Coronavirus: Dealing With Increases and Decreases In eCommerce Demand

Eddy Hyde - Technical Sales Manager

Eddy Hyde

3rd April 2020

With the business climate we are facing as a result of Covid-19, it’s important for us to consider the impact this will have on digital marketing and how each and every business can position its online activity to best weather the storm, and prepare for future success. Businesses far and wide face threats and opportunities, dependent on their business models, government sanctions, access to and movement of staff and much more. 

In this article, we’ll investigate the impact of increased and decreased demand for your products or services and which actions can be taken from a digital standpoint to keep your business running, during a time where the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty.

With many businesses experiencing forced government closures, often working with skeleton staff in the business premises and/or staff working remotely from home, it’s unlikely that businesses will be working to full operational capacity. Businesses can call on tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype or Google Hangouts to keep their workforce connected and stay in touch with their marketing agencies.

With a need for reduced human contact, there has been an increase in online shopping, showing growth in sectors such as home and garden or home fitness. However, there have also been declines in areas such as travel, fashion, concerts and many other sectors. 

An increase in online purchasing of essential goods and goods suited to spending more time confined to our homes can be highlighted no better than by the fact that Amazon has said it will hire 100,000 extra full and part-time staff to handle the demand caused by the coronavirus crisis. As an online retailer, never has it been so important for your business to have a fast, secure and well-optimised website accompanied by efficient, effective and economical digital marketing campaigns.

Alongside the opportunities and threats, businesses have to navigate a stark shift in consumer spending and dip in consumer confidence. So the question is, with Covid-19 set to be with us for months, how can we survive the abrupt change in consumer buying behaviour, whilst continuing to move our businesses forward, and most importantly continuing to generate profit?

In the interest of simplifying things, we’re looking at those businesses that are seeing increased demand and those that are seeing decreased demand.


Dealing With Increases In Demand

Focus on key products or services

With increased demand comes additional pressure on the whole supply chain, but most noticeably for retailers who are holding stock, the fulfilment arms of their businesses. At a time where there is potential for vast increases in demand, it’s important to assess the prioritisation of how products are packed, shipped and delivered. 

Consider validating which products are most sought-after during the upturn in demand and altering your operations to best suit your consumer requirements.

A recent example of this happening is with Amazon, who have said that due to an increase in online shopping they are:

“temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products coming into our fulfilment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and ship these products to customers. For products other than these, we have temporarily disabled shipment creation.”

Understand and convey your business’s Covid-19 positioning

It’s essential for all stakeholders to understand to what level their business is operating at during such unprecedented times. This will promote a sense of cohesion and will ensure all stakeholders are conveying the correct message to current and potentially new customers, enabling them to continue to enquire about or purchase your products and services.

Whether you’re fully operational or operating at reduced capacity, it’s important to let your customers know this. You might do this by creating a website banner, changing your website or ad messaging, posting regular updates on social media, providing new topical content in the form of blog posts, or through email campaigns.  Keep customers fully updated, and ensure messages are all timestamped. Emails, like social posts, are automatically timestamped, but website banners should also include a timestamp to reassure visitors that they are current.

Tailor your offering to meet changing consumer needs

With Covid-19 having an impact that extends to many facets of a business, it’s important to (where possible) offer new products or services, or promote the most relevant in the circumstances, to help your customers battle through this tricky period. Helping to make their buying journey as frictionless or uninterrupted as possible will be mutually beneficial for both customer and seller. They will not forget how they were treated in times of adversity and will likely turn into an advocate for your business, both increasing their customer lifetime value and leading to new sales opportunities through word of mouth.

Kempston Controls - a supplier of industrial automation & electronic controls, a SilverDisc customer, immediately understood the important role they play in distributing electronic components pivotal to the maintenance of grocery and medical production lines. By quickly realising their customer base would be under immense pressure to keep their production lines running, supply chains open and key workers in jobs, they introduced a 24/7 same-day emergency delivery service. This modification in their delivery offering better serviced the changing needs of their consumer base and will ultimately ensure manufacturers will no longer lose thousands of pounds due to inactive manufacturing facilities. SilverDisc changed advertising schedules on these essential product lines from 9-5/5 to 24/7.

