Online Retail After Coronavirus: How to Create Your Post-Lockdown Marketing Plan

Megan Watts - Digital Marketing Executive

Megan Watts

27th April 2020

It is hard for anyone to predict how life and business will change over the coming months as the country tries to return to normal. However, it remains important for online retailers to plan ahead in terms of getting sales and marketing back on track. Therefore, it’s worth considering what you can do now to prepare for a resurgence in traffic and sales, and to get ready for starting your marketing up again if you’ve had to make big changes to operations. 

Some tough decisions have had to be made for all businesses globally due to the coronavirus, whether this is closing your business temporarily, moving operations online or finding new ways to work. The choices made will vary from sector to sector, and for some, business will even be booming, perhaps in ways that have made demand difficult to handle. Nobody knows how long this restrictive period will last, but the mere uncertainty of the pandemic’s duration does mean that preparation and planning for life post-coronavirus is a necessity for online retailers.

Given that consumers are going to be cooped up at home for weeks or even months, it is fair to assume that people are more likely to be buying online right now. By Googling your go-to shopping websites it is clear to see that most retailers are experiencing delays due to high demand and large surges of orders since everyone has been isolating. Industry watchers suggest that if a brand hasn’t devoted major resources to ecommerce in the past, now is the time to do it. And the shift in consumer behaviour during lockdown is unlikely to go away overnight. It may be that changes we have made now continue for some time – for example, consumers may be worried about catching the virus even when lockdown is lifted, and may still shop online rather than making trips to shops. Some may also be hesitant about going to crowded areas such as restaurants. Businesses may also continue to operate in an online space when they otherwise may not have done so before. These are all considerations to bear in mind when planning how online marketing will help your business recover post-lockdown.

Communicating Your Post-Lockdown Plans

Your post-lockdown marketing plan should consider all elements of your online presence, what your customers will want, how you will reach your business goals, and whether those goals have changed. You should also consider how you’re going to monitor the situation and measure the success of your campaigns.

Once you have a plan for how your business will operate post-lockdown, one of the first things you should do is let your customers know. Tell people what to expect - will your business return to normal operations straight away, or will you run at reduced capacity for a while longer? How will people be able to get in touch with you - if your phone lines are currently unavailable, will they be available again straight away? If you’ve had a reduced offering, will more products become available, and when will this happen? You may not know the answer to these questions yet, pending government advice, but you could plan a few scenarios so that when the time comes, you know which course of action makes sense for you to take and what the timescale and list of actions will be.

Social Media and Website Content: What To Share and When

Forward planning in a situation like this should be seen as an opportunity to think about how you present your brand on social media. It is absolutely fine to promote your products in a way that considers our current way of living and is sensitive to the situation, both before and after lockdown. After all, everything isn’t going to go back to normal straight away, and customers aren’t going to feel like it has. Just as you have been sensitive to the mood during lockdown, you should equally consider how to be sensitive to the mood when lockdown ends. 

It is worth using this time to utilise platforms such as Instagram to provide inspiring content that many consumers will aspire to recreate when purchasing your products. This sounds like planning for the current situation, but in fact it is actually setting a great foundation for planning your relaunch, as you aren't pushing sales explicitly, but are stilling leading consumers on the path to purchase. 

It goes without saying that any content that was planned in advance that doesn't suit the current climate is not worth putting out there now, and you’ve likely already set this aside. But in terms of relaunching, you could plan when and how to use this unused content in the future. When will you publish it to your website and how will you present it on social media?

On top of using content you had previously been unable to post, you could also think of an innovative way to appeal to your consumers when things begin to become normal again. For example, something that many online home and clothing retailers are doing is creating a ‘Stay home’ section on their website and listing products with a lockdown angle – for example, loungewear. This idea could be adopted for relaunching, to suit the type of activities that people will begin doing again, such as socialising. For a clothes retailer, this may be a ‘Get back out there’ section once restaurants, bars and clubs open again. This can be reflected on your social media so people can see that you care for the situation at hand. 

Looking for events that coincide with your ecommerce business, such as London Fashion Week for clothes retailers, can be a great way to draw inspiration and plan ahead. The next London fashion week is going to be held entirely digitally, and will merge its womenswear and menswear shows, its organisers have announced.

