Consumer behavior has changed—and continues to change—incredibly fast during the COVID-19 pandemic. People’s buying habits have shifted as they explore different channels, revolutionizing ecommerce forever. 

But some industries are having an easier time than others. 

Online sales in the U.S. have grown 49% during the pandemic, but some industries are performing better than others. For example, online sales of groceries, alcoholic beverages, and books have risen considerable, up 110%, 75%, and 100%, respectively, compared with previous months, according to Adobe Analytics data. On the other end of the spectrum, sales of luggage, cameras and formalwear (including bridal wear) have declined 77%, 64%, and 62%, respectively.

Regardless of whether your business falls into a high- or low-performing category, you need to adjust your business strategy, starting with brand reliability, brand engagement and pipeline breadth.
 

1. BRAND RELIABILITY: How long does it take visitors to feel confident on my ecommerce site?

It all starts with building trust. The primary goal here is to make shoppers feel comfortable and confident when ordering through your website. These tactics will help you give customers full transparency and peace of mind. 

Communicate reliability

It might sound obvious—and you’ve probably seen it done by many brands—but you should make the most of the features available on your website to communicate with your customers. Answer all possible questions and concerns about placing an order with your company during COVID-19. Two examples from Hancock’s of Paducah and Factory Motion:

 

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Example of a COVID-19 information promo bar and page. www.hancocks-paducah.com

 

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Example of a COVID-19 information promo bar and page. www.factorymation.com

 

Businesses should use their promo bar in the website header to provide business updates around COVID-19, as these two companies did. Make it stand out,and link it to a page or section of your website built specifically to provide information related to changes in operations, production or deliveries caused by COVID-19.

You might also want to include changes in lead times, inventory replenishment limitations, sanitization measures or order fulfillment restrictions and updates. 

Remember that the main goal is to give shoppers confidence in ordering from you, so you want to present this information as professionally as you can. Put some effort into the design and layout of this header—don’t use simple blocks of text. FedEx and UPS are doing a great job with their COVID-19 information pages; draw inspiration from them. 

If you have a healthy and consistent supply chain, you should communicate that, too. Today, this is a strong value proposition for shoppers. 
 

Answers shoppers’ most paralyzing questions 

Qualitative research is a relatively fast and direct way to understand the doubts and concerns shoppers may have about your products, ordering process and fulfillment/shipping speed. 

Conducting interviews with select customers and running on-site polls can help you quickly identify what is keeping shoppers from placing an order. This could reveal what elements of your online store are producing friction toward conversions and gaps between what your customers are looking for and what you’re offering.

With everything you’ve learned about your shoppers’ needs—as well as their doubts and concerns—you should update your ecommerce site to address this feedback throughout the ordering process. Your customers will feel reassured and they’ll thank you for it.


Brick-and-mortar retailers: Enable curbside pickup

If you’re a retailer with physical stores, one simple yet effective way to build shoppers’ trust and engage them online is adding curbside pickup to the shipping options at checkout.

For companies that use NetSuite’s SuiteCommerce ecommerce solution, adding this option is as simple as taking the native in-store pickup function and adding a couple SuiteFlows (a user-friendly tool to create or change workflows). After that, your customers will be able to order online and pick up their orders without stepping out of their cars.

 

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Example of a curbside pickup option at checkout. www.gygi.com

 

2.  BRAND ENGAGEMENT: How much do shoppers engage with my brand?

Optimize your website for mobile devices

We cannot stress this enough: it’s absolutely critical that your ecommerce site is highly optimized for mobile conversions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased screen time for just about everyone, and mobile device usage has spiked tremendously. China reported a 30% increase in mobile device usage in the first month after the coronavirus outbreak. 

Vodafone reported that internet usage increased dramatically, too. In some European countries, it spiked as much as 50% as consumers shifted to working from home and spending more time indoors.

The chances that buyers and potential buyers will land on your website from their mobile devices are higher than ever. And having a mobile ecommerce site with responsive design is no longer enough—merchants need to improve site speed, navigation and checkout experience (digital wallet integration helps with this) to drive mobile conversions.

