Giovanbattista Cimmino is the founder of CimminoMedia, a social media agency that helps clients grow their business.
In the past, there was the brick-and-mortar approach through which retailers reached success by giving people a reason to visit the shop: compelling experiences paired with live events and special premium services in-store. This strategy was effective in attracting more visitors and increasing the conversion rate: clients typically stayed longer, bought more goods and spent more money.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic began and this crisis became the new competitor. Retailers reacted, and while some succeeded, many failed. Now, they discovered the solution against the crisis, the right way to boost their sales during a pandemic: a proper digital marketing strategy. Let the story begin.
The World Before The Crisis
Once upon a time, most retailers were really only concerned about having a good store location with well-displayed best-selling products and some offline advertising. Retailers were used to waiting for the clients to come by the store and purchase their goods through face-to-face interaction.
Later on, competition became fearless. Retailers started to differentiate and attract new clients offering special services and live events: value-added services that offered entertainment and a luxury experience. These proved to work and offer customers additional value, making them more apt to return.
Retailers Vs. The Pandemic: Losing The Battle
After decades of sales success, the pandemic came and prevented people from visiting stores. The magic was gone. But retailers knew that offering special experiences still mattered. So they reacted, but many realized their efforts were fruitless. Why did they fail and lose their first battle against the crisis?
According to a Mastercard SpendingPulse report, U.S. e-commerce spending increased by 92.7% in May 2020. To attempt to meet the increase in e-commerce adoption, retailers tried to transfer/replicate the same in-store experience online (something they tried to do even before the pandemic), but often fell flat. Why? In the virtual world, users typically don’t expect to have the same in-store experience. Therefore, retailers needed new magic: digital marketing and technology innovation for e-commerce.
Digital Marketing Vs. The Pandemic: Boosting Sales
A traditional retailer needs a new digital strategy to boost sales during the pandemic. Let’s see the recipe for e-commerce success during a crisis.
1. Turn Online Platforms Into An Opportunity
People often complain about the power of Amazon and other online marketplaces. But you can turn platforms, such as Amazon or eBay, into an opportunity instead of seeing them as a threat. The time when using a single sales channel was enough is gone. Today, you must differentiate. So don’t wait any longer — seriously consider becoming an Amazon (or similar marketplace) vendor to start taking advantage of the platform’s success.
2. Open Your Online Shop
You can also build an e-commerce website from scratch if you are a web developer or have one already on your team. Alternatively, you can open an online shop using a variety of popular e-commerce platforms, such as Magento, WooCommerce, Prestashop, Shopify, Square, BigCommerce, Wix or Ecwid.
Remember to support your online business with digital advertising (e.g., Google Ads, search engine optimization, blog and content marketing, influencer campaigns). Consider researching a good digital marketing agency that can assist in your digital pivot.
3. Exploit Digital Innovation Capabilities
With technology innovation, the digital world is getting better and better. It’s time to become a modern retailer and start investing in the unique capabilities of digital technology that can offer the compelling online experience your customers are looking for. Here are some digital capabilities to consider:
• Predictive analytics to help offer what people really desire (e.g., Adobe Marketing Cloud).
• AI-powered search to help your customers find the best products.
• Real-time inventory management to optimize your budget, reduce the costs and grow your profit.
• Interactive functionalities, such as personalization, quizzes, buying guides or personalized virtual shopping.
• Multimedia content to make the online listing more tangible, attractive and easier to explain.
4. Use Social Commerce
Since Facebook came into our lives, social media has disrupted the way we socialize. In the last few years, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram started supporting businesses with new features that retailers can take advantage of. Here are a few tools to help social commerce can boost your online sales:
• Social shopping tools and apps to start the sale right in the place people already are. In this way, customers have less work to do and the sales process is easier. In the physical world, it would be like opening a store in the main city square, in a place that gets a lot of foot traffic.
• Recommendations and peer reviews to build trust and brand awareness.
• Instant messaging and video chat (including chatbots) for prompt customer service and more real and personal business-customer relationship.
• Online gamification to re-create that in-store entertaining experience lost during the crisis (contests, drawings/raffles, live videos, and so on). For instance, consider what Lazada does on its platform. Lazada is the Southeast Asia alternative to Amazon. It offers in-app games with coin collection and prize drawings together with recorded and live video streaming where retailers can showcase their products and turn the online presence into a more physical experience.
Whatever your objective and business are, I suggest you implement the points mentioned above and go omnichannel. In fact, users begin their shopping journey on one device and place (or website) and continue on another. So, your online retail business must be active on both desktop and mobile websites, apps, marketplaces, social media and anywhere else technology will bring us.
The pandemic has prompted retailers to rethink how they conduct business. Harness the power of digital marketing to strategically pivot during the crisis and boost sales.