Capitalising on additional search traffic

Start by focusing on the foundations of speed and security; make sure your website is secure and your servers can cope with additional website traffic.

Dedicate time and resources to optimising your ad accounts and website to make sure they are working their hardest for you. Marginal gains in click-through and conversion rates can have huge impacts on your bottom line profit at all times, with results even more profound when dealing with increased demand. Ensure that campaigns are relevant to the new circumstances. For example, you may wish to change the mix of products advertised, or update ads more frequently if stock is moving faster.

Consider any changes you can make to better service your customers in a time of need. Guide them through your website, making slight changes to your messaging and UX, and promote recently popular products that could better streamline the ordering process, with Covid-19 in mind.

Keep an eye on search trends outside of your account, using tools such as Google Trends to monitor activity. You’ll also need to pay attention to fluctuations in volumes for campaigns in your ad accounts. Be open to introducing new keywords to your accounts and ensure you have a well-optimised Dynamic Search Ads campaign that can mop up any new traffic your account may not yet be optimised to cover through traditional search campaigns.

Investigate where you can introduce additional budgets or redistribute existing budgets to help drive additional revenue in better performing campaigns and ad groups. Be aware of increased competition in your area, and focus on where you may need to increase bids or change the goals of your smart bidding strategies, in order to remain competitive.

Provide additional support to your campaigns by updating your ads and extensions to provide key messaging on delivery, product availability and stock levels. Ensure your price and promotion extensions are reflecting the most appropriate deals for potential customers, in line with recent demands. Highlight your added benefits, e.g. free delivery on all orders over £20, to further influence conversion. Stay in close communication with your fulfilment team to ensure they can cope with the additional orders.

Understand that there will be increased competition for ad space, due to increases in online shopping following government sanctions on isolation. Keep an eye on changes in impression share and clicks on your Google Shopping campaigns, which will ultimately be a great “go-to” for customers looking for easy access to products. Make changes to your merchant centre feeds, adjusting product pricing, promotion and delivery costs to remain competitive.

Ensure you can service your customers - good communication is more important than ever. Use chatbots, live chat, messaging and FAQ sections throughout your website to help deal with demand in a more controlled and efficient manner. Making any information related to purchasing readily available and therefore still being able to provide high levels of customer service will ultimately result in a better customer experience, whilst also saving you time and working towards retention, lifetime value and advocacy.

Brainstorm with your digital marketing agency

Communicate with your digital marketing agency too. Work to create a bespoke plan, ascertaining how your digital marketing requirements will change in tandem with a surge in demand and recognise any immediate actions that need to be taken. You’ll need to consider additions or reductions in budget, activity across a variety of channels, reworking short term forecasts and targets and plans for when demand subsides to more regular levels. 

Keep a close eye on your Cost of Advertising (COA) or Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) figures. But remember that due to needing to factor in the pipeline (or conversion lag), it can be tricky to gauge success in the immediate short term (day to day), so you’ll need to be aware of the true impact of pipeline sales on your revenue totals. Customer behaviour may differ to the norm, e.g. in visits to purchase or time to purchase. Because of this, you’ll need to monitor and discuss performance more than ever, in order to remain profitable whilst capitalising on the additional revenue opportunity that comes with increased demand.

Your agency should have already been in touch and be well-equipped to guide you through this time, helping you to decipher how your whole Digital Marketing System can pull in the same direction to provide a holistic and efficient approach to maximising your returns.


Dealing With Decreases In Demand

Regulating Ad Account Spend

With decreased demand and conversion rates comes a need for tightening paid ad spend, in order to be more economical. Rework your budgets and forecasts for the short term, in order to compensate for any decreased revenue as a result of Covid-19. Consider shifting attention from performance towards brand. It’s critical to continue to market your business in times of adversity and with Covid-19, there is no exception.

