E-commerce in a Post COVID Environment
On February 18th, LL Brandlab, together with RBC, organized a webinar titled "Transition To Sell Online In The Post COVID Environment." The event was attended by small business owners, marketing industry professionals and the general public who are following the topic of eCommerce. The guest speaker, our very own CEO & Founder Li Lu shared with the audience her prediction of what the post-COVID consumer environment would settle into, and outlined some key countermeasures to navigate the challenge of selling through eCommerce. At the end, she and a panel of RBC business advisors engaged in an enthusiastic question & answer session with the audience.
The talk focused on two salient questions in the minds of many consumer business owners today - how do I sell to consumers in a post-COVID environment, and how should my business adapt to these changing times?
While our company works with clients from different industries everyday, we noticed one similar thread running through all of them: their consumers are not only choosing to buy their product for its utility and price, but also its story, whether it be revolving around the brand or the discussion it creates with its consumer. Contrary to a product without a story, we find that marketing products with a strong narrative:
Generates significant customer loyalty, increasing repeat purchases and recommendations,
Which generates a higher Return on Investment (ROI) per marketing effort
Ultimately raises the overall impression of the brand.
However, we have to first look at our customers and be critical of how they reach a purchasing decision. Being customers ourselves, we’re being honest in declaring that our decisions are based both on smart and dumb methods - hear us out!
Customers are smart & dumb at the same time because…
They will Google you before they do any business with you
They consult at least 3 sources of external information before making a purchase
They peruse reviews and product information before every purchase
They consider becoming loyal to a brand during their very first purchase.
They are highly likely to recommend a brand if they were emotionally engaged, taking over some part of their logical decision making
Knowing this, we can better explain how COVID has changed consumer habits and how we can adapt.
How exactly did COVID impact consumer behaviors?
eCommerce was the one thing that was seemingly unaffected by the pandemic: Consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2020, up an incredible 44.0% year over year. That's the highest annual U.S. ecommerce growth in at least two decades. It was also nearly triple the 15.1% jump in 2019.(source: DigitalCommerce360). What has changed, was their purchasing behavior.
How Ecommerce changed in the last 18 months
In short, even though the ways in which eCommerce shopping has not been affected by COVID times, we see that their desired factors in their products have been amplified on online brands. Having no physical avenue to conduct their shopping, consumers are mainly putting more focus on their eCommerce habits. This presents a challenge for up-and-coming online retailers, but also a massive opportunity for growth.
Let’s identify the biggest factors Consumers want in their purchase:
Unique shopping experience: this is reflected in the overwhelming popularity of pop-up stores pre-pandemic
New, authentic and innovative products: independent brands & designers do not have access to department stores, hence do not have good access to consumers. Ecommerce changes all that.
Strong social and environmental responsibility themes: strongly valued among younger consumers and well-educated consumers
Deals. The popularity of Rakuten’s app for lightning deals and daily discounts is testament to that.
Fast delivery to the door: consumers are more likely to purchase with free shipping and expect fast delivery
These trends have shown to hold true even after COVID, so let’s look at how their increasing focus on these decision factors have impacted the brand’s selling sales mediums:
YouTube & Google Stores run on the extensive backbone of Google’s Display network, arguably becoming the most omnipresent channel for all brands.
Facebook and Instagram Marketplace are important touchpoints as their social media tools help drive the narrative they want to associate their brand with.
Shopify’s full-suite eCommerce solution has become much more indispensable, and it shows - In 2020, there were more than $5.1 billion in sales up 76% on 2019 on Shopify-powered stores
The emergence of Tiktok as a story-driving media has also garnered a large interest in
Looking at these trends, our prediction for the post-COVID environment is this: Social Ecommerce is the next emerging trend for brands to work on. On top of maintaining product quality and narrative, brands have to work hard on facilitating buying and discussion interactions between its followers, often from an authentic manner that speaks true to the brand. With more quality interactions, followers bring people from the outside, using the age-old power of word-of-mouth to bring new followers to your brand. If you’re reading to this point and wondering out loud: this sounds a lot like a cult! You’re not wrong.
Two tips to building an online cult for your brand
Stand your ground when it comes to what your brand represents. The toughest part of social commerce is having an authentic voice, and there’s no easy or contrived way to do this.
Be consistent in messaging across all your channels. A great example would be Zegna’s campaign “What makes a man?” across its print and digital channels.
What about our traditional growth marketing strategies? Social commerce may be a new tool but its uses are still based on conventional growth goals:
Driving Traffic to both online and offline stores
This helps online customers transition to a better offline/ in-store experience, which is still the basic building block for all brand experiences.
Cultivating a new Retail Experience
Using new technology to impress and inform, such as, Augmented Realty,
Improving the instore experience by following up on the social interactions
Increasing online orders & fulfillment
Influencers & Social Media
Generates high ROI when done right
Results in a strong trust in the brand
Especially hard to manage within the company, hence the dearth of social agencies everywhere.
Are you an eCommerce retailer who’s noticed similar trends post-COVID? What are some of the other challenges you’ve encountered in maintaining your brand sales and image in these unprecedented times? Let us know in the comments below.