Ecommerce Marketing During COVID-19

The Marketers Survival Series

We’re in lockdown. Most non-essential retailers have closed their doors and for many retailers online is the only way to do business right now. Which is why the simple fact is – you need to get your ecommerce marketing right. With no billboards to walk past in the streets, no cinemas to watch blockbuster ads and everyone turning to streaming, how on earth can you get your brand message in front of potential customers? 

These are unprecedented times! Resilience, reinvention and reform will be essential to become winners.

As the preferred marketing channel for consumers, more brands will be turning to email marketing. So how do you ensure that your brand stands out in what was an already crowded inbox? The answer is you need to be doing things differently and you need to be doing them well, if you are doing business as usual then it is highly unlikely that you will weather the storm.

Already, just a few days in, I am seeing some missed opportunities. Right now supermarkets can’t cope with demand, there are no online delivery slots to be found and many are no longer taking new registrations for online shopping.  Some are allowing consumers to register and then adding them to a 2 hour queue, others are just simply not taking any details. These are missed opportunities to 1. Gather data for a later date 2. Offer a positive customer experience.  You can’t afford to make these mistakes.

These are  early days in what is a totally unforeseen situation, which is why we put these tips for ecommerce marketers to help them navigate what is a really tricky time for the whole of retail.

1. Focus on the experience

Smartphone usage is increasing whilst more people have longer screen time at home. This means that your email to web mobile experience needs to be seamless. However, also understanding how consumers behave with email is crucial, a recent DMA Consumer Email Tracker showed that only 26% of consumers click on the email link when seeing something they were interested in purchasing, This means that consumers are searching for your product or brand on Google, which in turns means that you need to make sure your products are easy to find. 

Many brands are adding new product categories that suit a home bound consumer – they might be around health or even assisting those that might have more time on their hands at home.

They may be subtle such as Next 

Or more obvious like Waterstones

Returns policies are also those that need addressing, ensuring that consumers can still purchase and return products without putting others at risk. In this recent email from Schuh their email not only notifies of their store closures but also of an extended returns policy of up to a year!


2. Address the situation – with empathy

In the first two weeks of the crisis unfolding in the UK we have had social distancing, government recommendations of working from home and now an enforced lockdown. The rapidly changing landscape has led to an influx of email updates from brands, some needed and others just an unnecessary oversharing.  In a lockdown everything moves online – it’s absolutely necessary that you demonstrate that you understand the situation that consumers are in and your communications promote usefulness. If your brand is being particularly philanthropic then communicating this in your messages can help bring empathy to your brand. (see point 13)

3. Collect Data

Earlier on we talked about collecting data. With the majority of UK consumers forced online this is an important time to collect the right data, this could include additional demographic information or surveying to understand more about the consumer and their changed behaviours. This is relevant for the short term and much of this data can be used into the long term too. If you’re having issues with delivery and stock – take email addresses, ask if the consumer would like to be notified of when items come back into stock. Being useful now will play to brand perception over time.

4. Understand the changing consumer

The consumer is no longer mobile, not for the next 12 weeks at least. Their needs have dramatically changed. They will need fast access to the essentials such as food and health & beauty essentials. However most consumers are just that, consumers. We live in a world of consumption – the need for this is not going to change – just the types of things they consume will change. So rather than spending money at the cinema – they may purchase the latest streaming products. Rather than spending money on a day out they may purchase products for hobbies or garden activities. Instead of going to the gym they may turn a bedroom or lounge into a home gym. The changes are endless. It is time for all ecommerce brands to think creatively and  to pivot their offer to suit. 

The way you categorise your products on your website needs to change to suit these needs. The product messaging needs to change, the use cases you articulate to the consumer will also need to change! 

But remember that this is short term only. Planning for how you react when we come out of the other side is also essential! 

5. Understand the buying journey

The needs of your customers will also change depending on where they are in their journey with you. This will help you identify what message you need to be delivering to them to move them to the next stage. At each stage your prospects and your customers will be trying to accomplish different tasks, asking different questions and feeling different emotions – your email messages will need to address these differences.  The ecommerce customer journey can be split into 5 key stages:-

    • Acquisition – Where a potential customer first becomes aware of your brand
    • Consideration – Customers become aware of their need/want for a product or service and start considering the options available. 
    • Purchase – A customer makes the decision to purchase and goes through the experience with your brand
    • Engagement & Loyalty – The customer has already made a purchase from you, is actively engaged with your brand and purchases again. 
    • Reactivation – A customer/prospect has become inactive with your brand and needs re-engaging

For a deeper dive into the ecommerce customer journey read our guide here. 

6. The welcome series

You’ve suddenly had a load of new subscribers. Some of whom are totally new to your brand, others  will have only previously purchased from you instore.. Creating a series of welcome emails that introduces your brand and sets the scene for a great relationship with that consumer is a no brainer. Welcome nurture emails help to greet your new subscribers and nudge them along on their way to future purchases. 

