Where to Focus Your eCommerce Marketing Efforts During COVID-19

Brittany Currieby Brittany Currie

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As it stands, COVID-19 has altered almost every segment of life. From employment to education, social interactions (or lack thereof), shopping habits and beyond, few vestiges of pre-pandemic life have been left untouched.

In line with all of the other transformations that have taken place in recent weeks, eCommerce marketers are rapidly altering their long-term promotional strategies to better meet the massive impact caused by the novel form of coronavirus.

In the weeks and months to follow, eCommerce brands will become increasingly more reliant on their digital strategies as consumers continue to remain in their homes. In fact, due to the current condition of things, a company’s eCommerce marketing strategy could be the deciding factor if the business flourishes or folds.

Thanks to the massive shift in daily patterns and employment situations, retailers will need to focus more of their digital efforts on a handful of tried-and-true eCommerce marketing approaches.

The fact is that bottom-of-the-funnel tactics may not work as they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. In the midst of uncertainty, sellers will have to focus less on pushing products and turn more toward some of the essential elements for eCommerce success, such as building trust with shoppers.

During this period, generosity and empathy will reign over opportunistic massaging and flash sales strategies. The reason for this is that shoppers are already starting to spend more discerningly. At the same time, they are spending more time online than ever before.

This dynamic poses retailers with a massive–albeit challenging–opportunity to thrive during a time in which most will contract.

That said, let’s go ahead and explore how today’s health concerns are impacting the eCommerce industry and how retailers can flip this unfortunate turn of events in their favor.

 

How COVID-19 Is Impacting eCommerce

While COVID-19 has undoubtedly created a variety of challenges for retailers, the current circumstances also hold incredible potential for a plethora of positive outcomes for the eCommerce industry as a whole.

online-shopping-covid

The fact of the matter is that, due to limitations on physical retail shopping options and social distancing concerns, more people are being forced to turn to online shopping for products they previously would have purchased in-store.

Therefore, no matter how things pan out in the end, this pandemic will forever alter how people view and interact with the eCommerce industry.

As it stands, most sales still take place in brick-and-mortar stores. This dynamic means that, prior to the pandemic, most folks were treating eCommerce like something of a digital catalog, comparing prices of items and purchasing niche products digitally, but still conducting the bulk of their transactions in person.

While there are benefits of comparison shopping for eCommerce merchants, online retailers stand to gain far more from the paradigm shift taking place.

For instance, while many folks would conduct the lion’s share of their grocery shopping at a physical store, things are beginning to change as some items are becoming harder to find–not to mention concerns of catching COVID-19 in the process of purchasing some produce.

As a result of this, online grocery sales have skyrocketed. As Digital Commerce 360 reports:

“A March 23-25 consumer survey [found that]…31 percent of U.S. households have used an online grocery delivery or pickup service during the past month. That percentage represents a total of about 39.5 million households. The number of households now ordering groceries online is up 145.3 percent… 43 percent of respondents said they are either extremely likely or very likely to stick with online grocery buying.”

However, it isn’t just essentials that are seeing a boom in online sales. As CNBC reported in mid-April:

ecommerce-spending-covid

“eCommerce spending in the U.S. is up more than 30 percent from the beginning of March through mid-April compared with the same period last year… Many of the items showing the largest growth in dollars spent go beyond the essentials… There was a whopping 777 percent increase in book purchases, followed by 182 percent growth in the toys and games category and 131 percent growth among sports and outdoors items, which includes gym equipment. Home improvement (71 percent) and health and beauty (38 percent) products follow close behind.”

This transition clearly shows that people are beginning to adapt to their current circumstances. With that shift in consumer behavior, retailers must also alter their marketing strategies for capturing online sales.

 

Where to Focus eCommerce Marketing Efforts During COVID-19

As a result of the drastic measures taken by governments across the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are slashing their budgets in the face of potential economic uncertainty.

However, this reaction is the wrong move as economic downturns can be a golden opportunity for eCommerce brands that are willing to make bold yet informed decisions about their marketing efforts.

