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GUEST COMMENT What retail can learn from consumer electronics for lockdown 3.0

Image: Getty (licenced for smp use)

As we navigate a third national UK lockdown, and with the key Black Friday and Christmas sales periods now but a distant memory, consumer electronics brands and retailers are facing an awkward time. But they’re also looking at some incredible opportunities, as long as they leverage what they learned from last year’s lockdowns. And importantly, those insights can apply to retailers in other sectors too.

Firstly, Covid-19 has seen the acceleration of many existing trends. Factors such as e-commerce growth, working from home, health technology and smarter homes existed before, but have been thrown into sharp relief. Two lockdowns weren’t enough to stop many consumer electronics categories seeing growth through 2020.

Home is where the market is

The most impactful acceleration has been in the growth of e-commerce. John Lewis reported 60%-70% of its sales in 2020 were, up from 40% the year before. Successful consumer tech brands swiftly learned to adapt their e-commerce search and content strategies to reflect the changing needs of customers who spent long portions of the year unable to choose the high street.

With shoppers spending increasingly large amounts of time at home, this came to define their technology spending choices – solutions to enhance working from home, health & fitness at home, home entertainment and gaming experiences. This, in turn, has shifted the types of search terms used and the information consumers seek out in product page content.

Their shopping habits also shifted. According to John Lewis, online orders on are now spread throughout the day from 11am – 4pm, compared to last year when orders were mainly placed between 7pm – 10pm.

New content for the lockdown experience

Consumer electronics brands operating in categories like AV have also invested heavily in content and experiences to help overcome the barrier of not being able to touch, see or hear products in person.

For example, Sonos has increased its focus on content that explains how it creates its Brilliant Sound. Meanwhile, Apple is increasing its use of AR to show how new products, like HomePod mini, will look when placed in your home.

In addition to adjusting their search and content strategies, successful brands have repositioned or innovated in their product portfolio to reflect new behaviours and use-cases. For example, ‘lighting for Zoom’ is something people now care about. Green screens, high-end microphones and higher resolution cameras and webcams that were previously only seen in professional studios are now becoming more consumer-focused.

It’s not just brands evolving their content strategy: B8TA, the US retail store designed specifically for trying and buying new tech products, has launched a new video called In this age of restrictions and store closures, the video offering is being developed to replicate some of its in-store discovery for new tech products. This features demonstrations and unboxing videos from b8ta’s testers and interviews with brands that are creating new products.

Evolving personal selling

One of the most commonly cited reasons for shopping for consumer tech in-store is being able to consult experienced in-store sales staff. This expertise is something that brands like Richer Sounds have used as a differentiator previously. However, new digital tools are now helping to scale the reach and ability of sales staff to offer on-demand consults and advice to online shoppers.

For example, the Currys PC World ShopLive service offers video calls with sales staff to provide advice and guidance on products while customers shop online. North American retailer Best Buy goes a step further with Best Buy Home Experts who can be booked for video calls to offer advice on what to buy, help with planning installation, and show you how products work.


Going social

Consumer electronics brands like Elgato, which makes technology products for content creators, have successfully used social media to build direct relationships with consumers outside of retail e-commerce. With social content social content focused on topics like Zoom set-ups and use of social commerce integrations, it’s been able to reach the new ‘working from home’ consumer.

These types of social commerce integrations now available through Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are now allowing brands to create a seamless shopping experience, from discovery via ads and content through to purchase.

Consumer electronics brands are also tapping into live streaming platforms that allow consumers to shop directly in real time and have conversations with consumers, making online shopping a shared experience. For example, e-commerce platform Shopify has created a live sales channel through a partnership with livestream platform Spin Live, allowing Shopify merchants to sell products directly through live videos that are created by influencers.

China is the largest and most innovative live stream shopping market, with Alibaba’s Taobao Live claiming most of the market and still growing (up 110% YoY). However, other large digital platforms in that market are getting involved, such as retailer and search engine Baidu, either through investments, partnerships or the creation of their own channels.

The scale and growth of live stream shopping in China has attracted interest from US retailers. For example, US brick-and-mortar retailers can connect with Chinese shoppers using ShopsShops, an interactive, live-streamed global marketplace that hosts two-hour live events where customers shop via the app. ShopShops hosts manage the events, acting as stylists and translators, modelling items and answering any questions viewers may have about the items.

The live stream shopping trend is set to expand in US and European markets across 2021, with all the major US social networks having announced upcoming livestreaming shopping capabilities.

An accelerated ecosystem

Successful consumer electronics brands have been quick to adapt to the rapid shift online and the changing digital commerce landscape, in which purchase journeys have been shortened by blending digital marketing and e-commerce into one experience. Brands and retailers in other sectors are noticing the same impact and so could do worse than use some of the same tools and approaches as the big (and not-so-big) names in consumer tech.

After all, they understand we’re never going back to shopping for our TVs and iPhones as we knew it, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.


Chris Cooper, planning director at global digital commerce agency smp 

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