If you already have welcome campaigns in place, try a tailored version amid the Coronavirus crisis. Ask questions when they are signing up and send them on a different journey. Ask if they are new to the brand or if they have previously shopped in store. If you were really data connected you will know this already. Ultimately it would be super smart if you sent the consumer on different tracks according to this information. 

Look out for our upcoming latest deep dive on Welcome Emails

7. Segment your messages 

Segmentation will always be critical for successful email marketing. However, amid COVID-19 it will be prudent for you to revise these. Your previous persona definitions will need adapting, the data that feeds these definitions will now be out of date. Most consumers are currently not mobile, their disposable incomes will be different, their needs and behaviours will have changed significantly and will continue to change as time goes on. You may now want to speak to those who are key workers differently to those that are in vulnerable segments. Alternatively you may also want to prioritise loyal customers with offers and new stock arrivals. Deciding which segmentation methods are best for your brand is best done through testing and learning. With the right software in place you can test, learn and refine your segmentation strategy.

8. Personalisation

Where segmentation is about groups, personalisation is about individuals. Personalisation is designed to look like a one off conversation with the consumer. Outside of a crisis personalisation will increase pretty much every marketing metric; conversion rates, website bounce rates, average order values, cost per acquisition and customer lifetime value. At the time of Coronavirus the impact of implementing personalisation technology will be huge and ecommerce marketers need to seriously make the business case for investment (most often Personalisation has a payback period of around 3 months). 

See our blog on why personalisation is critical in times of a crisis

9. Update your automations

Your email nurture series may need to change. Make sure the messaging is up to date and sensitive to the current crisis. Ensure your triggered messages are aligned with stock levels so you don’t email about items that are in high demand. Be mindful of the fact that your customers are unable to leave the house or will be practising social distancing. Even better, change the content to address these changing habits. Think about the automations that will entertain the consumer rather than pushing them to continuously purchase. Check your product lifecycle automations since consumers are house/garden bound, will consumption of certain products go up or down? Adjust your campaigns accordingly.

10. Abandoned baskets

Despite the fact that many ecommerce stores will be inundated with demand, consumers will still be shopping around or checkout processes may be slower than usual making potential customers drop off before they complete the purchase. Don’t lose out! Investing in abandoned basket technology is the biggest no brainer in ecommerce marketing. If you knew that you could bring back over 10% of the 69% of the baskets that were abandoned – why wouldn’t you?  

As well as bringing people back from abandoning there are many things you can do to stop them abandoning in the first place:- 

    • Use social proof – Social proof on your product pages helps ease the path to purchase, as people trust a product more if they perceive it to be popular. 
    • Use countdown timers to increase urgency – Countdown timers are an effective way to drive people towards completing a purchase. Adding this feature to your emails helps create a sense of urgency. This means consumers will be more focussed on completing their purchase and less likely to abandon their basket.
    • Add a progress indicator to checkout pages – A lengthy checkout process can lead to increased abandonment. Adding a progress indicator to your checkout pages can help to overcome this hurdle. Showing shoppers each stage in the process and how far they are reassures them that they are almost done.

11. Thank your loyal customers

Right now, if you are in any high demand ecommerce sector then you can bet that your loyal customers are being disappointed. Lack of stock, long or no delivery dates means that they will no longer receive the same service from that they are used to. You need to acknowledge them, if you don’t then you may lose their loyalty to other providers which will impact you in the long term. By sending them messages with apologies and something in return will help you remain front of mind long into the future.

12. Keep them entertained

These times are not just about selling. For many brands because of lockdown or social distancing selling is not even an option. So keeping consumers entertained is the best way to keep them engaged until we turn the corner.  As we break from sporting events we see brands turning to viral challenges, fundraising and building communities online. Video and streaming become media that help brands create a connection with consumers. Brands now need to increase their creativity with new and innovative content. Newsletters that talk about new use cases for products, or how to keep products for longer as stock levels diminish, games that can be played to keep families occupied and DIY hacks are all ways in which brands can stay connected whilst being useful.

13. Give something back

Businesses all over the world are giving something back to support communities amid the coronavirus pandemic.  The creativity and the generosity is huge, whatever the size of the business. Including:-

    • Beauty brands producing or donating products to hospitals. 
    • Car manufacturers retooling to help produce ventilators and protective gear. 
    • Gin distilleries producing hand sanitizers.
    • Clothing companies producing masks.
    • Grocery businesses donating millions to help support those in need.

14. Your Brand Story

It is well documented that brands that survive a crisis, be that economical or other are those that put their brand story first. They focus on values and make sure that their storytelling is specific, real and differentiating which then creates a long lasting perception with consumers. It is time to identify the gaps in purpose and messaging, values and customer service – by addressing these you will create a competitive advantage and will emerge stronger out of the other side. This is an opportunity to be bold, not to go silent. 

Whatever your challenges are Pure360 is here to help. If you wish to discuss any of the above or specific issues you are having please contact our team and we would be happy to help.


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