Digital Meet Up review | The world of eCommerce post covid-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, industries across the board are having to reinvent themselves to cope with the changing consumer landscape – and many in unexpected ways.

Understandably, many are reassessing their eCommerce, digital marketing strategy and budgets considering the uncertain economic situation. Where possible, brands that can do so can benefit from taking this time to strategize and plan, rather than putting the brakes on.

In our latest digital meet up our CEO, David Schulhof (DS) spoke with Simon Wharton (SW), Business Strategy Director at PushOn, Jack Cooper (JC), Digital Marketing Manager at Andertons Music Co, Anna Bravington (AB), Digital & Community Engagement Manager at GAME Retail and Neil Kuschel (NK), CEO Europe at Global-E. Below is some of the transcript from this 90 minute chat.

Firstly, we asked what the last few months have been like professionally and what have been the highs and the lows.  

JC: I think one of the main lows is lack of human interaction, but from a marketing perspective it has to be the fact we have had to dampen down our marketing efforts in order to accommodate other areas of the business. We are one of the lucky few who have seen an increase as people have been stuck at home indoors and turning to new hobbies like learning to play.

NK: I think the low point was 48 hours after lock down. When we all sent everyone off with their computers etc and whilst day 1 was fun, day 2 was OK, by day 3 it felt rubbish. The high point has been the realization that working from home can be very productive. Client wise, consumers still have disposable income and therefore we have had 50 brands go live with us within the last month…

Have you found that you have acquired new customers from new demographics who may have preferred bricks and mortar stores prior to lockdown? And, do you believe you will keep them as ecommerce customers post lockdown?

JC: Yeah. Massively. People are coming to the website and they are buying things that will enable them to do like home recording or learning guitar for the first time. So, their shopping traits give us an indication that they are new to the musical instrument world or maybe reinvigorated to pick up a guitar again for the first time in many years.

AB: For us we have also been one of the lucky ones with our industry because it’s the ideal one for people on lock down [gaming]. It is something you can do at home and it keeps the kids busy while you’re trying to work. So, it’s been really good for us. We’ve seen a lot more of what we determine as the “gifters” who are looking to buy something for their children during lockdown so it’s almost been sort of like a mini peak for us which has been really unusual. Also, we’re seeing different types of traffic because there was a lot of stock shortages with other retailers which has allowed us to pick up customers who may have shopped at Amazon or Smiths. It’ll be interesting to see how it continues throughout the rest of the year.

With more traditional brands now going direct for the first time. Are you seeing that brands are rushing through their ecommerce sites to try and ensure they do not miss out?

SW: Currently there is a fair amount of congestion around brands who are on Magento 1 [end of life.] If you are a brand that wants to plan and resource to build a new direct to consumer platform it is going to take time, planning and execution. One of the things we are careful off is; does the brand have the skill set to use the platform, have they been trained, can they put the content up correctly and does it align with their content, social and PR marketing strategies. In addition, It is important that brands understand where consumer habits are going to be in the future so they can align their eCommerce platform with their strategy.

With the change in consumer habits, how do you think retailers will change how they provide not only access to products, but also the consumer experience?

AB: This was something in consideration even before COVID-19 hit. Over the past 12 months we have been adjusting to more question based social posts. Allowing more interaction with our audience. This has been driven by an increase in social media during this time, as it likely has for most businesses, our aim is to keep the fun up, and keep our audience excited by what we have to offer.

In terms of KPI’s of success. Do you feel these have changed post COVID, or do you feel they will stay the same with more added in?

AB: I believe that over the next few years, we will be more focused on both brand and community KPI’s. Despite it being harder to map. The idea is that we will measure more KPI’s than ever before, to really get that holistic layers which show what is happening across the business.

JC: I think this is largely an extension of what Anna suggests. We are fortunate that people within our industry enjoy sharing their content with each other. However, one of the challenges we experience is to understand where our customers are in their life cycle.

Do you feel as though some of your KPI’s have had more focus that others?

JC: Whilst we have been ramping up the content and the branding, we have also had a review on how we use our paid channels and how we spend media budgets to attract customers. Previously we would use google shopping to advertise a large range of products. However, as a result due to logistics being affected because of social distancing we have had to educate the business about how we need to be digital leaders by targeting higher value products which can assist the warehouse teams who are dealing with shortages. In addition, how can we use marketing to take pressure of the customer service teams who may also be furloughed.

With Covid-19 being a global problem, and many countries with varying their levels of lock down. How are brands that already trade internationally finding the level of variance.

