What COVID-19 Means for E-Commerce Businesses

Daily life for people around the world has changed in ways that were unimaginable before the COVID-19 outbreak. As people around the globe conform to social distancing measures,...

Fiona Gurtiza
Fiona Gurtiza May 8, 2020

Daily life for people around the world has changed in ways that were unimaginable before the COVID-19 outbreak.

As people around the globe conform to social distancing measures, they’ve been unable to perform their usual routines. Local shops have closed their doors for safety reasons, and concerns over product shortage have prompted buyers to go on a panic buying frenzy. 

One of the biggest changes in consumer behavior has been the rapid shift from in-store buying to online shopping.

On the surface, it may seem like the coronavirus pandemic has ushered in a golden age for e-commerce business. But in reality, the situation is a lot more complex than it looks. 

To succeed in the online landscape, you’ll need to anticipate the different consumer segments emerging from the current crisis so you can align your strategy to address your customer’s wants and needs.

Online Shopping is the New Normal

People might be spending more time online, but the impact of COVID-19 isn’t something that retailers take lightly. A survey from Digital Commerce 360 shows that 36% of retail businesses foresee a downward trajectory in sales in the coming months.

Their apprehensions about the current climate make sense: after all, an overwhelming majority of retail spend takes place offline.

Consider grocery shopping as an example. Even though online grocery stores have been around for a while, most people still prefer to shop for groceries in-store where they can hold, smell, and touch whatever they plan to buy.

With grocery stores at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, in-store shopping has turned into something of a guessing game. For those in the 60+ age group, for instance, a grocery run could put them at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.

In spite of the challenges, opportunities abound for e-commerce retailers. But it all depends on how proactively you can manage the retail situation to benefit your business.

Kicking into Survival Mode

Change doesn’t take place overnight. Learning anything new takes extra effort, and advancement in technology always comes with an adoption curve. 

Take smartphones as an example. They’ve been around for a decade before the first iPhone hit the market. If this teaches us anything, it’s that it takes years before new solutions are integrated into everyday life.

Consumer behavior in the midst of COVID-19 is proving itself to be an exception, however.

Under normal circumstances, it would take years before people discovered the benefits that e-commerce provides.

But ever since the COVID-19 crisis, everyone has been forced into a position where they need to figure out how to shop online.

That knowledge isn’t going away after the crisis. And this has the power to change e-commerce businesses for the better.

But ever since the COVID-19 crisis, everyone has been forced into a position where they need to figure out how to shop online.

Gearing Up for the Competition

Some would argue that online retailers can already serve the increasing demand for goods and services from their vantage point. If online shopping has become the new normal, why bother putting forth the effort to make your brand stand out?

Keep in mind that e-commerce isn’t a magic bullet in itself. Online shopping poses a challenge for some groups like lower-income consumers, for instance. In turn, this could dampen a potential sales increase. 

Supply chain and product delivery are also a major problem, urging companies to resolve delays through innovation. But brands like Nike have struck the right tone by introducing fitness and e-commerce apps inspiring athletes to stay fit as they train from home. 

That’s why you need to kick into high gear so that your e-commerce experience is exceptional. That starts with making sure your business is discoverable on Google and that your e-commerce platform is responsive when people land on your page.

Understanding Product-Market Fit

Achieving product-market fit is the key to long-term business success in the current volatility we’re experiencing.

Product-market fit happens when your customers, USP, and distribution channels align with one another. It’s a perfect balance between these three crucial branding elements. Achieving balance between two parts can give you short-term success, but you’ll struggle to sustain it in the long run.

It also helps to think of product-market fit as the moment when your customers turn into your brand ambassadors. As a result, it’ll prompt your target audience to do the following:

If you wish to weather the storm of the COVID-19 crisis, you’ll need to dedicate your resources to making sure your brand successfully achieves a product-market fit. 

A Rapid Shift in E-Commerce Traffic

The ripple effect of COVID-19 has encouraged business to ask the following questions:

If you understand the significance of product-market fit, it’s easier to make sense of the current market trends and changes to e-commerce traffic.

The fashion sector, for instance, has experienced one of the biggest changes in search behavior. After strict measures were introduced to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, there has been a significant drop in branded search traffic for fashion brands. 

But how are other sectors faring in the current crisis?

Current E-Commerce Market Trends

Opportunities abound even as shoppers settle into social distancing norms. The trick lies in emphasizing products that fit the needs of your customers. 

Judging by the current trends, customer needs can be summarized into three: protection, entertainment, and connection.

Realigning Your Strategy for the Coronavirus

Ensuring your e-commerce site or app is optimized is critical to your brand’s online success. You can start by rethinking your SEO strategy to make your brand more resilient in the current landscape.

