This post is a part of a three-part blog series on grasping and holding onto eCommerce growth as brands in the COVID-19 climate. Read on to see what values customers and eCommerce brands are significant today.
By now, brands have witnessed exponential growth in online shopping. It’s no secret that eCommerce is the dominating channel right now. No matter where you are, some part of your store or process has been impacted by the shelter-in-place orders. The entire world has seen monumental shifts that have triggered a domino effect.
It goes without saying that everyone was and still is concerned about the future.
With predictions based on day-to-day fluctuations, it’s really uncertain how things will go in terms of online shopping behavior, the global economy, and eCommerce growth.
So we know that market trends have changed, and people are concerned. Be it about the virus, their wellness, their livelihoods – everyone’s in the same boat. Let’s not dismiss people involved in eCommerce itself – brands like you.
The state of eCommerce during COVID-19
The statistics say that eCommerce is booming.
As of now, eCommerce has had huge, positive shifts. If you read our last blog post, you’ll know that the changes fueled by COVID led to people turning online. Experts project eCommerce sales to become ⅓ of the market share by 2024, the trajectory accelerated by COVID-19.
Online brands have witnessed a revenue increase of over 68% during COVID-19.
However, in a time of instability, it’s natural that you might be worried. Perhaps you’re wondering where to go from here. It doesn’t matter if the ecommerce growth made during the stay-at-home and virus panic benefited you or not. Everything is volatile.
New changes incur new ways of adapting. Because of the entirely different atmosphere in our current state, it’s important to rethink all your strategies.
If you have seen tremendous growth in your eCommerce business in the past couple of months – we commend you. You’re probably doing things right – meeting customer needs, being understanding, staying patient despite supply chain hold-ups, and market downturns.
Now you want to know: what is next? For you, for us, for the world?
Well, we cannot really answer all those questions – least of all that last one.
What we can do, though, is work through possibilities of what the future of ecommerce might hold. From predictions based on statistical and data analysis, we can project potential pathways for your ecommerce establishment, for your ecommerce growth, and for your customers. It’s impossible to know for sure what might happen, but by strategizing, you can prepare to meet the demands of a post-COVID-19 ecommerce customer.
Let’s get started.
Ecommerce brands are facing new challenges in 2020.
For how fast the situation is fluctuating, tomorrow, next week, and the next month are uncertain. However, we can deduce at least two challenges the ecommerce brands might face. As a retailer, your ecommerce store growth may expand or deflate depending on how you prepare.
Many places are either close to or in the process of opening back up. Brands are eager to get back out there. The general public, although fearful, is anxious to continue their lives. unfortunately, it’s clear things won’t go back completely to normal.
From the looks of things, the opening up process could go one of two ways:
- In-store shopping is back in session, and brick-and-mortar stores reclaim their losses.
- In-store shopping is allowed, but it’s slower to return to its pre-COVID-19 traction.
Like anything else in life, though, there isn’t always a clear dichotomy. In this case, there could be an infinite amount of potential outcomes. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume these two basic possibilities are the only ones for now.
Case #1: Brick-and-mortar stores regain traction
If the first case came to pass, it opens up some understandable concerns for ecommerce brands. Although online shopping has been steadily on the rise, people have still clung to traditional, physical shopping. Because of that, not everyone was on board with buying everyday necessities online. Not like they are now.
When businesses open up, there is the question of how customers will react.
Despite the legal go-ahead, customer behavior may be severely impacted for a while. As you may have realized from the amount of information circulating, customer values have done a complete overhaul. No one can say how long COVID-19 anxieties will quell, even after the main threat is (hopefully) dealt with. Even if retail stores are able to open up, people may not flock to them as before. Returning to in-store shopping will remain a precarious venture for wary individuals.
Ecommerce brands must consider new customer values due to COVID-19.
Social distancing will remain in place for a long time. Health will continue to be the main priority. According to Accenture’s COVID-19 Customer Research, 64% of people are concerned about their health. As such, more customers are buying products that support a healthy lifestyle. However, interestingly, people are just as much concerned about their personal financial stability as well as the overall economy. The two factors combined result in more tentative and selective buying habits.
Brick-and-mortar stores will have to take extra measures to ensure their customers’ safety. With limits on the number of customers shopping in a certain store at any given time, it’s highly unlikely that in-store shopping will regain its previous revenue.
That being said, online brands may still anticipate a reverse on their success, or at least a standstill. To keep their ecommerce earnings, you may have to exert a bit more effort. In order to continue providing services and products that people could easily get from a brick-and-mortar – it’s a common concern.
