Then Covid-19 hit and ecommerce surged.
With the majority of retail stores closed due to social distancing, consumers across the globe are turning to online shopping to access the products they need during isolation. Online orders increased by 88% worldwide from the start of the year to the end of March, with average order volumes in certain product groups such as DIY rising by more than 200%. And while the coronavirus lockdown is temporary, the change in purchasing behaviour may well be more sustained as consumers get comfortable with ordering products online.
With online shopping habits changing so rapidly, retailers need to review their ecommerce strategies to ensure they are catering to evolving consumer needs.
Retailers have an increasing number of options to chose from when selling their products online. Of course, some will have their own ecommerce site and many will sell through an online marketplace, with Amazon accounting for a third of online shopping in 2019. They can also sell through specialised mobile shopping apps and even social media platforms such as Instagram, which launched the capability for scrollers to purchase directly from their favourite creators last year. But while UK consumers are dipping their toes in the social media purchase waters, they are generally too savvy to trust these sites for anything other than low value consumables.
So, for those higher priced items such as TVs and computers – which have seen a boom in sales during the lockdown – as well as products that require careful consideration like furniture and home appliances, retailers do have an additional option. They can drive sales through the same online publications where consumers do their product research, check out customer reviews and get their pressing questions answered, before making a final purchase.
With consumers compelled to stay at home they have more time to consume content, reading articles and watching videos that capture their interest. In fact, Future saw a 44% increase in page views across its titles during the month of March. When consumers are immersed in quality content that relates to a topic that interests them, or that they are passionate about, they have a far greater propensity to consider and buy related products than if they see an arbitrary advert in the middle of an unrelated activity.
Retailers can make the most of the engaged audiences on publisher sites to drive high-purchase intent traffic to their own ecommerce sites. Consumers value genuine advice about what to spend their money on, and quality content including expert opinions, ‘how to’ videos and authentic reviews can all influence their buying decisions. Publisher forums and comment pages are also increasing in popularity, giving boosted ‘word of mouth’ influence to publisher content.
Since the lockdown began, consumers are increasingly using publishers’ content to research products that can help keep them occupied, fit and entertained at home. Cycling News, for instance is seeing a rising interest in home trainers, which accounted for 13 out of 20 of the most clicked on products at the end of March and drove 50% of transaction volume. Keen cyclists are clearly turning to a trusted publication for advice on products to help them maintain fitness and continue their hobby during the lockdown.
Equally, interest in games consoles has increased considerably, with consumers looking to entertain themselves and their families. As consoles are relatively high value items, shoppers are seeking relevant advice before clicking through to an ecommerce site and making a purchase, and Future saw a 135% increase in transactions for gaming hardware through its publisher sites in March. While consumers – such as those anticipating the launch of Xbox and PlayStation’s next gen consoles – have the spare time and attention to read around potential purchases and watch informative videos before committing to a purchase, retailers should maximise the opportunity to convert engaged audiences.
In-depth insight into publisher audiences allows retailers to target a variety of online personas. These are not created based on demographic data but on the consumer’s particular interests and priorities. Selling their products through publisher sites allows retailers to reach specific audiences when they are immersed in a subject that appeals to them personally at that moment in time.
The ‘new normal’ of Covid-19 lockdown is revealing a number of new online personas for retailers to focus on. These include ‘the routine chaser’ who is seeking fitness content and products, ‘the amateur chef’ who is looking for cooking content and kitchen appliances, and ‘the DIY enthusiast’ who is interested in home improvement content, tools and gardening equipment. Content that appeals to these personas are seeing huge levels of engagement on related publisher sites and retailers can make the most of the opportunity to reach consumers that fall into these categories with relevant products, while they are immersed in their immediate interests.
Retailers can also ensure their products are promoted alongside content that is aligned with their audience’s values and principles. One in five Gen Zs claim brand ethics influence their purchase decisions, signalling a need to do more than simply be in the right place at the right time. Above all, retailers will want to ensure their products are promoted alongside useful and uplifting content at this unprecedented time of crisis, establishing positive perception and association.
Ecommerce will continue to grow, even after the Covid-19 situation improves, as consumers get even more comfortable ordering online. By associating their products with trusted, informative and engaging content on relevant publisher sites, retailers can connect with consumers while they are immersed in a relevant topic and can drive high purchase intent traffic to their own product pages, ensuring they make the most of the continued rise in online shopping.
Zack Sullivan is CRO UK of Future
Main image: Adobe Stock
Author image courtesy of Zack Sullivan/Future