COVID-19 Continued: How to Support Your eCommerce Business in Uncertain Times

Ruthie Careyby Ruthie Carey

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Over the past year, up until today, there have been many discussions about how Covid is affecting eCommerce.

However, at this point in time, it is safe to say that the events that took place in 2020 have solidified the need for eCommerce.

The reality of the situation is that the effects of Covid on eCommerce have transformed the industry from being just one of many options consumers had to make purchases into many people’s primary mode of shopping.

That said, while eCommerce has solidified its position in the retail sphere, these are still incredibly uncertain times for both companies and consumers. As CNN Business reports on how the Delta variant is hurting the U.S. economy:

“Some recent economic data are painting a lousy picture. Early consumer sentiment data for August showed a crash below pre-pandemic levels, falling to its lowest mark since December 2011. People are judging that Delta will hurt the recovery, as well as their daily lives. After hot vax summer was cut short by the variant, people are digesting the realization that the pandemic is not in fact about to be over. Retail sales fell more than expected in July, both including and excluding auto sales.”

Pair this with a massively disappointing August jobs report, and it is clear that the country is still not out of the proverbial woods.

What this means is that the effects of Covid on eCommerce are still lingering and will continue to do so for some time.

However, the truth of the matter is that economic downturns can be golden opportunities for eCommerce brands. That is if they know how to navigate the terrain.

To help ensure that our readers flourish instead of falter in these trying times, today, we will explore how Covid is affecting eCommerce businesses, as well as how sellers can support their companies and consumers during this era.

On that note, let’s get started.

How Covid Is Affecting eCommerce for Amateur and Experienced Sellers Alike

While physical retailers have had their own set of clear and obvious challenges, online merchants have also been confronted with a multitude of problems.

One of the most glaring issues is an unprecedented spike in demand for a panoply of different products. As the United Nations reported on global eCommerce sales in 2020:

“According to UN trade and development experts UNCTAD, the e-commerce sector saw a ‘dramatic’ rise in its share of all retail sales, from 16 per cent to 19 per cent in 2020. The UK also saw a spike in online transactions over the same period, from 15.8 to 23.3 per cent; so too did China (from 20.7 to 24.9 per cent), the US (11 to 14 per cent), Australia (6.3 to 9.4 per cent), Singapore (5.9 to 11.7 per cent) and Canada (3.6 to 6.2 per cent). Online business-to-consumer (B2C) sales for the world’s top 13 companies stood at $2.9 trillion in 2020, UNCTAD said on Friday.”

While this may seem like a positive thing (which it is), this uptick has also resulted in internal management and logistics problems, as well as issues with the supply chain and product procurement as well.

Moreover, despite the explosion in eCommerce sales, consumers today have less disposable income than in many decades prior. As Deloitte details on how consumers are changing:

“As we first highlighted in the great retail bifurcation, there is a deepening economic bifurcation between the top 20 percent income earners and the rest of the population—a divide that has a huge impact on consumer behavior… The bottom 40 percent of earners had less discretionary income in 2017 than they did 10 years ago, and the next 40 percent saw only a minor increase. Only 20 percent of consumers were meaningfully better off in 2017 than they were in 2007, with precious little income left to spend on discretionary retail.”

There are several implications that can be derived from the previous two excerpts.

The first is that, while eCommerce sales are on the rise in a significant way, 2020 introduced many retailers into the digital space, thereby increasing the amount of competition online significantly. This should not be underwritten given that massive retail entities like Amazon and Walmart (not to mention the scores of other sellers) already make succeeding in eCommerce quite the challenge.

The second conclusion that can be drawn is that today’s average consumer has less money to spend on products and will therefore opt to spend their dollars more wisely. This means that shoppers will likely conduct significantly more research on the products that they buy and that the hours spent on research will increase in proportion to the item’s price.

Finally, the third undertone that can be detected here is that retailers will need to significantly up their online marketing and customer experience efforts if they wish to remain profitable.

Additionally, for those who are thinking that things in the retail space will one day return to normal, with consumers walking away from digital shopping in favor of brick-and-mortar experience, think again.

As a recent DigitalCommerce360 piece on Covid’s impact on online retail highlights about digital sales in 2021:

“Figures from Q1 2021 show that the coronavirus is still making an impact on retail spending. Online sales increased 39 percent year over year in Q1 2021, nearly triple the 14 percent increase in Q1 2020, and faster than Q3 2020 and Q4 2020.”

The fact of the matter is that the effects of Covid on eCommerce have made online shopping a permanent staple for many consumers for reasons such as:

  • New shopping habits: Because of 2020’s lockdowns, scores of shoppers have become accustomed to purchasing products online. Moreover, even as brick-and-mortar reopenings continue to take place, many will continue to enjoy the comfort of shopping from their couch.
  • Covid fears continue to persist: While quarantines have ended and mask mandates have been lifted in many places, many people continue to be on edge about the potential spread of coronaviruses, particularly as the media continues to report on an array of variants.
  • Mobile makes digital shopping more accessible than ever: The ability to quickly place orders from just about anywhere with a single hand is something that many have found to be empowering and far more convenient than trips to multiple stores.
  • Product availability: While physical retail stores have struggled to keep certain items in stock, consumers can still find practically anything they need in the digital space.

For all of these reasons and more, the effects of Covid on eCommerce have made a lasting impact. Therefore, retailers must prepare for the future of online retail.

How to Support eCommerce Businesses in Uncertain Times

While the previous section was certainly a bit of a mixed bag, the fact of the matter is that, sooner or later, the economy will fully recover. Moreover, even if a downturn is in our future, such unfortunate events can be massive opportunities for merchants.

