Post-COVID ecommerce Christmas: 4 months, 4 Strategies

By Vsourz - 28 August 2020
Calling 2020 an ‘unusual year’ would be like calling Amazon an online bookshop. Our role as ecommerce specialists is to predict the future. Forecasting trends, customer behaviour, and shaping ecommerce post-COVID19.

Edgar Fielder was one of those annoying people who had a habit of saying clever things. Edgar was an economist who served at a very senior level to two US Presidents (Nixon and Ford). The quote of his, that is relevant to today is: “If you have to forecast, then forecast often!”

We have put together 4 strategies that ecommerce companies can adopt or adapt to ensure they have a really good and Happy 2020 Christmas.

Strategy 1. Customer contact with a post COVID-19 twist

In an uncertain environment people search areas of comfort. They head towards things they know and away from danger. Revisit your CRM content and update it in our POST-COVID19 world. Ecommerce companies that continue to send out automated emails that are not current, will be viewed as out of touch. Your connections need to ensure ‘Care of Visitors is Demonstrated’ (COVID). A growing trend is to make the content even more human and personal.

Following the COVID-19 outbreak two companies demonstrated the ‘human touch’ well:

Example 1. The Human Touch.

Mobile phone giant EE added a small voice clip to all incoming calls. It outlined that staff were working from home and noises such as small children and pets maybe heard in the background. Rather than feel unprofessional, this came across as human, real people connecting with other real people all sharing the same experience albeit a global pandemic.

Example 2. The Human Touch.

Tesco did something similar, issuing staff with “We are all in this together” T shirts. Tesco CEO, Dave Lewis, used the phrase in a post on the 25th March that was 20 days after the first UK death. For a huge corporation that is quite quick. Smaller enterprise business can react quicker to events. Consequently, they will reap the benefit.

“We are all in this together”.
Tesco CEO, Dave Lewis 25th March 2020

During lockdown a member of our team, placed an online order for some curtain material. In the four weeks following the order confirmation there were just two automated emails with no relevant content. The main switchboard number was not answered, the site did not have a live chat and email response times were 48 hours. Had the material not been exactly as desired the company would likely not have received the online order in the first place.

The ‘net’ result was that the order was cancelled and business with that curtain company has ‘drawn to a close’. Those ecommerce companies that treat their online customers as human beings will develop long term customers. Personalised communication will further enhance loyalty and increase the long-term value per customer.

“ebusiness with curtain company
‘drawn to a close’!”

ACTION POINTS

  • Review your digital communication library and increase the human to human contact.
  • Consider adding Live Chat, Chatbots and voice assistants. Test with a small audience before main launch.
  • Ensure good UX and UI across all devices and cross device purchasing.
  • Reduce response times to an absolute minimum.
  • Do not over promise, instead exceed expectations.
  • Check supply chains and especially courier efficiency to guarantee on time delivery.
  • Value a happy customer above everything else in your business.
  • Spend on your ecommerce
Strategy 2. Improve your ecommerce decision control system

A very quick delve into the world of Chemical Engineering, and we will explain why shortly. Basic Control theory happens to explain how most companies run their ecommerce systems. The graph below shows a monitoring system for a heated tank. There are two sensors switching at both a low temperature and a high temperature.

tank-temperature-versus-time

Image Source: Mountain States Engineering & Controls

So exactly how does this relate to ecommerce?

Changes to your ecommerce store are usually triggered by monitoring certain metrics.

These should include amongst many others:

  • True Bounce Rate
  • Purchase conversion percentage
  • Average time on site
  • Shopping cart abandonment percentage

In the graph above note the overshoot at both the high and low point. Secondly note that the temperature is only at the ideal for 5 brief moments. Not an ideal control system.

Relate this to your ecommerce, where the fluctuating temperature is the rapidly changing ecommerce world. To be at the optimum, it is important to have alerts and KPI’s that quickly allow a change of direction. In control theory one way to improve the accuracy is to reduce the span between high and low. If your business is used to a bounce rate of 45% and you react at 50%, you may want to lower the intervention level to 46%. Talk through your ecommerce metrics and set the alert points for each, both high and low. It is as important to know what is going right as well as what is going wrong.

Particularly at Christmas certain products trends appear very quickly, in the 60’s think Action Men, and who could forget ‘Furby Christmas’ of 1999. Your ecommerce monitoring system must watch product trends and be ready to react to increased demand. An ‘Out of Stock’ sign is another way of saying ‘Missed Sale’.

ACTION POINTS

  • Have your ecommerce dashboard ready with all metrics and alert points highlighted.
  • Arrange a meeting with your digital team to reduce the point at which action occurs.
  • Monitor product by product sale trends.
  • Check competitor offerings to see highlighted products and services.
  • Review add-on products and upgrades (easy extra profit).
  • Ensure your stock controls systems are accurate and responsive.
Strategy 3. Increase ecommerce decision making frequency, decrease time

Another way to improve the control system is to test more frequently. Reduce the time between trigger actions. In real terms this means having more frequent meetings.

