Pivoting to e-commerce during COVID-19: Five tips for success
Saradha Sethuraman
4 April 2020

This article was originally published in April as part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Many brands – small and large – are pivoting to e-commerce during COVID-19, but brands need to take five key steps to avoid failure.Research from Criteo has revealed that 52% of shoppers say they will purchase more online as a consequence of Coronavirus. Businesses that do not have physical products to sell online can continue business growth through leveraging credit, deposit and voucher sales.Successful businesses are combining products with other products in their portfolio that sell well together to make buying easier and maximise basket value.

The retail world is seeing two simple shifts: a move towards e-commerce and functional fulfillment from bricks and mortar, and the need to convert demand for essentials as quickly and seamlessly as possible into purchase.

However, it is highly likely that new online shopping behaviours developed during this period will stick, even after life returns to normal. Indeed, research from Criteo has revealed that 52% of shoppers say they will purchase more online as a consequence of Coronavirus.
So, to survive and thrive, brands need to find new ways to continue operating through digital commerce.
This could be through developing greater e-commerce strategies and shifting communications to promote online ordering, or by adapting the products they sell in order to fulfill consumers’ changing needs.
Here are our five key points that brands need to consider when pivoting to e-commerce:

1. Quick start e-commerce through existing platforms

In the UK, online platforms like Amazon marketplace, Zalando and Deliveroo allow businesses to begin selling at both speed and scale. The typical marketplace model allows brands to continue to own and manage their own stock until it’s sold. There are also plenty of online partners available across multiple categories and markets -supermarkets like M&S and Co-op have partnered with Deliveroo to help people get what they need.
Similarly, with footfall to restaurants significantly down, online takeaway orders are a key focus to continue business operations. In the UAE, a platform called Support Local Restaurants was launched and on boarded 300 restaurants in 48 hours to provide marketing, ordering and delivery capabilities. In the UK we are seeing local restaurants and cafés working with suppliers to offer customers fresh food boxes that can be delivered to your doorstep.
Those businesses that do not have physical products to sell online can continue business growth through leveraging credit, deposit and voucher sales. The FT recently revealed that a London restaurant group has launched a series of vouchers with a “war bond” theme, in order to raise precious cash to keep the business running during the coronavirus shutdown.
TIP: Successful businesses are combining products with other products in their portfolio that sell well together to make buying easier and maximise basket value. An example could be recipe bundles to make meal planning for panicked shoppers easier.
An important consideration is the evolving consumer shopping behaviours during the pandemic. As consumers are tending to buy more, but on fewer buying occasions, it is important to offer product bundles in line with shopping behaviour; our insights have shown that a pivot to virtual or physical bundles of 3, 6, or 12 packs are high.
Whilst this is a strange time, brands do need to remember that shopping behaviours are going to evolve and strengthen. Therefore, brands that do launch on existing marketplaces, must think about the long haul, rather than see this as a quick and temporary fix. e-commerce marketplaces must be planned and handled like any other retail channel for it be a profitable undertaking.

2. Launch a Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) e-commerce platform

The process is achievable in the short-term by using a ‘plug and play’ provider like Shopify, WooCommerce or Squarespace. It is also important to adapt the existing brand website, making it ‘e-commerce ready’ with a shoppable catalogue, online payment integration, order management system and delivery options.
Currently, platforms like Shopify are offering a lot of backward integration services for brands who need support. Lindt, the Swiss chocolatier and confectionery company, for example, took advantage of this by launching a DTC platform in 5 days . This might make DTC more expensive in the short term but would provide valuable insights into the retailer’s audiences that can then be leveraged and strengthened for a stronger and robust DTC commerce channel moving forward.An important consideration when investing in DTC e-commerce is to ensure there is enough traffic-driving online media, particularly if this is brand new for the business.
TIP: Online media consumption is up, as is search traffic for home delivered products, so brands employing DTC methods need to invest, or redirect budgets from other activities, to promote their new online capabilities.
Fulfilment of online orders is another key consideration, so it is important to factor in delivery services, or partner with an existing delivery operation to fulfil on orders placed.

3. Make every touch point shoppable by closing the gap between comms and commerce

Brands are now offering new digital commerce opportunities through all their owned channels, such as phone, WhatsApp, email or leveraging customer service teams. Brands then need to either fulfil orders directly through their owned channels, or by directing traffic from every digital touch point to a 3rd party seller.
Luckily, multiple technology partners such as Admio, Shopalyst or Channel Advisor, offer add-ins to digital media placements to make them shoppable and help close the conversion loop.
In Norway, consumer electronics retailer, Elkjøp, has introduced “Live Shopping” where shoppers can book a Microsoft Teams Meeting for instant assistance and be virtually shown around the physical store with an expert.
Similarly, in the UAE, Harvey Nichols launched ‘Whatsapp to Wardrobe’ allowing consumers to browse their product range on social, liaise with their customer services team via instant messaging and benefit from quick delivery with pay on arrival options.

4. Adjust your product portfolio to suit evolving requirements

For many, simply switching to selling online won’t be the only answer, particularly where the use of the actual product or service is less in demand during periods of lockdown.
TIP: Brands need to reconsider what their core product range should be during these times. It is important to profile potential shoppers’ new purchase behaviour and refine routes to market (RTM), products, packaging(physical/virtual), retail communication and supply chain.
There are several good examples of brands switching focus from their core range to something more in demand.The French luxury goods group, LVMH, is producing hand sanitiser at three of its perfume and cosmetics factories for distribution to French hospitals.
Whilst Diageo also pledged to provide Grain Neutral Spirit (GNS)—a 96% strength ethyl alcohol used primarily in production of vodka and gin—at no cost to hand sanitiser producers in multiple countries.
Whilst these examples actively look to help the global health pandemic, there are opportunities for brands to adjust their product focus from within their own portfolio. Perhaps even switching from a product offer to a service offer, keeping the brand salient during a time where traditional ad spend may well be decreased.
New service models, such as webinars and online training have all been utilised by brands that are adapting to new consumer requirements. US coffee chain, Alfred, for example, launched its coffee subscription that allows people to automatically receive their coffee order in the comfort of their own homes. They’ve also leveraged social media by posting tutorials like “how to make cold brew at home”.
With these new services, it is important to also consider payment models, such as subscriptions, instalments, or pay-later.

5. The right messaging has never been more important

Brands should be either pausing or switching to messaging more relevant to the situation, including emphasising how products can be received without direct contact. Messages that focus on the human element are likely to enhance effectiveness and resonate better with consumers. Similarly, feel-good content that alleviates anxiety and promotes positive messaging will help enhance a brand, but make sure it’s authentic.
Diageo, for example, has announced a contribution of 1 million Euros to support the Spanish and Portuguese hospitality community facing challenges from the impact of COVID-19.
TIP: Brands should also look to solve emerging needs created by the situation, including boredom, productivity and entertainment.
Nike is pushing out more content to its Nike and Nike Running Club apps, Nike.com website, TRAINED podcast and social channels to help consumers maintain their fitness indoors.
Ultimately, given that shopping behaviours developed during this period will likely stick, it is crucial that new capabilities within digital commerce are developed and subsequently, maintained. And these five steps are a good place to start!

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