The past year has sparked some significant changes in the way we live and shop. Because of social distancing and lockdown measures, eCommerce traffic has reached new heights — worldwide, retail websites generated 22 billion visits in June 2020, up from 16 billion in January.
While analysts predict a 17% year-on-year decrease in traditional UK retail sales, the online shopping sector is thriving. eCommerce is set to see at least a 29% quarter-on-quarter increase in Q4 2020. This figure is not surprising, as 67% of consumers intend to spend the same or more this Christmas season. For savvy marketers, the opportunities are endless — more customers than ever before are browsing, researching and purchasing online.
However, to really build an effective marketing strategy, it’s vital to recognise that this is about more than a shift in shopping patterns. Shopping is one part of a much bigger puzzle. Indeed, this is a lifestyle change — people are enabling their entire lives online. Understanding this context is essential to building authentic connections with today’s customers. And forging meaningful connections is the key to building trust, maintaining loyalty and driving sales. In essence, these factors can ensure success not only this year but also well into the future.
Pre-pandemic shopping habits
Before we dig into the way things are now, let’s consider how things were done before the pandemic — the joy of shopping on the high street was discovering things you hadn’t necessarily set out to find; a new whizzy kitchen gadget, an old vintage record, or a much-coveted pair of trainers now on sale. Whilst online has evolved to aid and support discovery over the years, it doesn't match the ability to wander around a store or along a high street. Digital window shopping simply isn't the same.
In the 2019 Christmas season, the typical online shopper was a female between the ages of 25 and 54. Still, many of these ‘typical’ shoppers did not exclusively shop online. They, along with those from other demographics, still enjoyed the thrill of visiting real shops and benefiting from in-store experiences, discounts and promotional offerings.
Of course, this year, due to lockdown measures and increased consumer caution, these traditional retail experiences will not hold the same appeal for many consumers, especially families and older shoppers. Increasingly, customers are seeking the safety and convenience of shopping online.
A look into consumer behaviour right now
In today’s retail landscape, most customers are firmly online and virtual. However, there are some variations among different demographics. For example, over 60% of shoppers aged 56 and up intend to shop as usual (lockdown measures permitting), mixing online and offline stores. While most 18 to 25 years express the intent to do some online shopping this season, they’re the demographic most determined to shop in physical stores — again, lockdown measures permitting. Either way, analysts forecast that UK shoppers will spend a whopping 141 billion online this year, up 34.7% from 2019.
While this incredible shift to online shopping certainly makes it easier for brands to track consumer behaviour and personalise their marketing strategies, the crowded market also presents a challenge when it comes to standing out and appealing to customers.
Building an inclusive marketing strategy
In addition to recognising the challenge of cutting through and driving traffic, brands must recognise that there will not be a one-size-fits-all approach to selling this season. The country is divided, and many people’s financial and familial situations are in flux. As such, there will be many different groups to cater to.
For instance, this year, brands will want to be particularly aware of customers who are:
Risk-averse - While a majority of consumers (63%) want their lives to return to how they were before the pandemic, only certain groups are willing to take risks to replicate the experience of normalcy. This means that dining and travel deals might appeal to younger consumers who are not personally worried about their health, but they might not win over older and more risk-averse consumers this year.
Financially struggling - While many UK shoppers express their desire to spend as normal this holiday season, 24% of consumers admit that they’re struggling to maintain their lifestyle. Brands should be sensitive to the fact that customers who are in financially uncertain circumstances will still want to make Christmas special for their families, and especially for their children.
Focused on sustainability - For many shoppers, this year has been a time to reflect on sustainability issues. During the pandemic, there has been a trend toward ‘slow shopping’, with customers taking more time to research brands and select items more carefully. In 2020, 84% of shoppers perform online research before making a purchase, as compared to 76% in 2019. Meanwhile, 62% of consumers stated they cared about at least one sustainability measure, including fair working conditions and biodegradable packaging. Highlighting how your brand and products work toward sustainability is a great way to connect with these customers.
Being hyper-aware of your customers’ needs, wants, fears and circumstances has become more important than ever before. Remember: creating deeper and more meaningful connections with your customers is the best way to survive and thrive as we navigate out of restrictions.
If you’re interested, here’s more on how consumer behaviour has changed in 2020.
Matching practical demands
Of course, it’s not just consumers’ personal attitudes, beliefs and situations you need to consider in your marketing strategy. It’s the practical aspects too. For example, when it comes to online shopping, 86% of customers now rank convenience as their first priority, followed closely by home delivery and availability. In uncertain times, customers crave transparency. And with more demand than ever before, Christmas shoppers will be understandably nervous about items arriving on time and meeting quality expectations.
To match these demands, brands will need to take extra care to:
Highlight honest customer reviews - 40% of brands don’t publish post-purchase reviews, which are a key purchase driver, especially in light of the increasing number of consumers who are performing research before making a purchase.
Display delivery options - This includes timelines and pricing information, as well as information on returns.