Many pandemics ago a team of under-graduates, at a Government sponsored careers weekend, were tasked with running a fictious boiler manufacturing company. They were tasked with making key decisions on sales, staff levels and materials in three hours. As the weekend course progressed the allotted time for the meeting was reduced, eventually down to just 15 minutes.

The lesson learnt was not how to successfully launch “Boilers R’Us”; but how to effectively run meetings in a time efficient way, it also highlighted how much time can be wasted.

One healthcare company in the USA, pre-COVID, relied on technical seminars for lead generation. Clearly these seminars would not now be happening, so they launched a free text driven app. The app delivered the information digitally, that was previously given face to face. Oh, did we mention that they decided this and implemented it over ONE WEEKEND?

IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad (at the time of his death the 8th richest man on the planet) said it better than ever could “You can do so much in 10 minutes’ time. Ten minutes, once gone, are gone for good. Divide your life into 10-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.”

At Christmas assembling the complete team can be difficult as staff start to plan holiday time. In our Post-COVID world everyone is getting accustomed to Zoom, Skype, and Teams type meetings from home. To ensure 100% attendance, be sure meetings are:

  • Well planned with a clear action path.
  • Well published with advance notice.
  • Consistent platform and with recognised sign up process.
  • Both frequent yet brief and to the point.

Most staff will be happy to find 10-15 minutes, even on holiday, if it is essential and effective.

ACTION POINTS

  • Increase the frequency of your ecommerce decision making meetings.
  • Have a clear agenda ahead of time.
  • List the metrics that will be required.
  • Collate all relevant data just prior to the meeting to ensure relevant and up-to-date data.
  • Dispense with pleasantries, you all know ‘who is who’, chat another time.
  • Keep the meetings clear and short with a list of actions, maybe use a RASCI chart or similar tool.
Strategy 4. Now is not the time to cut ecommerce expenditure

There are a lot of quotes out conveying the message: “It’s not what happens to you that matters, but how you deal with it”.

It would be unrealistic to think after COVID, and facing a possible financial crisis, that ecommerce will not be affected. However even in devasting recession people get rich, some very rich! With any change comes opportunity, where most see a problem a few see massive opportunity.

Consider a little-known US businessman Michael J Cullen. During the awful 1930’s depression in America, he left Kroger Grocery & Bakery Co. to set up his own stores. He could not persuade his employer to trial a new style of store. He envisaged a spacious store that allowed self-service, with lots of parking and one that catered to the new home refrigerator owner. The determined Mr. Cullen decided to start his own store. Within 2 short years he was turning over $6 million, equivalent to $390 million today. Amidst economic turmoil he founded the supermarket model and thrived. Take a fresh look at YOUR Christmas store, what do your post-COVID B2B and B2C customers want? What new things could you offer in what new ways? NOW is the time for some blue-sky thinking.

Watch for Christmas trends in your industry segment, scour your competitor’s offerings frequently to see if they are winning in an area you could compete in.

NOW is the time to SPEND

During the recession of 2009 Amazon grew sales by a massive 28%. They were creative with new products such as the Kindle. On Christmas DAY in 2009, for the first time ever, more customers bought e-books than printed books; proof positive that you can succeed at Christmas even in times of recession. Key here was the launching of a lower cost option that was still extremely profitable. Where could you mimic this example?

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a ‘War-Like Mentality’ or ‘Dunkerque spirit’ emerged. People appeared to more patient and considerate with their retailers as well as each other. Customers understood that deliveries may be delivered late and staff may not have all the answers at their fingertips, especially as they may be at the kitchen table with just a mobile and a laptop to consult. At Christmas late deliveries will not be an option!

Companies that use Coronavirus to explain technical ecommerce failings will not be tolerated. Reliability is going to be a key factor in customers buying decisions. With economic uncertainty and potentially devastating recession, extra focus will be put on price, but not at the expense of ‘trust’. A safe purchase with a slight premium will win over a cheap but seemingly riskier supplier. Increase the number of customer touch points. This will fuel repeat purchasing and increase the life- time value of that customer.

A second wave in the Autumn is likely to accelerate the move from traditional high street retail to online purchases. So be ready Post-COVID Christmas is coming!

ACTION POINTS

  • Ensure feedback loops with customers seek out new opportunities. Use your ecommerce CRM system to evaluate from lapsed customers what might bring them back as a regular customer.
  • The old adage applies; expect the best but prepare for the worst.
  • Ensure your supply chain can cope with future peaks and line up additional suppliers as a plan B.
  • Another adage applies: “When times are good you should advertise. When times are bad you must advertise.”
Summary

There is money to be made in the run up to, and during the first Post-COVID Christmas for those that act now.

The ‘Front office’ needs to exude efficiency and dependability.
The ‘Back Office’ needs to be fast, responsive and most of all driving business decisions.
In-house teams may be fractured by working from home, now would be a good time to compare the benefits of a one stop outsource solution.
Ecommerce sites demonstrating trust and efficiency will win.
Human contact and a feeling of safety are paramount.

This can be a very, Happy Post COVID Christmas for those that prepare.

If you would like a free ecommerce consultation, contact us now on +44 020 3372 5711 or email [email protected]