This has been shown throughout the 20th century as brands that continued to push forward with their marketing efforts during economic contractions gained considerable market share and profits, ultimately coming out ahead of those who reduced their efforts.

Additionally, a new survey from Conductor on the impact of COVID-19 on marketing has shown that, across a variety of industries, 36 percent of respondents plan on maintaining–or even increasing–their marketing budgets.

That said, here are the marketing strategies that sellers can employ to capitalize on the competition’s apprehension.

 

An Emphasis on SEO

As revealed by the aforementioned Conductor survey, search engine optimization will be a primary focus among marketers from a variety of industries during the outbreak.

A full 63 percent of respondents claimed that SEO would become increasingly vital, with 34 percent stating that it would be slightly more important and 29 percent declaring it would gain in importance “steeply.”

In contrast, only five percent of professionals said that SEO would decrease in significance.

At the same time, 66 percent of survey respondents reported that organic search was their top-performing channel last year, with email and paid search tying for the second most influential channel.

Therefore, some SEO-focused actions that retailers can take at this time include:

  • Monitor keyword changes along with “COVID-19” and “coronavirus” queries to understand consumer concerns to address
  • Craft messaging about how the brand is supporting customers through the pandemic
  • Implement structured data or update data types to communicate brand updates
  • Watch for query-level performance changes and alter organic strategies as necessary

As search behaviors and performance begin to change, it will become increasingly essential for merchants to meet these changes with relevant tactics and information, which means that content is critical.

 

Double Down on Blog Content

The plain fact is that content is one of the most important things that a brand can invest in during challenging times. Understanding how to drive revenue with content is an essential skill, but the role of good content goes far beyond short-term gains.

As stated by Privy CMO Dave Gerhardt:

“Content is your most important marketing asset in a struggling economy… Content is the thing that gets people to know/like/trust your brand. And if you do content right over the next 3-6 months, you can build relationships with people who will be your future buyers in Q4 and beyond. Just because people might not be buying in your industry right now doesn’t mean they don’t want entertainment or education from your brand.”

Simply put: People love good content. As folks are spending more time online due to social restrictions, shoppers are far more likely to have the time to research topics and consume content that interests them.

This not only poses a fantastic opportunity to bolster a brand’s SEO efforts, but to increase awareness and trust as well.

Moreover, blog content is an abundant source for creating repurposed marketing materials such as infographics, videos and the like, thereby enabling brands to enhance their social media presence as well.

By promoting blogs, retailers can serve a myriad of marketing goals while simultaneously engaging in a low-cost means of driving new top-of-funnel traffic to a site that can be leveraged to test and optimize mid-funnel conversion strategies.

 

Invest in Digital Ads

While Visiture still contends that brands should not slash their marketing and advertising budgets, that does not mean that they shouldn’t take this opportunity to analyze where their advertising dollars are going.

As it stands, retailers may find it more difficult to engage consumers through bottom-of-the-funnel product ads, depending on their industry. At this precise moment, merchants may need to switch gears and instead target shoppers with top-of-the-funnel ads that put that newly-created content to good use, driving traffic from search engines and social media.

Moreover, right now is the perfect time to reach new consumers through popular ad platforms like Facebook, Google, Instagram and the like. Currently, ad prices are dropping due to a variety of businesses in travel, live entertainment and physical retail halting their promotional activities.

This has created a massive opportunity for sellers to reach and convert consumers at lower than normal prices, thereby allowing merchants to potentially increase their market share.

As CNBC reports on the reduced ad prices:

“Online beauty brand Insert Name Here is generating so much business that it’s snapping up ad space at a discount. Kevin Gould, Insert Name Here’s co-founder, said prices for digital ads are currently down by about 35 percent, and the company has bolstered its spending, which is in the millions of dollars a year, by about 50 percent to 100 percent.”

For online retailers, this is the model to follow.

 

Audit Advertising Copy

However, for those who will march on with their advertising efforts, it is crucial to approach consumers correctly.

As of now, the talk of COVID-19 is nearly inescapable.

