The huge eCommerce opportunity of the UK lockdown

There we were chugging along with our stable eCommerce models, a tweak here and a nudge there and our work was done. Then the market changed, a lot!

The UK’s lockdown has shifted the market overnight and caused the entire population to buy differently. This is unprecedented but it also provides an opportunity. Savvy marketers know that consumers try new brands when they’ve experienced life changes. New life, new products. Just look at how much Procter & Gamble and Unilever spend on marketing to new parents.

This means the current market is wide open like never before.

Your potential customers are open to change because they have experienced so much personal change. There’s a massive opportunity to put yourself in front of people who are currently open to new brands, instead of just ones they have been loyal to.

When the lockdown happened, business owners had the question ‘how is this going to affect me and what should I do about it?’ Unlike most changes in the market that take years to roll out, we all had an answer by the following week. Some obvious answers were that online food is doing well and anyone selling survival or medical supplies.  But few were forecasting the huge increase in gardening and DIY products. We bet some of you are selling products you didn’t even know you stocked!

People stuck in their houses are not just feeding themselves but also keeping themselves occupied.  With travel removed from their daily routine, suddenly people have more time. So, ‘survival’ for a lot of the UK is not just about food but mental health. Now we have the chance to ‘get the garden ready for summer’ or ‘finally get that spare room sorted’ and there’s a large part of the market doing just this.

In terms of advertising the market is still changing so fast.  Some of us may have tried some paid advertising, lost money and then decided ‘we cannot make money now’. However, how people are thinking and how they are behaving from week to week is drastically different.  Just because your marketing did not work last week does not mean that it won’t today.  If you cut all marketing, you won’t be able to tell when your market is warming up, perhaps it’s even turned red hot.  Once customers have understood how the lockdown has affected them financially, they will know how much money they have to spend.

Don’t make the error of thinking it is business as usual though. Here are a couple of errors that we are seeing that you can avoid:

  1. Machine learning is not your friend.

Given the huge change in market we cannot expect machine learning to be able to keep up.  If we are using Google’s auto bidding rules such as ‘maximise conversions’ or Google Smart shopping, now is the time to turn them off and go back to manual.  This is due to these models basing bidding on last week’s data and that’s old news.  We turned ours off right before lockdown and it was a game changer for our sales.

2. Your messaging must change.

The other issue we see is eCommerce sites bunkering down and keeping going with their ‘usual messages’ such as a clothing site saying ‘spring is a great time to go for a picnic in the park’ – no it’s not.  Businesses that don’t review their messaging at the moment and control the conversation their brand is conveying will miss an opportunity to gel with the consumer and build rapport for the longer term.

So, what sort of things can you be doing at the moment? It’s essential to engage one on one with as many customers as possible, so this means

  • Order thank you surveys
  • Live chat engagement devices
  • Post purchase thank you campaigns
  • Mining your onsite search queries to help set out your new homepages
  • Create Facebook group communities
  • Ask your customers what you can do to help them at this time via text based simple emails

Anything that allows you to understand your customer’s mindset and ‘new’ needs is essential.

Before this crisis, we were experiencing the rising of the cost of customer recruitment.  Google and Facebook had a formula for increasing their revenue thus keeping shareholders happy with nice quarterly results.  Those days are gone, Google and Facebook have lost a lot of hospitality & tourism revenue.  In response, Facebook and Google are in a price war to get a share of what’s left and this means lower click prices across the board.  Across our eCommerce marketing, we are looking for the products that are ‘self-liquidating’ that we can sell at a slight profit and at volume in this environment and using these lower click prices to reach a greater audience.  This is allowing us to add massively to our house files (customer lists) which will pay dividends for years.

In summary, some doors may have shut, but a lot of doors have opened. Don’t just sit and wait this out.  The eCommerce market after this system shock will be a different landscape and we must all adapt and make sure we are one of the winners. Use this time to increase your house file and try and break even.

If you want to make sure you are one of the winners please consider reading our eCommerce book which focuses on getting your eCommerce site to do more with less, you can grab a copy here

By Ian and Mark Hammersley, Hammersley Brothers eCommerce Strategists

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