This provides some scope for your retail fashion business to react to this. One way could be to create your own ‘digital fashion week’ where people post their favourite outfit online following some conditions that you set them, such as using a certain hashtag or following their Instagram account. You may choose to offer a prize or to post them on your social pages. This type of planning will show your brand in a positive, proactive and fun light – which is something that many will appreciate and want to be involved in. It will build anticipation for your business and product offering to return to normal, or it could be a form of celebration when things are looking up. Of course, anything you do in this area should be done responsibly. For example, when writing messaging for selling your products on social media, you wouldn’t want to be seen as encouraging people to go out and socialise if it isn’t yet safe to do so. Timing is extremely important when planning this kind of content.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to create some solid answers to customer queries that are often asked via social media. People may be asking “where is my order?” or “when is the best time to make an order on your website, as your order limit is always met before I can make my order?” Giving genuine responses in your brand’s tone of voice will put people at ease and hopefully lessen the burden on customer service personnel. Think about the questions people will be asking about your operations when you’re back up and running as normal, and how you can best address them on social media and on your website.

Review Your Paid Advertising

As part of changing your marketing strategy during the pandemic, you may have paused or reduced any paid advertising you had running, either because of an anticipated reduction in sales and traffic, or because your business is experiencing a higher demand for products even without the added volumes paid advertising would bring. Thinking ahead now, which campaigns will you want to start up again after the lockdown? Maybe you have some specific products in mind that you would like to push, or you’d like to run a new offer to encourage people to start buying again. You may need a completely new campaign that will appeal to your target persona in this different buying environment. If you run paid search ads with both Google and Bing, will you want to start using both again straight away, or ease back into spending? What budget will you be comfortable with, and how will you measure the success of your campaigns?

You may also want to consider whether you want to resume marketing through every channel you did previously. What has worked for you during the lockdown, and do you think it will continue to work? For example, are your email marketing campaigns bringing so many sales that you’d prefer to focus your efforts there, or do you need your PPC up and running as quickly as possible to bolster sales?

Prepare Your Website Infrastructure and SEO

There’s likely to be a continued surge in online shopping. If that is the case, you need to think about your online marketing strategy, and beyond that, whether your infrastructure can handle a sustained increase in online sales and traffic.

Something that is becoming apparent is that companies can no longer put off addressing technology shortfalls. With the current surge in demand for making purchases online, as well as looking forwards to post-lockdown, you will want to ensure that your website infrastructure and factors such as usability and page speed are addressed now. Consumers might well emerge from this crisis not only more accustomed to shopping online, but more likely to stay there. Therefore, you want to be able to handle the current and developing situation with outward ease and composure so that people can put trust into your business when they invest in your products.

Not only will optimising your page speed and usability help with handling demand, but it will also help with your SEO. If you aren’t already working on your SEO during this time, it’s a good idea to give your website a review and optimise any areas where it may be lacking. Ensuring your content and architecture are optimised for search now will put you in a better position when things begin to pick up again and competition increases. Find out more in our blog post “SEO During and After Coronavirus”.

Review the Impact on Your Supply Chain

Another dynamic many brands will have to deal with in the long term is making adjustments to their supply chains. Most manufacturers only keep a limited stock of products in warehouses, and that stock is likely to be depleted before long.

Many manufacturing supply lines are in China, which itself is just starting to emerge from its own coronavirus crisis and restart its lines. This in itself will require retailers to rethink their supply chain management during and post-coronavirus. How will this impact your marketing plan when lockdown eases?

Ecommerce Emergence Post-Lockdown

Ecommerce is likely to emerge with a bigger share of sales after this crisis ends. From an operational standpoint, most businesses are dealing with the immediate term, but it will be beneficial to create long-term actions or to begin working on actions now that will better prepare you for post-coronavirus changes.

How you choose to conduct your marketing after lockdown will be based on your business and its goals, as well as your customers and their buying behaviour. It will also depending on how the virus continues to move around the country and the world, the government’s advice, and many other things that are unfortunately not in our control. What’s important is that you start thinking about the things you can control and how you might plan for the future, so that when lockdown is lifted – however gradually – you’ll have a marketing plan for getting your business back on track, and thriving in the long term.

This is a tricky time for any business, whether your sales are surging or depleting, but there are always positive digital marketing steps that can help you to stay strong in a crisis. If you would like any help with navigating online marketing during or after the coronavirus pandemic, let us know how we can help.

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