Therefore, it is vital that merchants take this time to re-evaluate their advertising copy to ensure that it aligns with the current social situation. After all, consumers are certainly analyzing ads (and practically everything else) through the lens of the coronavirus right now. While retailers may have promoted messaging around “gathering with friends” or “luggage for your next adventure” earlier this year and seen phenomenal results, things have changed.

Therefore, when running Facebook retargeting ads, promotions on Google or any of the like, sellers need to evaluate their ad copy in the context of the current situation. Fail to do so and backlash is likely to occur.

But, don’t take our word for it. Just ask beer manufacturer Corona. In late February, Corona launched an ad campaign for a new product, stating that the beverage was “coming ashore soon.”

Naturally, as cases of COVID-19 were continuing to mount across the world, Twitter did what it does and formed an outrage mob, accusing the brand of “exploiting a real global health crisis.”

While this is an extreme case of a poor choice in words, the example perfectly illustrates the need for merchants to re-evaluate their ad campaigns and verify that the copy cannot be misinterpreted or reflect on the business poorly.

 

Enhance Email Marketing Efforts

For scores of sellers, eCommerce email marketing is one of the most profitable channels available.

If merchants have yet to find the opportunity to craft email marketing campaigns that boost sales, now is the time.

However (as has been a running theme throughout this piece), instead of merely pushing out campaigns that focus on products and promotions, create email messages that center on content that will engage and entertain.

At this point, I think most of us are looking for a little something that will take our minds off the constant COVID-19 news for a bit.

At this same time, this doesn’t mean that merchants should neglect sending out welcome email drips, abandoned cart communications, product pushes and the rest. However, it is important to temper promotional emails with a good dose of content.

Use this opportunity to test out different templates, headlines and other elements to find the top-performing email marketing strategies that work best for your brand to keep consumers engaged, entertained and loyal to the company.

 

Switch Up Sales Strategies

During this period, it is vital for merchants to focus their efforts on cultivating trust with consumers and breeding brand loyalty, instead of continually pushing people toward the shopping cart.

That said, it is still essential to generate sales.

Since scores of merchants are busy cutting back on their marketing and advertising budgets, many have resorted to massively discounting products to earn consumer conversions.

However, this is not a sustainable (or even recommended) approach to maintaining profitability during a pandemic. In fact, this strategy can end up doing more harm than good as Black Friday level sales in mid-April can damage a consumer’s perception of a brand and its products.

When things go back to normal, the effects of these fire sales could linger in the public mind, thereby making it harder to sell items at full price.

Instead of taking this approach, retailers can explore a variety of other options. For instance, retailers can create a loyalty program that rewards consumers with each purchase. Alternatively, sellers might include a gift with orders over a certain dollar amount.

Another potentially powerful sales tactic that merchants can leverage is to locate a charity that is helping to battle the COVID-19 outbreak and donate a set amount of the proceeds to that organization. This way, sellers can generate sales while allowing their audience to contribute to a good cause that has impacted nearly all of us.

 

Moreover, some other tactics sellers might consider include:

  • Offers of free shipping
  • Provide payment plan options
  • Enter customers in a giveaway after making a purchase

The fact is that there are a multitude of ways that merchants can make sales without reducing their prices.

 

Final Thoughts

This pandemic does indeed present substantial challenges to eCommerce retailers across the world. No one knows how long this situation will last or how it might alter society moving forward.

However, it is for those very reasons that retailers should begin to refine their marketing strategies and focus their efforts on high-return, loyalty-building activities that will position them to prosper through the struggle.

As long as a brand takes a strategic approach to eCommerce marketing, there is no reason that the interim plan needs to serve as an emergency stand-in for the real deal. This obstacle presents sellers with the opportunity to take their marketing game to the next level and provide consumers with valuable content, information and products that will carry on after things get back to normal.

Understandably, that is a tall order to fill. If your business needs help figuring out how to shine in the middle of this storm, Visiture’s suite of services can help you achieve that aim.

From SEO to email marketing, PPC advertising, content production and more, we can help your business come out of the COVID-19 pandemic productive and profitable.

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