If you’re selling overseas, consider reallocating budget to advertising in less affected countries. You may also need to pause campaigns where supply chain issues are impacting stock levels. 

Managing Automation and AI

You’ll need to act quickly and diligently, making sure you’ve checked any AI and automation at play in your marketing. Check that any automated bidding in your ad campaigns meets your new targets and budgets and that any automated email campaigns are stopped or tailored to better understand and approach the current situation.

An example of a poorly timed email a member of our team received recently was an email from a very well renowned voucher company, who sent out emails promoting deals on wills, just as the effects of Covid-19 were really starting to hit home… Wow! This was received as very insensitive and poorly timed, during a period where many people will be losing loved ones. This was likely a result of automated campaigns not being edited and being allowed to run as normal, not acknowledging the current business climate.

Keep an eye on industry search volumes

Use Google Trends to monitor your industry terms closely. Alongside the threat Covid-19 can bring in terms of decreased demand, there can also be opportunities to diversify your products or services to meet the needs of your customers. Use your analytics package and Google Search Console to make year-on-year comparisons to better comprehend the full extent of your loss of traffic and revenue. 

Reinvesting time and effort into different areas

With a reduction in demand and potentially spare staff capacity, you can look at where to reinvest your time and efforts digitally. Start creating a back-log of evergreen content that can be used when demand for your products returns. You can also use this spare time to create longer forms of content such as video, which are time-intensive and can be forgotten during busy periods. 

Use any spare time you have to investigate the latest changes in digital marketing to see if there are any advancements which have passed you by and which, if implemented, could drive your business forwards. You should also consider reviewing your SEO or PPC account; you can enlist the help of your agency here as it’s likely they will have a process for this.

While looking at content, also consider how you will share it. A recent report from GlobalWebIndex highlighted that 95% of consumers are spending more time on in-home media, with 45% of consumers spending more time on social media. This rise in the use of home entertainment and social media provides a clear opportunity for marketers and paves the way for more content to be consumed. 

When demand does return to normal levels, you can be sure that competition will be as aggressive as ever, with other businesses looking to regain market share. That’s why, at a time of  decreased demand and operational capacity, it’s essential to continue working on your brand, positioning and values. Now is the time for your brand’s personality and character to shine through, if you can’t focus on performance - this will pay dividends post-Covid-19. You’ll be building relationships with your target market so that when they are ready to buy, they buy from you. 

Website speed underpins the success of many different online marketing efforts - it’s fundamental. Work with your developers to make speed improvements. Also focus on user experience to help increase conversion rates, where even the smallest of improvements can be extremely beneficial.

Speak to your digital marketing agency and collaborate to create an individual plan for post-Covid-19. If you’ve experienced decreases in demand, you’ll need a strategy to help you recover and capitalise on some of the branding work you’ve been doing. You could also spend some time documenting what you are doing and lessons learned, to further futureproof in case anything similar happens again in the future.

To conclude, whether your ecommerce business is experiencing increased or decreased demand as a result of Covid-19, there still remains plenty of planning, opportunities and improvements to be made to keep your digital marketing working towards your goals. By focusing and investing time into your digital presence now, you will emerge from this pandemic on a strong and confident footing and be in a position for your ecommerce activity to thrive moving forwards.

Finally, I’ll leave you with Google’s dedicated coronavirus website, which has safety tips, data and insights, resources for SMEs and more. You may also want to read Think With Google’s 3 ways retailers can help shoppers during the coronavirus outbreak.


Discover More Google Advertising Tips, Guides and Best Practices

Read More

Free eBook For Online Retailers

Download our Navigating the Biggest Challenges for Online Retailers eBook now for insights into AI and Machine Learning, Personalisation, Automation, Voice Search, Big Data and more.

Download eBook

Like What You've Read?

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive our latest blog posts and our take on the latest online marketing news