 

Optimized navigation for mobile. www.brownjordan.com

 

Filter product catalog by “same-day shipping”

As shoppers cut down on trips to the store, they’re looking for essentials online and want to receive them quickly. Ecommerce brands have to find ways to help them access the products they need and get it to them in the time they need it, faster.

Adding a “ships by” filter lets shoppers filter your entire catalog by product that will ship either same-day, in 24 hours, in 48 hours and so on. If you’re using SuiteCommerce, this only requires adding a new facet to your navigation filters.


Re-label estimated delivery time

You also need to give customers more accurate information on how long it will take you to ship your products. Verify that the correct estimated delivery time is on every product detail page, next to a “COVID-19 Delivery Update” message to let shoppers know that you’re updating delivery information in real time.


If you’re a manufacturer without ecommerce 

There are many manufacturers that relied on a wholesale business model and therefore took a major hit when a large number of retail stores closed. If you fall into this category, explore selling your products directly to consumers. 

This is certainly not a new practice—it’s become increasingly popular over the last few years—but the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated it. If you’ve already considered going direct to consumer, now is the time to do it. By building out an ecommerce site, you add a new revenue channel and increase profit margins.

A great example of a company that set up a direct-to-consumer channel is Bedford Industries.

The B2B manufacturer of twist ties had a wholesale business model and didn’t have an ecommerce store until very recently.

But after Bedford developed a face shield and fashioned wire ties for face mask nose pieces to meet the current demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), it started receiving inquiries from small businesses and individuals producing their own face masks. So Bedford adapted and in just four days built a consumer ecommerce site to sell those two products.


3. PIPELINE BREADTH: How many more qualified visitors can I attract?

The only thing that can help companies survive, and grow, is customers. Sure, businesses should review their cost structure and slice costs where appropriate, but cutting the wrong expenses around sales, marketing or advertising simply puts another barrier between you and your source of income. And that will only amplify the decline in sales.


Reach out to your entire customer database

This is the perfect moment to adjust and improve your email marketing. With people connected 24/7 and having more time on their hands, open rates have gone up, as have click-through rates. 

So reach out to your customer base. Send emails highlighting the new practices your business has put in place to provide a seamless, reliable online shopping experience. The easiest way to succeed right now is to connect with your customers and address a need they currently have.
 

Perfect your ads strategy 

Precisely because consumers are immersed in the digital realm all day, there’s never been a better moment to invest in digital advertising. You can now capture the attention of more people for longer.

Before taking any action, you must evaluate whether your product offering is relevant, given the circumstances. If your product can sell well now, push ahead with a strong product ad strategy. Here are some ideas:

●  Advertise to frustrated Amazon Prime shoppers. As Amazon gives priority to household, sanitization and medical goods, Prime members are seeing up to one-month delivery delays for nonessential products and many will look elsewhere.

● Take advantage of the fact that Amazon has dropped its spending on Google Shopping and text ads, making it more affordable for smaller businesses to advertise on the platform.

● Sellers should take advantage of the fact that they can now list their products on Google Shopping for free as the search giant looks to grab sales from Amazon.

●  YouTube news content viewership increased by 75%, making it a prime channel on which to experiment with video content marketing your products and services.

●  Make your brand present. Use ads to remind shoppers that you can still provide the same products, in the same condition, safely. With many physical stores closed, there’s an opportunity to move some of that foot traffic to your website. 


Final thoughts

Creativity is paramount in finding innovative ways to meet the needs of consumers. Don’t be afraid to experiment—in fact, you should experiment more. The more you experiment, the more data you have, and the easier it will be to understand the market and adapt accordingly.

With that in mind, it’s important for online businesses to have a system in place that will allow them to implement new ideas rapidly. They need an agile team ready to act fast and then measure systematically on a weekly basis, because consumer behavior is changing swiftly under these particular conditions. Study the data measured during the last seven days, including total sales, new customers, average order value and conversion rate to guide changes for the next week. 

It all comes down to staying alert and reactive to your current environment. In times of crisis, the strength of the community you build around your business will determine whether it can survive and thrive.

Tavano Team is a Miami-based consultancy that helps companies build and enhance their NetSuite SuiteCommerce websites.