Most analysts and industry commentators predict that consumer relationship with ecommerce is not a short term outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the outbreak accelerated the sudden expansion, the demand for convenient, informed and no-touch shopping is not a recent development. What’s new are the industries previously not associated with the ecommerce space - food, beverage, CPG and entertainment - that suddenly have an opportunity to capitalize on the trend. With online shopping being not only preferred but often the only option for those stranded at home or simply avoiding crowds in traditional, brick and mortar venues, there wasn’t a better time for brands to join in.
Given the economic impact of the crisis, many organizations have been reviewing strategies and seeking tactics that will bring results, and fast, to plug the financial gap created by the pandemic. Online shopping can be a viable option. However, entering the space requires a good understanding of the landscape, markets and online behavior which differ significantly between traditional commerce and its online equivalent.
The competitive landscape is changing.
More forward thinking brands have started to offer their consumers an omnichannel experience already. Acknowledging that ecommerce shouldn’t just happen on websites, they’ve recognized the importance of other platforms in the process, including social media. From innovative product visualizations from Converse to the refreshing approach to reviews and ratings from the D2C champion Glossier - the digital world and advanced technologies enable brands to find new and effective ways to attract customers.
Although many still associate online shopping predominantly with the fashion and beauty industry, the last few months have shown the potential for other categories too. The lockdown restrictions forced consumers to use online services for grocery shopping - something many didn’t even consider before March 2020. Today, deliveries of food, beverage and hygiene items are part of a new routine, including senior citizens who have only just started discovering the digital services on offer.
Ecommerce was a popular topic on social media between January and June 2020. Within all major themes discussed in connection with Covid-19, online shopping accounted for almost 10% of all posts, slightly behind prominent discussions of entertainment, sport and celebrations. What started as a necessity is now becoming a preferred choice, with users highlighting the ease and convenience of their online shopping journeys.
Most prominent Covid-19 topics in the first half of the year, English only. Source: Radarly Covid-19 Dashboard
As a new type of ecommerce brand, the direct to consumer (D2C) companies have also started to enter the market, perhaps encouraged by the early success of the beauty giant Glossier. Those companies are particularly well placed to accommodate the needs of a modern consumer, fully controlling their messaging, stock availability and, crucially, the overall shopping experience. The most successful D2C brands have fully leveraged their online communities and organic brand ambassadors, engaging their target, attention-loving audience and slowly building their social empires.
New revenue streams appear based on online behavior.
Convenience, seamless experience, range of products available - those are the obvious reasons why many consumers choose to shop online today. Those requirements became a norm; a standard that shoppers expect to be met regardless of the category.
A reason which is less talked about is consumers’ desire to become a significant part of the brand journey. There are actually a number of existing customers willing to promote a product and provide personalized recommendations to like-minded individuals. All organizations need to do is identify them, understand their ecosystem and its relevance to a brand, and leverage the potential. By creating online communities of people who use and champion the same products, brands can not only increase loyalty and trust but also identify new revenue streams by examining moments of consumption they didn’t know existed.
Online reviews and recommendations have become more powerful.
We live in the world where consumers lead and brands follow by picking up on early signals and trends set by users themselves. Online is often where those weak signals start and early conversations about a product or service begin. Reviews and recommendations are not only a source of information for consumers but also an inspiration for brands. Submission of reviews on online sites is up 76% YoY. Those spontaneous and real-time comments are often a true reflection of an experience associated with a brand, expressed in consumer’s own words and not steered by marketing messages as is often the case in recall studies. By careful analysis of language and phrases, we can understand key success drivers, potential product faults, and opportunities for improvements.
Example product features tracked by Radarly through online reviews
Example experiences shared through online reviews and ratings, analyzed by Radarly
The reviews impact so many aspects of a brand success - from SEO and conversion rate to consumer trust and sales - there are a number of reasons why ratings shouldn’t be ignored. A solid tracking system enables brands to gather feedback real-time and feed results to relevant sections of the business.
Example Radarly dashboard tracking online reviews and ratings
Social shoppers help shorten the sales cycle.
Social media has become one of the key online shopping channels, a consumption hub. The fact consumers can research, review and purchase a product without leaving their favorite network speaks to one of the key requirements of a good shopping journey - convenience. The right set up and channels allow brands to significantly shorten the sales cycle and plug the gap between the discovery and purchase phases. Social commerce has been growing in popularity over the last few years, with major networks, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and most recently Tik Tok spotting the opportunity.
To truly benefit from the power of social shopping, brands must leverage organic, user generated content to increase engagement and, ultimately, conversion. Tapping into specific social media communities, recognizing their language and online habits, is an invaluable tool in becoming more relevant and sought after. A good social approach will also enable organizations to identify advocates and fans who have already started promoting their favorite products. This is where the concept of tribes and tribal marketing comes to play.
Social media users are a medium that can significantly boost performance and help brands to be discovered by their target audience. As consumers bond online over shared experiences, needs and values, they form tribes of like-minded people with a significant power to influence.
Previous research has shown that people are much more likely to purchase a product which is recommended by someone they follow on social media. Furthermore, nearly 75% of consumers bought a product after first seeing it in a brand’s own social post which demonstrates the importance of a consistent social media strategy.
Be aware of risk factors and avoid reputational damage.
Fake reviews have been a subject of scrutiny over the recent months, with some organizations being accused of either “playing the algorithm” or paying for ingenuine ratings. As the world turns its eye to how brands leverage social media, the appropriate use of the ecommerce channels is equally important. Recognizing fake entries and having a system to flag up potential threats is an easy solution and a step in the process of managing a brand's reputation.
Selecting the right brand ambassadors and influencers is crucial and necessary, particularly when organizations want to see results fast. This is a great opportunity to tap into online communities that organically built themselves around a product or a brand. Identifying opinion and tribe leaders whose power to convert is much stronger than a generic advertising slot is a major advantage of ecommerce. However, instead of allowing the decision to be led by the number of followers or a self-made “celebrity factor”, influencers should be chosen based on their power to attract and convert shoppers who match a brand’s ethos. This long-term strategy allows for identification of lifetime customers who are less likely to limit their interactions to a one-time purchase.
The sudden urge to spend money online has been a lifeline for many businesses which wouldn’t have survived the pandemic. As more consumers embrace the trend, organizations must start thinking about potentially negative effects of their trade - namely, environmental impact. Increased online sales, while good for the business, are not so great for the planet. Vehicle emissions, changes to transportation infrastructure and packaging waste are the most common concerns voiced by the consumers and industry commentators. Unless those are addressed, the potential success and financial gains of ecommerce are likely to be short-lived and, with time, reputation-damaging.
Ecommerce is a smart investment, not an unnecessary spend.
The second quarter of this year brought challenges many haven’t seen before. With all of the G7 countries in recession as a result of the pandemic, many organizations seek ways to reduce if not totally freeze their budgets. Innovation and investment are not a default strategy but should be. To make up for the losses of H1 and help consumers adjust to the new retail environment, brands should embrace the change. It’s not about the size of investment, it’s about smart and intelligent solutions which offer long-term and sustained growth. The direction must be dictated and led by shoppers and for this, an intimate knowledge and understanding of behaviors, habits and needs are essential. Brands which are aloof, distant and inaccessible stand very little chance in this new competitive landscape.