But at the end of the day, two major issues rise to the top when it comes to staying afloat in the current coronavirus pandemic. How do you keep up with the sudden changes in supply and demand?

Driving Greater Product Demand

With the future of the economy in doubt, customers are choosing to buy products that they need instead of what they want.

If you’re selling a non-essential product like an expensive handbag or watch, it can be rather difficult to encourage people to buy your product since it’s only something they “want.”

But here’s the thing: during difficult times, people experience a “need” for relief. This means they’ll want to feel stable, powerful, and safe.

And if you can prove to your customers that they can feel good about spending their money, then you’ll have a fighting chance. 

With the future of the economy in doubt, customers are choosing to buy products that they need instead of what they want.

Here’s how you can make that work:

Run “Help Us Stay in Business” Sales

Did you know that you can create a mild fear of missing out while making your customers feel good about supporting your business?

All you need to do is start a “Help Us Stay in Business” sale. By capitalizing on this opportunity, you’ve created the “need” for your products that’ll make your customers feel like they’re missing out.

On top of that, people often feel more attached to a business they helped save, so this technique can help you foster long-term brand loyalty, as well.

Offer Essential Item Bundles

Maybe offering your customers huge discounts isn’t feasible right now because of your current financial situation. You can consider bundling your core item with another essential product to boost sales, however.

If you’re a jewelry shop, for instance, you might want to turn things around and offer toilet paper for a hefty price tag, then include a ring as part of the purchase.

Since essential items are all the rage, all you need to do is get creative and let your customers know that you have something unique to offer.

Create “Pamper Yourself” Campaigns

Another way you can turn wants into needs is by repositioning your business to align with the concept of self-care.

Staying cooped up indoors for weeks has most likely left your customers feeling antsy or bummed out. If you want to tap into their sales potential, you could start a “Pamper Yourself” campaign to ramp up your sales.

After all, it makes sense for your audience to treat themselves and buy what you have to offer since they’re just stuck at home.

Deliver Value through Shipping & Promotions 

Just because people are preferring to shop online doesn’t mean you have to write off your brick and mortar sales as a lost cause.

You simply need to strategize and re-use your resources from in-store promotions and refocus your energy into starting shipping and sales promotions. This way, you can deliver value to in-store buyers. 

Consider offering free shipping options or lowering your free shipping purchase threshold. Or you can offer more “Buy 3 Get 1 Free” bulk buy discounts to encourage upsells. 

Meeting Greater Supply Demand

On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re a part of the essential product sector, it might have been difficult for you to meet the growing product demand. 

The good news is that you most likely aren’t the only business experiencing a high-demand, low-supply situation. Chances are, your customers have gone back-and-forth trying to find the product they need.

So how do you stay on top of your product demand to make sure stocks don’t run low when you need it the most?

Adopt a “Stock Up” Mentality

With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, households want to stock and panic buy for goods. Strategize around this “stock up” mentality by employing marketing tactics that will entice your target audience to buy more.

One way to do this is by offering cashback for big purchases and making sure that your brand is visible on search engines and Google ads.

Provide Backorder Options

There’s a high probability that you’re not the only brand experiencing product shortages. This doesn’t necessarily give your brand a bad rap, but your customers would still want to make sure that you’re willing to lend them a helping hand.

Consider offering a backorder or delayed shipping option on your site. This can help assure them that they can get in line for the products they need. 

If it’s a rare item that you’re selling, you may want to take one step ahead by advertising a waiting list. That way, you can receive orders even before your product is on hand.

Prioritize High-Value Customer Needs

Nurturing relationships with your existing customers can help your business thrive during this time of crisis.

But how do you bridge the gap?

Reach out to your customers through emails and text messages. Make it a point to send personalized recommendations and lookbooks with a link to products they’re likely to purchase. You might also want to add a chatbot feature to your website to help replicate the one-on-one personalized experience your customers are used to when shopping in-store.

More importantly, it pays to analyze customer paths to conversion and optimizing your website for a smoother check-out. Convenient transactions translate to greater brand affinity, after all.

Nurturing relationships with your existing customers can help your business thrive during this time of crisis.

Prepare Your E-Commerce Business for Success

Taking the pulse of consumers has always been a perennial challenge for businesses. And this is no surprise because buyer behavior changes every now and then. But this has turned into an even greater challenge as shoppers move online and discover new ways to search for what they need online. 

As an e-commerce business, this puts you in a unique position to capitalize on opportunities for growth, but only if you can make your mark online. Stay ahead of the curve with a crisis-proof digital marketing strategy. Partner with Growth Rocket today.

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