But before we contemplate that further, what about the second possibility?
Case #2: Ecommerce after COVID-19 becomes a highly competitive arena
If in-store shopping doesn’t gain traction, then ecommerce will continue to grow. Certainly, this has positive implications. Continued ecommerce success means safer purchasing for customers and further growth for smaller online brands.
What it also means, however, is that it will become proliferated with increasingly more online brands. Previously physical stores will have no choice but to migrate online. Large brick-and-mortar retailers are already finding a place online, like Target and Walmart.
This is a more viable possibility. The value of building a digital presence is becoming more recognized. After all, more stores, restaurants, and establishments have already found ways to provide digital services. From contactless payments to in-store pickup, it’s necessary to revitalize one’s business online. What that means for you, whether you are a recent ecommerce organization or long withstanding, is more contenders to be up against.
Brands must provide a shopping experience that stands out.
If you’ve ever been on a marketplace like Amazon, you understand the challenge of distinguishing yourself from other sellers. Oversaturation is already rampant in online markets.
In this case, your main concern is how to hang on to your ecommerce growth with a prominent online presence. Proving yourself distinct from all the other brands virtually is key to continued ecommerce success. Especially during and post-COVID-19 times, when curating a compelling customer experience online is critical.
“Digitally mature organizations have a huge advantage and are better able to weather this storm,” says Walker, based on insights from Bloomreach’s data. “What’s happening now will have long-term implications on shopping behavior post-COVID.”
A digital presence is a retailer’s ticket to ecommerce growth.
So it’s likely that ecommerce will reign for a while longer. Regardless, a digital presence will serve your well no matter what happens.
What is a digital presence in ecommerce?
There’s no official definition for what a digital presence is. Plainly speaking, having a digital presence as a retailer means you are active online, presenting your brand on platforms like Shopify and Magento, and communicating your values. When before, businesses had to establish themselves in as many places as possible – stores, malls, print ads, word-of-mouth, billboards, television commercials.
In 2020, the term digital entails a multichannel expression of who you are as an ecommerce retailer.
Why is having a digital presence important?
Digital is where the world is. Everyone globally is online – on platforms (social media, sales channels, personal websites) despite physical social distancing rules. Technology is quickly expanding to encompass new modes of paying and shopping, of fulfilling and shipping orders. To keep up with these gains, ecommerce brands need to adopt new forms of digital marketing.
Those who have been online longer than others know the importance of a digital presence. You don’t have to think far to recognize that a digital presence is a virtual storefront. Instead of putting effort into the physical design and layout of the store, you are doing so with every step of the customer’s experience. Those who create a makeshift store really quickly and slap on the store banner and a few promotions on the window won’t get as far.
The same goes for online ecommerce. Especially when 100% of an individual’s interaction with your brand is digital. Before, it was okay if an established brick-and-mortar didn’t have a streamlined online presence. The in-person experience could make up for any gaps. Now, that doesn’t work.
This strong presence may have kept you afloat and even thriving during the Covid-19 shopping waves. Switching the focus to maintaining those gains now requires more effort on your part.
Focus on keeping ecommerce growth.
Here is the golden question right now. How do you continue to offer an exceptional shopping experience, maintain and grow revenue, and stand out among ecommerce sellers – especially in the COVID-19 aftermath?
The answer lies in the customers.
Business is and always has been fueled by customers. The age-old adage: The customer is always right. It takes a different meaning in today’s COVID-19 world.
Trends and markets can grow or decline based on collective customer needs. It’s not just about what products your customers value more or less. Fortunately, it also includes how easy you make it for your customers to receive their products with satisfaction, to find use in an unexpected item, to see more than just a t-shirt or a washing machine. Over hundreds of businesses sell t-shirts. What makes yours different? What value can your shirts provide that is relevant to current concerns?
In other words, the success of your ecommerce business depends on the customer’s trek from beginning to end. Not just check-out at the end.
The customer journey: An essential component of COVID-19 ecommerce success
We know customer satisfaction is important – it always has been. Clearly, it is a mirror image of your store performance. Do your customers like your brand, enjoy your products? Do your products actually fulfill their promise? Did the buying process go smoothly? When it comes to social proof and review, customer satisfaction is everything.
But how has it taken on a new significance today, due to COVID-19?
Customer satisfaction is key for ecommerce brands in 2020.
