online revenue. While an established eCommerce brand will enjoy some advantages, they may not entirely overcome the budgets of large companies that need to rev up online marketing fast.
  • As CIO Magazine ironically phrased it, the digital transformation wasn’t entirely prepared for the digital transformation. Some platforms could not handle the sudden and unexpected surge to “Black Friday” traffic levels. Very commonly, retailers suffered because of supply chain disruptions and inefficiencies. Many simply didn’t have the processes and manpower in place to handle the extra business. Even Amazon had to slow down delivery of non-essential items to ensure essential products moved to their destinations quickly.

With these obstacles in mind, these essential eCommerce marketing tips can help companies survive and thrive through the current crisis and beyond:

  • Shore up supply chains: You can’t make good inventory decisions without good information. Contact manufacturers or distributors to understand how they’re coping and what you can expect from them. Hedge your bets by finding alternative suppliers.
  • Communicate with customers: Just as you want your suppliers to keep you in the loop, your customers want to know if they can rely upon you to provide them with excellent service and reliable deliveries. These days, people also want to feel good about doing business with you by knowing that you’re striving to improve safety for them and employees. Let people know how well you’re doing through emails, your website, and social media.
  • Revisit your understanding of customer needs: You may believe your business understood your customer very well before the crisis; however, your customers’ situations and needs have changed as abruptly as your company’s have. For example, many beauty products companies started adding hand sanitizer to their product line to help meet customer demand.
  • Understand that customers may spend more time at home: If your customers are suddenly forced to spend more time alone and at home, you may profit by freshening up your products to appeal to them. For example, Son of a Sailor used to concentrate on selling jewelry and other fashion accessories. They’ve added a new “Boredom Busters” section to their site to appeal to the stay-at-home crowd.
  • Make smart advertising choices: Choices you make about PPC bids and other advertising can always make the difference between great returns and poor ones. It’s more important than ever to make certain you’re tracking the right metrics and planning advertising campaigns that support your business goals. On the other hand, some kinds of eCommerce businesses have found advertising costs have dropped somewhat because their competitors have reduced budgets.
  • Address technical and security concerns with your site: Of course, a better time to address any technical or security issues with your site would have been before the crisis. Still, these things don’t tend to fix themselves. The investment you make in faster loading times and solid security features will put your business in a better position to attract customers now and keep them in the future.

Additional eCommerce tips to help your online business thrive during coronavirus

You may have more concerns about simple survival right now than about rapidly expanding in the future. Still, these actions that you can take to give customers a better impression of your brand will increase revenues in ways that will benefit you now and later.

Let your customers know you value their business

These days, eCommerce sites have enjoyed plenty of success attracting new customers and waking up old ones with generous promotional offers. This can work especially well if you believe your typical customers may have cut back on spending because of their own economic uncertainty. More than ever, consumers want to find good value.

Also, with the understanding that it’s almost always cheaper to retain a loyal customer than to find a new one, consider creating or revamping loyalty programs. Some examples of suggestions for improving a loyalty program to respond to the current crisis came from Antavo, a loyalty management platform:

  • Consider extending the dates on expired points. As an example, CVS, just did this with their CVS Bucks program. Of course, they also sent out an email to let customers know about their generosity.
  • Consider making rewards a little easier to redeem, and in particular, offer good rewards to incentivize customers to join your program and to help you meet other sales goals.

Show customers you care about their communities

Even before this current crisis, savvy marketers understood how giving back to communities helped them improve brand recognition, reputation, and even revenue. For instance, plenty of distilleries have begun producing hand sanitizer to give away. Patagonia, the clothing retailer, sends a percentage of profits to environmental causes.

Some businesses may believe the pandemic has strained their budgets too much to consider adding charitable donations. Maybe it’s time to consider the buy-to-give or other incentive models. For example:

  • TOMS built its shoe and eyewear business by giving away a product for every product purchased.
  • AmazonSmile donates a percentage of qualified sales to charities designated by the customer.
  • You could also select some charities and allow customers to add an extra dollar or two at checkout.
  • Instead of sending excess inventory to the virtual bargain basement or even discarding it, consider donating it.

The long-term outlook for post-coronavirus eCommerce

Social distancing measures have abruptly reduced or even eliminated revenue for many physical businesses. In response, both retailers and consumers have turned to the internet for buying and selling. While the pandemic may have generated an abrupt surge in online shopping, eCommerce marketing analysts expect the trend to continue after the crisis has passed. More people will grow accustomed to the convenience and value, plus some will remain reluctant to spend much time in local shops after they open. While eCommerce stores can expect more opportunities, they also need to overcome a number of challenges. Some sensible improvements to marketing, technology, and business processes can also help to overcome these.

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