Make availability crystal clear - As a customer, there’s nothing more annoying than adding an item to your basket and discovering it’s out-of-stock once you try to pay. Provide stock details and make customers aware of any time limits on their baskets.
Provide stellar customer service - Modern customers expect expedient, friendly online customer service to deal with their inquiries and issues. Chatbots can be useful here, as they can solve many issues before the need for a human representative arises.
Connecting to your customers
Now, let’s talk about connecting with customers. As we’ve mentioned, the obvious upside of the move to online shopping is that it enables brands to follow the data and measure every customer interaction. Retailers might view this as a big win, and for good reason. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Connecting with shoppers is about so much more than data and on-site personalisation — brands need to be tuned into their customers in a more meaningful way in order to meet them in the most relevant moments.
Brands might achieve this in the following ways:
Engaging new communities and finding new ways of interacting
Remember, modern consumers are doing much more than shopping online — they’re living online. Humans are social creatures, and with many of the places people normally gather closed, or restricting access, people are taking to the internet to socialise, find entertainment and seek and offer advice and support.
Social networks like Facebook and Reddit are obvious places to find customers, but you need to be more creative. The pandemic has led to rapid growth of platforms like Nextdoor. Groups of people have connected with one another over shared hobbies and interests, and these communities are known as passion communities. Young and old, we are embracing new ways to build our own communities and find connection online. Understanding where your customers are and finding creative ways to reach them is evolving at pace, and you’re going to need to keep up if you want to continue the conversation.. They also present tremendous opportunities to boost brand awareness, improve engagement and drive traffic and conversions.
It’s also worth noting that over the past year, UK shoppers have become increasingly ‘channel-agnostic’, making them willing — and often eager — to engage with brands in multiple ways. Meeting customers where they are isn’t just about ramping previous social activity, it’s about broadening your understanding of where and when to engage people in the moments that matter.
Harnessing the power of social media
We can’t. of course, discount the social giants. Using your brand’s social media to its full potential is essential — customers might want to ask questions, and many check a brand’s Instagram or Facebook pages for promo codes before making a purchase.
However, you shouldn’t stop there — running promotional campaigns through influencers or partnerships is a fantastic way to expand your brand’s reach, engage new and niche audiences and drive traffic and sales. For more on affiliate marketing, check out our blog ‘Why Affiliate Marketing Works: And How To Use It More Effectively’.
Finding value in less obvious, less trodden paths
Of course, smart brands must remain open-minded in their marketing strategies. Where people ‘meet’ online is always changing. For instance, Airbnb famously shifted their referral marketing focus from email to WhatsApp when they discovered that people were more likely to open and engage with messages in the social app than they were in their already-swamped email inboxes.
Keeping up with the trends and thinking like the customer will almost always pay dividends. One recent trend worth noting here is the uptick in shopping app usage. In 2019, only 24% of shoppers used apps, but by 2020, that number had skyrocketed to 37%. Branded apps are one way to get in on the action, but trying your luck with ‘marketplace’ apps like Depop, Airbnb, eBay, Amazon, Groupon and Notonthehighstreet might be a more cost-effective way for smaller brands to connect with new customers.
Enhance the customer experience with effective promotions
As you’ve probably gathered, connecting with your customers is much easier once you’ve appealed to their unique interests. The next step is how to harness promotional marketing to drive conversion.
To fully embrace and leverage new ways of engaging and connecting with customers, brands must harness the right tech tools. Uniqodo is a Promotion Management Platform designed to help you turn content partners, influencers, social media platforms and site into tools to engage new and existing customers with exclusive offers and incentives.
Uniqodo makes it easy to partner with affiliate markets/influencers, along with third-party coupon sites, while retaining control over your codes and collecting valuable user data. Our platform makes A/B testing easy and gives brands more time to focus on the creative and strategic aspects of their promo campaigns.
Delivering a Promotion Experience
We strongly believe that the best way to forge meaningful connections with customers is through delivering a good promotion experience, or Promotion EX. Promotion EX is about building a seamless, end-to-end experience for your customer, from code discovery through to redemption. It’s about reaching beyond your own ecosystem and paying careful attention to integrations with channels and partners, and curating the e2e journey. After all, in the eyes of the customer, every single step connects to form your overall brand experience.
With Promotion EX, the goal is two-fold: to delight customers and deliver results.
Whilst Customer Experience (CX) isn’t new, the activities that sit at the bottom of the funnel — promotions, discounts and conversion — are all too often overlooked in the customer journey. However, in today’s competitive eCommerce landscape, focusing on the journeys that drive the hard earned dollars is how successful brands are driving sales. As a SaaS+ provider, we are committed to driving better profitability from your promotions, combining our Promotion Engine technology with bespoke development to answer any challenge. Our promotion specialists can help you find the best ways to reach the customers you want and deliver on key business objectives.
After all, we understand that creating deep, meaningful connections with your customers means understanding how, when and where to engage. This holistic understanding helps you enhance their customer experience with relevant, click-worthy promotions that will stand out from the pack (even in today’s saturated marketplace), and guide them to conversion.