COVID-19 response trends eCommerce marketing


9 COVID-19 Response Trends for Ecommerce Marketing Teams

By Deniz Ibrahim

As brands continue to shift their strategies in response to COVID-19, several important trends have emerged among what exactly ecommerce marketing teams are currently doing or planning to do.

These trends cover everything from pausing campaigns to launching new ones to shifting in-store traffic online to helping resource-strapped teams become more agile. And with the situation changing so rapidly, it’s important to not only stay up to date on these trends but also to understand how your team can react to them once you put any new measures in place.

How to Best Prepare Your Ecommerce Marketing Team for COVID-19 Response Trends

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the biggest COVID-19 response trends we’ve seen and what ecommerce marketing teams should plan to do next based on these developments.

Trend #1: Merchandising Triggers Becoming Even More Valuable

What’s happening: Even in an environment where marketing teams are turning off evergreen campaigns like behavioral triggered emails, merchandising triggers like back-in-stock alerts as well as post-purchase triggers remain highly relevant. These product-based triggers are always extremely valuable for marketing teams because they create new, relevant opportunities for engagement, and they’ve become even more so now.

What you should do next: Review them for tone, but keep these merchandising triggers running — or get them running if you haven’t had them traditionally. Given how rapidly stock levels are changing, triggers like back-in-stock, low inventory and new arrivals can prove even more helpful for both your team and your customers right now.

Additionally, take advantage of the real estate in post-purchase triggers to share important information on shipping times (e.g. acknowledging that shipping may be delayed) and to offer content on how to best use the newly purchased products, especially in a home-based environment. These emails are a valuable resource to continue the conversation with customers and to lay the groundwork for a loyal, long term relationship.

COVID-19 response trends eCommerce Marketing Madewell

Trend #2: Brands Embracing Even More of a D2C Approach

What’s happening: As expected, brands heavily dependent on distribution through brick and mortar retailers are experiencing drop-offs on that side of the business. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that situation will change very quickly.

What you should do next: Fortunately, brands have a different muscle they can flex when distribution through third-party brick and mortar retailers isn’t an option: Direct to consumer (D2C). 

Well before COVID-19 flipped everything upside down, discussions about the value of introducing digitally fluid D2C strategies surfaced. This approach has proven fruitful for many brands that have already adopted it. For example, brands tapping into D2C strategies see an average return on investment in channel spend of 5:1 (vs 2:1), second purchase rates of 32% (vs 13.4%), payback on customer acquisition costs within one purchase (vs two years or 3+ purchases) and annual growth of 30% in customer lifetime value (vs a reduction of 5-15%).

As big as the opportunity was for brands to embrace D2C strategies just a few months ago, it’s even bigger now with everything going on. And the brands best positioned to continue engaging consumers no matter what happens will be those who have focused on agility across channels and can quickly connect shoppers to relevant products wherever they are.

Trend #3: Retailers Making Up for Lost Brick and Mortar Revenue

What’s happening: Similar to the above, we’ve seen a lot of retailers with brick and mortar stores pivoting to ecommerce. This trend will continue as stores remain closed for the foreseeable future.

What you should do next: Retailers can also turn to ecommerce during this time to redirect in-store traffic to online. The most effective way to do this is to target high value and loyalty customers with specific messaging that drives them to relevant products onsite.

Bringing offline data to your ecommerce marketing team can make this type of outreach even more intelligent. Specifically, ingesting offline data will allow you to target in-store shoppers based on factors like past purchase behavior, lifetime value and loyalty status, giving you a wealth of information to create a more personalized experience, even if these customers have never bought online before.

And knowing that multichannel shoppers are more valuable than single-channel shoppers, driving these typical in-store shoppers to make online purchases can pay off for your brand big time in the long run.

COVID-19 response trends eCommerce marketing Neiman Marcus

Trend #4: Identifying Products and Content to Use at Home

What’s happening: Brands have started to identify ideal work from home/staying in products like athleisure, games and cookware as well as relevant content for using those products like online workout classes and recipes. With those products and content determined, marketers must find the best audiences with whom to share them.

What you should do next: Predicted affinity campaigns are popping up as a big area of opportunity for brands that are taking these steps. Specifically, once you’ve identified the best products and content to share at this time, you can match them to an appropriate audience using a predicted affinity model.

Using predicted affinity allows you to extend the reach of these campaigns beyond just targeting past purchasers and browsers and connect shoppers to entirely new products within your catalog. Not only does this approach have the benefit of extended reach, but it also provides new opportunities to engage customers with relevant, helpful information and expand their purchase categories to grow loyalty.

COVID-19 response trends eCommerce marketing Century 21 and Lush

Trend #5: Nurturing More with Content vs. Making Hard Pushes to Buy

What’s happening: A lot of brands are focusing on nurturing shoppers more with content versus featuring products. This approach helps ease inventory concerns and offers more value to customers during this period of uncertainty.

What you should do next: Focusing on adding value for your customers rather than just deal marketing is definitely the best way to build and strengthen relationships given everything going on. The fact that this approach helps avoid supply chain and inventory challenges is a bonus.

