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3 Post-Pandemic Impacts on Digital Retail & How to Adapt in 2021

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You don’t need us to tell you that 2020 was quite the year for digital retail. 

The industry as a whole was shot into the future several years with lockdowns and social distancing practices. Online brands of all industries and sizes needed to figure out how to swim — and fast.  

2020 was a year of monumental growth, reflection, and recalibrating. 

But despite all of that we made it. So, now what happens? 

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How the pandemic impacted the eCommerce industry as a whole
  • Tactics for how to embrace these trends and the evolving digital retail landscape

How did the pandemic impact the digital retail industry?

There’s no denying that the pandemic shifted consumer shopping behavior in many ways. Unpredictable income coupled with lockdowns caused a ripple effect of adjustment.

Let’s take a look at some of the most significant changes as well as the strategies eCommerce brands can use to adapt.  

1. Consumer priorities shifted

A study from McKinsey & Co found that 40% of consumers are becoming more mindful of where they spend their money. People are prioritizing self-care items, groceries, and wellness products. 

Consumer behavior shifts—like an increased demand for hygiene transparency and altered purchase priorities—will ultimately drive the choices brands make about where and how to show up. Without the ability to shop in-store due to a lockdown or fear of the virus, brands had to reconfigure how they were reaching their customers.

As a result, people began to buy things that normally would not be purchased online like groceries. According to a report from the Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey, online grocery sales in the U.S. have increased from $1.2 billion in August 2019 to $7.2 billion in June 2020. 

What’s more, the pandemic also magnified people’s desire for convenience and speed. Convenience and speed coupled with a never-ending catalog of products gave Amazon a serious boost in 2020. In Q3 2020, Amazon reported $96.1 billion in revenue.

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For brands to keep up, they will have to create a cohesive shopping experience that keeps convenience, accessibility, and buyer behavior at the forefront. Here are a few ways digital retailers can do just that.

How to Adapt to Changing Consumer Behavior

1. Align your brand with this behavior shift

When lockdowns were in place, people weren’t spending money on things like plane tickets, hotel rooms, restaurants, and other “non-essential” expenses. As a result, retailers had to get creative with their positioning and how they market their products based on this new behavior. 

For example, DTC home furniture rental and delivery company, Feather, put a twist on the meaning of “staycation” with this email.  

 

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Because people weren’t traveling nearly as much in 2020, Feather suggested that customers give their homes a refresh with new furniture. 

This email includes curated collections of furniture based on the popular vacation destinations, Joshua Tree and Miami. What’s more, customers on their mailing list who join Feather receive a month of furniture for free.  

This is a creative way for Feather to stay relevant while encouraging their target audience to try their service.

2. Embrace conscious consumerism

People care—arguably more than ever—about where the products they purchase come from

The instability brought on by the pandemic propelled consumers into more conscious shopping habits. Plus, with a major call to support small businesses, consumers were putting more thought into where they spend their money and who they purchase from.

A study from Good Must Grow found that 67% of customers say a company’s environmental impact is a huge factor in choosing which companies to support after the pandemic. 

What’s more, the same study found that 72% of customers say that how companies treated their employees and community during the pandemic plays a big role in choosing who to purchase from. 

Brands can use conscious consumerism as a way to stand out from the competition with tactics like:

  • A welcome email that explains what new customers can expect when shopping with your brand, from how your products are made to how you run your business (e.g., “We donate a percentage of all our proceeds to this charitable organization)
  • A landing page that includes information on how your products are sourced or made
  • A “Get to Know Us” email drip campaign that highlights different aspects of your company like your mission, your origin story, and what it’s like to work at your company

The bottom line? People are paying attention to how brands engage with their customers, community, and employees. 

3. Talk to your customers

One of the best ways to get to the root of what your customers want is to talk to them. Conduct surveys, ask for feedback, pose questions to gauge their opinion on a new initiative you’re launching or a new product roll out — anything. 

This is a great way to get clear on what is working for your brand now and what is sustainable for the long-term.

Email is a great way to facilitate and collect customer feedback for several reasons, with the biggest two being that it serves as a direct line to customers and it is easy to implement. 

(Source

A few ways to leverage email include:

  • Send out surveys or short questionnaires after a purchase or before a launch
  • Create incentivized or post-purchase emails to capture feedback immediately
  • Leverage existing customer data and create focus groups to bounce ideas off of

2. Brands of all industries and sizes embraced eCommerce

With many traditional retailers moving to eCommerce, competition online has skyrocketed. 

