As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt across the world, ecommerce marketing has shown just how powerful remote transactions can be. Unlike traditional retail, which has already seen a big dip since the start of the pandemic, ecommerce limits points of contact and negates the needs for large crowds. Although South African online stores are governed by the same requirements as brick and mortar stores, the growth in online grocery shopping and other essential product shopping has increased as shoppers seek ways to shop without leaving home.

Lockdown is expected to continue until the end of April, with the possibility of an extended lockdown. In an address held by the Minister of Health and several COVID-19 experts on Monday 13 April, Professor Salim Abdool Karim spoke about the stages of the pandemic and South Africa’s curve. In response to easing the lockdown, he stated, “If we end the lockdown abruptly, we run the risk of undoing all we have achieved. We will put low and high-risk people together.”

Instead, South Africa is looking at a systematic easing of the lockdown. For the economy and the retail industry, this would be a highly positive step. With that said, social distancing will remain a priority, even if lockdown is eased. Online shopping will remain a safer alternative to crowded stores, allowing customers to get what they need with minimal risk.

What does this mean for ecommerce marketing, though, and how will COVID-19 change the way that people shop in a post-lockdown world? Let’s take a look.

How COVID-19 is Affecting Ecommerce Marketing

To find out just how much the pandemic is affecting businesses – especially where ecommerce marketing is concerned – HubSpot looked at data from their global customer base of over 70,000 businesses. Their benchmark report that followed used the data to consider initial trends and changes within the ecommerce marketing sector. Some of the key findings from this report include:

  • Websites are more important than ever. Customers are doing more research online and engaging with businesses online. On average, HubSpot saw web traffic increase of 13% in March.
  • Customer engagement is also important. Online chat increased by 5%, on Facebook and on-site platforms.
  • Email open rates are increasing. There was a 29% increase in emails sent in the middle of March and a 53% increase in email open rates the same week. Over March, there was a 21% increase in email open rates.
  • Outreach is also increasing. From the middle of March, there was a 51% increase in weekly contacts added per portal.

Ecommerce Marketing Strategies for COVID-19 and Beyond

It is still too early to find out exactly how lockdown has affected South Africa’s economy. As we are behind many countries across the globe in virus transmission, it is also too early to get data on ecommerce marketing growth and impact. With that said, we are likely to see an impact similar to the HubSpot benchmark report.

What happens after lockdown ends? And how can ecommerce businesses not just survive but also thrive during the current pandemic and beyond? There are a few tried-and-tested strategies that will become vital to survival, stability, and growth. These include the following:

Increased customer service

Customer service is already something you should be prioritising. Even if your current approach is five-star, you will need to go even further to ensure that your customers are happy. The flipside of ecommerce growth means an increase in ecommerce marketing. This, in turn, means greater competition as customers have more choice on where to shop. If you are sticking to the basics where customer service is concerned, rather than thinking bigger and looking at new and improved ways to deliver the best service to your customers, you may end up missing out.

Some of the ways that you can enhance your customer service could include extended shipping options, live chat (if you are not using this already), AI tools that help customers find what they need and complete their purchases, personalised messages and offers, and other strategies that put your customers first.

Engagement across all channels

As we’ve seen above, engagement is increasing as customers look online to find what they need. To increase engagement, you need to meet and talk to customers using the channels they are currently using. If you have a Facebook page or newsletter that is mostly being used to share updates, without any posts that encourage replies and you are not responding to comments, you will not see much increase in engagement.

If, on the other hand, you are making use of all your channels to actively reach out to customers speaking their language, you will see a difference. Ecommerce marketing does not exist in a vacuum. It is not about focusing on a single channel. Instead, it is about taking a multi-channel approach that engages across social media, email, mobile, and other channels. An ecommerce marketing dashboard will help you determine which channels perform the best, helping you fine-tune your engagement strategies according to data rather than guesstimates.

Education over promotion

That brings us to our next point. Now especially, consumers are desperately seeking reassurance, updates, and accurate information. They want to know what is happening – how the pandemic is affecting your store, how it will impact shipping, what they can and cannot purchase, and how you will act once lockdown ends. Although they are also interested in special offers and deals, they are not wanting to be bombarded with products. Many are facing financial challenges due to job loss and reduced or lost business income. Rather than trying to purely sell, look at how you can add genuine value instead.

This could come in the form of an email series designed to reassure customers that you have a plan of action in place. You could let customers know how your delivery process is being improved and what safety measures are in place. You could keep them updated on lockdown changes and offer practical tips that are relevant to your products. Think about the type of information that would genuinely benefit your customers.

Pro-active campaigns

Rather than keeping customers in the dark, focus on being pro-active. Keep ahead of COVID-19 updates yourself so that you and your team can update customers as quickly as possible. Fake news and misinformation are spreading rapidly as panic and uncertainty kick in and it is all too easy for customers to find outdated or incorrect information. Make sure that you keep them up to date and show them how your store will be dealing with the updated regulations.

For example, when the lockdown extension was announced, you had two choices – send an email announcement on the extension as soon as possible or wait until you are bombarded with emails wanting to know whether you will still be selling. Transparency is essential to keep customers fully informed. When you are pro-active, your customers are given peace of mind knowing that you are prepared. When do not react quickly, customers get the impression that you do not care or that you are not keeping up with the changes.

Staying Ahead With Ecommerce Marketing

In our current uncertain times, staying ahead of the game is something every online store needs to do to stay afloat. Only time will tell how much of an impact the pandemic will have on the global economy. Reports so far indicate a widespread effect that will be felt across just about every industry. When you look at adapting, you will have a far better chance of seeing your way through the crisis. When you instead focus purely on surviving without thinking ahead, it will be far harder to stay ahead with your ecommerce marketing strategies.

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