After the year 2020, and everything it brought with it, we know one thing for certain. The pandemic changed our lives as consumers and ecommerce business owners forever. As we are starting to come out of the pandemic, are you hoping for things to finally get back to normal?
Let’s be honest, it probably isn’t going to happen. Over the past 3-4 months, we’ve been catapulted once again into a very weird, scary, and uncertain time. Rapid inflation and a looming recession are starting to put immense pressure on ecommerce businesses big and small. With these things looming above us, what does the future hold for eCommerce? We don’t have a crystal ball or a chief future-telling officer on staff, but here are a few things we’ve observed.
COVID Changed the eCommerce game
There’s no way around it. eCommerce has been changed forever. During the pandemic, there was tremendous growth in online shopping because people didn’t want to go out and risk infection. Stores started creating more pick-up options and some eCommerce companies experienced huge shipping delays.
No one anticipated the surge in online orders, and this created shortages of items. Over the last year or two, retailers have wanted to be prepared. They don’t want to risk missing out on sales or having shortages of items, so they have ordered a lot more inventory. This can be a good and bad thing, depending on how you look at it. However, many online retailers now have way more inventory than they can sell since online sales are slowing.
What happens now that we’re getting back to normal?
No one is 100% sure. Again, we’re not fortune-tellers. However, what we’re seeing right now is a decrease in organic (SEO) demand. People can’t resist placing from Target and Walmart and picking it up 30 minutes later. So, they’re rushing back in droves to shop in-store for the experience. Immediate gratification is so powerful, and people have cabin fever. So, they either want to order online and pick it up, or they want to actually go into a store and do some old-fashioned shopping. Kind of weird, huh?
Unfortunately for eCommerce businesses that don’t have brick-and-mortar stores (or only a few small locations), panic is sinking in. Numbers are way down from last year (some might call it normalization), and that isn’t good for your bottom line. You might be wondering what is happening and if your marketing spend is truly going to good use. The short answer is yes. You still need to be spending money on online marketing. Otherwise, the decrease you are seeing could be so much worse.
What does this mean for online businesses?
The bad news? Unfortunately, we’re also seeing that branded search is shrinking.
Consumers are becoming less brand loyal and flocking to websites like Amazon for the free shipping and the ability to choose between fifty different versions of a product that are much cheaper. In fact, many businesses that sell through Amazon are doing well. Amazon products also consistently show up more in Google searches.
So, is consumer confidence shrinking?
Not necessarily. eCommerce sales have been up for the last two and a half years, and it has set an unrealistic precedent for future sales.
Keep in mind that everyone was trying to “stay home to stay safe,” so they ordered more items online. Now, they’re no longer doing that as much because they feel safe enough to shop in-store. So, companies have made huge projections for 2022-2023, and they just aren’t realistic.
Consumers are also more price-conscious too because they’re spooked by the idea of a recession. They often look at Amazon instead of going to others because it’s simply easier and cheaper to buy from them. Heck, who doesn’t love free shipping, the reviews, and great prices? This is great for Amazon, but not so great for many other direct-to-consumer businesses that can’t compete with the 500 pound gorilla.
What can we do to get back on track?
Adobe’s CEO Shantanu Narayen recently said at Adobe Summit that “All businesses must redefine how we engage with customers and deliver digital experiences at unprecedented scale.” While no one is 100% sure what will work when it comes to engaging customers more than before, here are a few ideas to get you started.
Invest in email & text message marketing
Put your money to good use. One of the things that can be very effective is investing in email and text message marketing. Bringing your message and products right to the consumer’s inbox or SMS messages is one of the best ways to remind them about your offerings and start a dialogue. So make sure you’re investing in this medium.
Track your attribution
Unfortunately, tracking cookies are on their way out. Between GDPR and CCPA, and consumers being more concerned about privacy, the traditional way of tracking consumers and being able to trust that data is sunsetting. That’s why you need to put attribution at the top of your focus. Salesforce defines attribution as “…the way in which marketers assess the value or ROI of the channels that connect them to potential customers. In other words, it’s the means by which the customer came to know and buy your product or service.”
Tracking how people interact with your campaigns—whether via email, SMS, Facebook, TikTok or Google Ads—shows you where your money is going and where your marketing dollars would be best spent. Without this data, you will be blind to potential marketing channels that are important in your customers’ journey.
SEO matters more than ever
You might not believe it, but SEO still matters so much. When you’re wanting to buy something, where’s the first place you go? Google. Your products need to be at the top to get noticed. The top products are often assumed to be the best. You can’t afford to not be at the top of search results. You should also keep in mind that a potential customer might find you through Google and buy on Amazon (if you sell there too), so it will be difficult to calculate your true return on marketing dollars.
Think about the customer experience
Make your purchasing experience as simple as possible. Amazon is so successful because it’s easy. Amazon is especially good when it comes to selling simple products like batteries, phone cables, etc. So, generic commodities. If you sell these types of items, the only ways to set yourself apart are pricing, the customer experience, and being at the top of search results.
If you sell more specialized products, you definitely need to focus on your customer experience.
You can do this through the purchasing journey, email marketing, and more. Often, people will pay more for personalized, easy, service if you want to charge more than Amazon.
Remember that consumers aren’t one-dimensional
No paper dolls here. Consumers are multidimensional and shop in many different ways for various reasons. They might love a good deal on Amazon, but there are other reasons they might shop elsewhere. So, it’s important to focus on the way you market to them, how your differentiate or the value you bring to the table, and the experience on your website, app, etc.
Do you send them emails to grab their attention? Do you have snappy website content that hooks them and Google alike? Have you made their experience of shopping with you and tracking their purchases seamless? These are all things to think about. People won’t just come to you, you need to lead them in the right direction. Though you can lead a horse to water, you dang well can’t make them drink. However, with the right SEO, email campaigns, customer experience, and other marketing tools, you sure have a much better shot!