Plus, even with vaccines, many consumers still share apprehension about shopping in-store. In fact, only 5% of consumers plan to try a product in-store within the next six months (as of October 2020). 

This presents a unique opportunity for eCommerce brands to double down on digital channels like social media, email, and SMS. Below are a few tactics digital retailers can use to stand out from the crowd. 

How to Maximize Your eCommerce ROI

1. Experiment with new and existing technology

The retailers who can get scrappy and imaginative will prevail. Technology makes it possible to connect with customers around the world so you can expand your reach and boost your bottom line.

There are several ways eCommerce brands can leverage technology, including:

  • Incorporate newer marketing channels, like SMS, to your strategy. With a handy ESP like Sendlane, adding SMS into your automation funnels is a breeze
  • Experiment with new selling platforms like Facebook and Instagram Shops
  • Streamline your marketing and sales funnels with automation
2. Emphasize customer retention

To differentiate themselves, many brands have experimented with various channels, like email, SMS, and social media as an attempt to reach new customers. 

However, it’s just as important (if not more) to pay attention to and nurture your existing customers—especially the ones who have stood by your site (virtually, of course) long before the pandemic. 

Did you know that the probability of selling to an existing customer is roughly 60-70%? Those odds are pretty high considering the probability of selling to a new customer is just 5%. 

A great way to increase your retention rate is to maintain customer relationships through channels like email.

With email, you can send the right message to the right audience with segmentation. If you use an email marketing platform like Sendlane, you can analyze important key performance indicators like open rate, click-through rate, email sharing rate, and more to better understand how to tailor your messages. 

If a customer makes a purchase, you can send them a post-purchase email that corresponds to the type of customer they are (new vs. returning). For example, after a returning customer makes a purchase, you could send them a follow-up email with a discount code to show your appreciation. 

Another great way to nurture existing customers is with a loyalty program. Starbucks leveraged email to encourage customers to sign up for their program with a series of eye-catching emails to encourage customers to join.

(Source

The calls to action are clear, and customers know how they’re benefitting in each email. These short and sweet emails gamify their loyalty program. And who could resist that?

3. Omnichannel marketing has become an essential 

For the last year, the world has been oscillating between a lockdown and no lockdown state. Due to these constant changes, retailers started to look for other ways to reach their customers.  

Known as omnichannel retailing, brands who traditionally engaged with customers on one channel—like their brick and mortar store—began growing their presence on other channels like email, eCommerce, and social media.  

According to Bazaarvoice, 49% of consumers shop online more than they did before the pandemic hit. And with consumers being more cautious about their health, it’s more than likely that eCommerce will continue to flourish. 

Here are a few ways digital retailers can go all-in on omnichannel retailing:

How to Maximize Your Omnichannel Marketing Strategy 

1. Show up where your customers are

Whether we’re in a pandemic or not, it’s critical for digital retailers to get clear on what channels make the most sense for your brand. After all, what works for your competitor might not work for you. 

As new technology and trends emerge, it’s important to keep testing and exploring new channels to see if it’s sustainable for your brand in the long-term. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean you have to sell, sell, sell on every channel. 

Rather, create content that educates, informs, and engages your target audience. With email marketing, you can be sure you’re sending the right message every time with audience segmentation

2. Provide product context in your content

You know when you’re scrolling on Instagram or Pinterest and a product catches your eye but you have no idea where to buy it from or who sells it? Try to avoid that with your content. 

When highlighting a product on any channel make sure you include details on how customers can learn more or where they can go to purchase. Women’s clothing boutique, Hello Molly, makes it easy for customers to find (and purchase) items they like by using the features native to the channels they use.  


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Digital retailers must hone the channels they want to focus on to keep up with changing customer behavior and get clear on which channels work best for their brand.

Digital retailers need to lean into the uncertainty

As they say, the only constant thing in life is change.

Get comfortable with not having all the answers right away, and focus on delivering a product or service that serves your customers and brings value.

There are some pandemic trends that likely won’t stick as vaccines continue to make their way into society. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that being willing to shake things up, try new things, and abandon old methods will keep you afloat. 

Lean on your customers for guidance and look for ways to create exceptional experiences for them.

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