If you hope to keep your ecommerce growth during and after COVID-19, look to your customer satisfaction. After all, what is ecommerce growth but a direct translation of customer happiness in your products? Revenue is just a financial accumulation of thousands of customers enjoying and buying from your store. Conversions are the rate at which customers – individual, fellow humans – are liking and engaging with the value you provide.
When you look at this way, everything changes.
Long-term, sustained ecommerce growth is a result of customer loyalty.
The amount of customers you return after this ordeal depends on the level of trust they currently feel. To reach such a level of loyalty and trust requires continual, repetitive satisfaction. It needs e-commerce brands to step up and view customers as humans in a contextual world. Then product pages can be tailor to meet customers where they are.
That’s why the number one piece of advice you’ll hear professionals throw around right now is: communicate. During COVID-19 panic shopping, businesses have had to improve what and how they communicate. The messaging you use to address the situation will make or break how customers view your brand. Ignoring it completely feels callous and fallacious. Addressing it and putting efforts to meet customers’ hardships in regards to it has shown much success for ecommerce brands.
“Above all, endear yourself to customers, visitors, and social-media followers during the crisis. This is particularly crucial for “non-essential” products. Look for partnership opportunities with thoroughly essential and humanitarian organizations. Seek out disproportionately affect groups like those in the events, food, and sports. Build relationships now—even if someone can’t buy from you today, those are the moments they’ll remember tomorrow.”(source)
How to increase ecommerce growth during and after COVID-19
Even more than maintaining ecommerce success – is it possible to further scale your business during a global crisis?
The answer is yes. If you’re already doing all the steps necessary to keep up, you can use that foundation as a stepping stone to the next level. Of course, there are new limitations to keep in mind. Things like supply chain, inventory, demand, and shipping speed may all affect your ability to grow. But just like we discussed in our first part, the key lies in adaptation.
Humans adapt faster than many assume. So above the technical difficulties, what do you do to get ahead in the digital sphere?
Improve your customer-focused ecommerce sales strategy
Constructing your digital presence aligns with the goal of boosting customer satisfaction. If a customer’s experience online is entirely digital, you have to cater to solely that. Everything from guiding prospective customers to your ecommerce store to optimizing for conversions is a part of the digital experience.
With the topic of COVID-19 saturating every aspect of life, it’s necessary to provide the best assistance to customers. That’s the primary way to differentiate yourself from the increasing mass of ecommerce merchants.
A few months, even years from now, what will people remember?
Customers will remember the brands that consistently went above and beyond in delivering wonderful customer service.
What does that entail? It means transforming your digital presence, both front-end and back-end, to better serve customers and employees under your ecommerce organization. Using software tools like PIM and PXM to maximize efficiency and save time has been critical for brands during this time. Software like Catsy allows for not only workflow collaboration, but a strong support system to take care of the product disorganization, while you prioritize your customers. Now is not the time to worry about manually ensuring you have clean product data.
The setback for in-store retail has opened up ad space online. Even commerce retailers dialed back on ad budgeting, an ad agency reporting as little as 4% of their clients who still continued ad spending during the first month of the stay-at-home order. The number rose to 15% a month later, in April, but still, 69% of brands expect to be economical about ad spending in 2020.
Because many stores are cutting back on paid ads, this is your opportunity to reveal yourself to people online. Increasing brand discovery is the first step to boost familiarity with future customers. Utilizing paid and organic search results with a revised SEO strategy requires knowledge of the customers you’re trying to attract. To receive adequate traffic, you must be in-tune with the new, post-COVID-19 ecommerce customer is looking for. What keywords or search queries are they most likely to seek?
Switch from marketplaces to D2C selling tactics.
The future of ecommerce is truly unclear. To combat and adapt to uncertainty, businesses must focus on the customer. Ask yourself the following questions. What are customers saying or doing in response to current events? How are they reacting or feeling? What products or services will help them, provide stability, and be useful despite and during whatever may happen?
By listening to the customer, brands can avoid falling behind or becoming overwhelmed. Especially with new online stores popping up, it’s critical to optimize your digital experience for the utmost customer satisfaction. That’s how you will attract, gain, and retain longterm buyers.
Stay tuned for the final installment of this blog series, where we’ll discuss how distributors can maximize their ecommerce potential during and after COVID-19.
Catsy has been providing unique value to the product information industry since 2003, allowing businesses a way to achieve high-quality product content. Our product information management (PIM) software centralizes all product data, so you can manage and share data with internal teams, retailers, and multiple platforms. Revolutionize your business with Catsy’s accuracy, automation, and optimization. To learn more, visit us at https://catsy.com.