But just because you’re leaning more on content doesn’t mean you won’t drive any sales. In fact, quite the opposite, targeting your best customers with relevant and helpful content based on their interests should actually help increase sales in both the short and long terms as those shoppers identify new ways to use your products and potentially even new products they hadn’t known about or considered before.

One of the best ways to surface relevant content that achieves these goals with Bluecore is to use Smart Content. Specifically, you can create a global widget that shows how your brand is responding to COVID-19 and use Bluecore’s Smart Content to schedule the banner to appear in all automated campaigns for the next 30 or 60 days. Once that time period is over, the COVID specific messaging would automatically collapse.

This approach allows you to easily make temporary updates to your evergreen campaigns, like triggers, that will automatically disappear when they’re no longer relevant vs. permanent updates that you’ll have to remember to go back and change at a later date.

COVID-19 response trends eCommerce marketing Dicks and Dagne Dover

Trend #6: Pausing Campaigns to Review Messaging

What’s happening: Many brands are pausing evergreen campaigns like email triggers and other marketing outreach to review their messaging and make sure the tone is on point. For example, we’ve seen a lot of effort to remove “hard sell” messaging like buy now, shop now and buy online, pick up in store.

What you should do next: Taking a moment to review your messaging is a good move right now. You’ll likely find certain commonplace terms you need to adjust and other areas where you can tweak your tone to express the right sentiment and better connect with customers.

However, rather than pausing campaigns, consider reviewing your messaging and making adjustments in real-time. As you do so, it’s important to prioritize making these changes to the campaigns with the highest reach and highest revenues first. This approach is preferable to pausing campaigns because it avoids missing out on important opportunities to stay in front of customers. Using Bluecore’s Smart Content as described above can also help ease the burden on making these changes both now and in the future when it’s time to remove the messaging changes.

The current situation is unprecedented, and while it may be extreme, it underscores the need for an email system with efficient marketing workflows. Whether it’s making changes now or responding to any other situation on the ground quickly, having technology that makes it easy for your marketing team to adjust messaging and even spin up new campaigns at a moment’s notice will allow you to stay relevant and get in front of shoppers with more curated messaging, content and offers for any situation that arises.

COVID-19 response trends eCommerce marketing Crate and Barrel

Trend #7: Letting Your Brand’s Personality Shine

What’s happening: Many brands are using the current situation as a chance to launch some interesting and quirky campaigns that really let their personality shine. For instance, running a campaign around “dress up from the waist up” to help combat the drop-off in sales from work attire.

What you should do next: Look for opportunities to launch clever campaigns that offer a new way to engage customers and create a stronger image for your brand. In fact, the right quirky message can offer a much-needed distraction for people during this time. Additionally, it can make your brand feel more human and provide an interesting and memorable experience for shoppers.

All of that said, it’s important to keep in mind that to reap the benefits of this approach, the outreach needs to feel natural for your brand. If the campaign doesn’t fit with your brand’s established personality, it can come across as strained or tone deaf to everything going on. As a result, you need to be careful in finding the right tone and balance for your brand’s audience and personality.

COVID-19 response trends eCommerce marketing Soludos

Trend #8: Helping Creative Teams Strapped for Bandwidth

What’s happening: Creative teams have become super-strapped for bandwidth as campaigns shift and the need to optimize for more social distancing, stay-at-home-friendly images becomes critical. Your creative team may have spent the last few weeks planning for images with beach parties and weddings that they simply can’t use right now, leaving them scrambling to catch up.

What you should do next: Agility is the name of the game for everyone right now, and being able to help your creative team with some alternate approaches can make a big difference in getting your campaigns out the door and easing the immediate burden for them. For instance, think through creative from previous campaigns or images that live elsewhere in your brand’s ecosystem (e.g. on your site) that you can quickly repurpose.

Bluecore, in particular, can be a helpful creative hand at this time. With Bluecore’s automated AI-driven workflows that propel audience and creative, you can set up Smart CampaignsTM that populate an email with relevant product recommendations and content, all without having to strain your creative team.

Trend #9: Growing Efforts Around Subject Line Testing

What’s happening: Email is still the most effective channel for reaching shoppers, and many brands have lowered advertising dollars to shift from paid media to email. This situation means consumers’ already crowded inboxes have gotten even busier, which increases the pressure on subject lines to help your brand stand out.

What you should do about it: With brands relying heavily on email to attract shoppers, it’s important to give your subject lines the attention they deserve. The best way to do this is to conduct regular A/B testing on subject lines

This type of regular testing should help optimize your subject lines to (a) increase open rates and follow-on engagement (after all, no one can click, let alone buy, if they don’t open the email first) and (b) keep your presence in shoppers’ inboxes fresh.

Shifting Your Marketing Strategies in Response to COVID-19

COVID-19 has forced an unprecedented amount of change, and your team must shift its marketing strategy in response. Beyond reacting to these latest trends, what else do you need to know to put your best foot forward?

Click here for Bluecore’s advice on how to navigate changing priorities around COVID-19, from immediate wins to more long term shifts.

deniz ibrahim headshot

Deniz Ibrahim

Deniz is the Senior Director of Product Marketing at Bluecore, where he is focused on introducing the world’s best new products to Bluecore’s fastest growing retailers. Deniz has over a decade of experience in product and marketing, including prior roles at BigCommerce, American Express and Seamless.

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