NK: Brands that have sold to the whole world have been able to hedge against the coronavirus outbreak. Effectively, we saw Asia decline in January/February, and was then a recovery in March through May. Europe went into the decline in the middle of March and then improve mid-April. Whilst sales to the US declined around the end of April and are now on the climb. Whereas sales to the middle east have largely increased as the malls shut down and everyone moved to eCommerce. The more countries a brand sold in the easier it has been to divert attention.

JC: We have been exploring our international offering for quite some time. Having spent a good number of years working on our logistics. And, with the challenges that often arise we have been exploring how we can monetize digital products in the international markets without the need to move physical goods. We are lucky as we have a subscriber base of around 1m on YouTube and around half of them are based overseas.

AB: We do also trade internationally through Game Spain. With us, we have developed a fresh audience during COVID and this have made us focus on how we leverage this new audience first. However, our focus internationally has been to show our shop expertise online to those countries who cannot visit our shops. Sadly, several businesses will and may close during this time, so we believe that people should be looking at how they can fill these gaps.

With everything that we are going through. Do you think those within the eCommerce space will be investing more or less spend over the next 12 months?

SW: It is like the asteroid that killed the dinosaur 65m years ago. There is going to be a whole load of evolutionary elements. Whether the spend is higher will depend on the size of the economy at the time. There will be certain businesses that will anticipate the asteroid hitting. These will be the ones that skill up correctly. Whilst there will be some that will stay the same, but they are more likely to lose market share. To summarize, there is going to be some businesses that ramp up their spend, and they will get the benefit.

JC: I think one of the first things you may see is an investment in people. As these will be the ones who unlock the value and improve the experience for users. How can we replicate the experience of picking up a guitar and playing it online? Whilst the technology exists, unless you have the people who can unlock that value, it will be worthless.  In terms of media spend, I believe it will be invested in, but I believe the media spend will be focused on the products that offer more profit.

AB: In any of these big world events, there are people that do the right thing, and people who go back to doing what they have always done. The ones who learn from it, the next time something like this happens they will be better placed to cope with it. They do suggest that the brands who market through these times are usually the ones that come out stronger the other side.

How much should brands think about a second spike?

AB: That is a tough one as there has been a lot of learning. As we have always been a store-based retailer, we have always taken for granted that our stores will be there. The learning for us is that we know eCommerce is getting bigger and we need to allow our online customers to uncover the same level of experience and knowledge as customer get when in store.

NK: I think for online retailers need to position themselves to sell cross-border in case of another spike. It appears COVID-19 effects those involved in lower income positions a bit more than those with higher levels of income. Therefore, people are still at home, online and shopping and brands need to be there.

SW: There is so many interesting things being said. I am less pessimistic about the high street, and I believe that the high street has a place, yet it needs to evolve and become more experiential. We think of the Spain model, whereby shops are open beyond the 9-5pm. Shopping online is a largely an uninspiring experience. If brands are working closer with their high street stores you could experience retail spaces where you go for style and go for fit and then get this delivered.

JC: I think it is important that brands make calculated risks to ensure they can compete within their niche. Brands need to be more agile when online. If they want to sell on Amazon then do, if they want to sell direct to consumer, then do. Many missed a trick the first-time round, but they now need to be more prepared.

DS: I’m always an optimist. As long as you have the processes in place and the confidence to react then you should be aggressive and go after the opportunities. Obviously if you just go blindly after them then it is risky. However, if you can be agile, then do go after the opportunities of which there is many available now.

Finally, what is the single most important learning that you will take going forward?

JC: Invest in your organic footprint. Where possible invest in a long-term strategy for your Organic search. Therefore, if something like this happens again, and you do need to switch off campaigns, you always have the fall back of your organic search.

AB: Don’t replicate what you see the large brands do. This is the age of the small business. You should think like start-ups. There are some wonderful small eCommerce businesses online and with their agile nature they can stand out unlike the big brands. You do not always need to put money into PPC. Show the face of the business and show the people behind it.

NK: The one thing that brands could do, is to be global from day one. Don’t think about starting in territories, just focus on global in day one.

SW: Focus on skills and culture within the business. You need to have the right people with the right skills and the right attitude from the top down.

We would like to thank Neil. Anna, Jack and Simon for joining us and sharing personal experiences and insights on the world of eCommerce. The last few months have been unique for everyone with so much opportunity to learn and evolve. No one knows how the next 6-months will pan out – year on year data is near useless at the moment but keep your eyes open, look for opportunities and go after them.

Virtual Digital Meet up

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