That said, there are a variety of ways in which sellers can help to ensure prosperity amid adversity, including:

Enhance Customer Experiences

As the level of competition online reaches new heights, thanks to the events of 2020, retailers are going to have a more challenging time than ever standing out to shoppers.

As more merchants crowd into the digital space, a more significant number of sellers will be dealing in the same or similar products. This means that retailers will have to find alternative ways of differentiating their brand from the competition.

An ideal way of achieving this is to elevate the eCommerce shopping experience to new heights, thereby providing consumers with a smooth, simple and memorable experience that incentivizes repeat visits and purchases.

Fortunately, there are a myriad of ways that retailers can upgrade their digital experience, including:

  • Create personalized shopping experiences
  • Offer loyalty programs
  • Decrease load times
  • Optimize checkout flows
  • Increase on-site security

All that said, many other retailers are going to be seeking to augment their shopping experiences as well. Therefore, the best way for merchants to ensure a competitive edge is to partner with an award-winning eCommerce design agency that can implement a data-driven approach to optimize on-site experiences.

However, it truly does not matter how fantastic or mind-blowing a seller’s shopping experience is if their site cannot be found by the average consumer.

This means that search engine optimization is of critical importance.

Emphasize Search Engine Optimization Strategies

As a means of helping analyze how Covid is affecting eCommerce, Conductor conducted a survey to determine how the events of 2020 were altering marketing practices.

One of the main takeaways of that survey was that SEO was set to become even more essential to online performance. The survey highlighted that:

  • 63 percent of marketers thought SEO would increase in importance
  • 34 percent claimed that SEO would become slightly more important
  • 29 percent thought it would become far more important

The truth of the situation is that Covid drove hordes of shoppers into the digital space, many of whom were from older generations or were less tech-savvy than those who were already deeply engaged in eCommerce dealings.

Therefore, these folks require easy pathways to discovering, researching and purchasing products, all of which are dependent upon healthy search engine optimization strategies.

However, it isn’t just discoverability that makes SEO a vital component to online success in uncertain times. When a seller has substantial SERP visibility, it also lends the brand a certain amount of credibility, thereby making consumers more trustworthy of the company.

Calling back to shoppers’ limited disposable income and higher levels of research, earning the trust of more careful consumers is paramount to maintaining profitability.

A great way of earning such faith is by ensuring SERP visibility for key terms and phrases.

However, given that the aforementioned Conductor survey also revealed that 86 percent of marketers felt that their SEO goals would be harder to achieve in 2020, hiring a professional, proficient SEO team could be the difference between outranking the competition or losing revenue to rivals.

Educate Consumers via Content Marketing

As mentioned earlier, many consumers have less to spend on products and are opting to research more to ensure that they get the best bang for their buck.

As far as retailers are concerned, this means that investing their energies and resources into competent, focused content marketing campaigns is critical to success.

The reason for this is twofold.

Firstly, as just touched upon, consumers are researching products more heavily before buying. Therefore, it is imperative that sellers reach consumers with educational content that can help consumers make the best possible decision for their specific needs.

Secondly, the importance of blogging for SEO performance cannot be overstated. In many ways, blog content is the primary driver of rankings for online businesses.

Therefore, investing in educational content serves the dual purpose of enlightening potential buyers and boosting SERP visibility.

Moreover, if retailers understand how to drive revenue with content, campaigns can be used for education, rankings and revenue simultaneously.

Plainly put, given how many needs and goals content marketing can serve for retailers, it is critical for sellers not to overlook this means of supporting their brand.

That said, crafting a solid content strategy that successfully serves clearly articulated goals is much easier said than done. For that reason, merchants might consider teaming up with eCommerce content marketing experts to help formulate a blueprint that ensures visibility and drives consumer action.

Elevate Social Commerce Efforts

According to a Stackla report on post-pandemic consumer shopping habits, “56 percent of consumers say they’re more influenced by images and videos from social media when online shopping now than they were before the pandemic.”

This is a significant and meaningful finding for eCommerce retailers.

Over the years, social media has been increasingly integrating itself with eCommerce. In 2020, that integration was furthered with new retail-oriented features like Facebook Shops, Shops on Instagram, partnerships between Shopify and TikTok, Snapchat native checkout and the like.

While this trend has been underway for many years, the effects of Covid on eCommerce have only accelerated the unification of online retail and social media.

Therefore, sellers should be heavily invested in ensuring that they have a robust social media presence on the platforms that matter most to their company, as well as a myriad of ways and opportunities (adverts, shoppable posts, dedicated social media Shops, etc.) for followers to act and convert on those offerings.

Of course, social media platforms are incredibly congested destinations. For that reason, retailers are wise to consider hiring an eCommerce social media advertising agency capable of reaching the most relevant consumers possible.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that the effects of Covid on eCommerce have been — and will continue to be — profound and potentially irreversible.

However, it is also important to remember that the retail industry was already on an increasingly digital trajectory. Covid just sped up the progression.

As the industry wrestles with these changes and consumers continue to grapple with the varying degrees of hardship brought on by the events of 2020, it is imperative that sellers invest in their company and its online presence.

Failing to do this will undoubtedly result in rival brands who are willing to make such investments, capitalizing on the opportunity to steal market share away from its competitors.

That said, if your brand is ready to double down on its user experience, SEO, content marketing or social media efforts, then reach out to Visiture for a free consultation.

Our award-winning team of eCommerce marketing experts have the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to help your brand draft a blueprint that will not only help carry it through these uncertain times, but that will allow it to prosper in the process.

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