How E-Commerce Stores Can Keep Their Inventory Moving Despite COVID-19 Disruptions?

The COVID -19 pandemic has been paradigm-shifting for the eCommerce industry. Traditional retail sales have gone downhill, but ecommerce has seen a 129% year-over-year growth in the U.S. and Canadian orders. Not surprisingly, even physical stores had to go online to survive the pandemic. Consequently, the U.S. e-commerce sales will hit a projected $709.78 billion in 2020, up from $601.65 billion since 2019

People worldwide are jumping onto the ecommerce bandwagon, not to mention even boomers who are shopping online for the first time. Indeed, it’s COVID 19 that has been accelerating this industry’s growth, and more and more businesses are joining the e-commerce business revolution like never before. Companies that have already adopted the e-commerce-first approach are already witnessing a boom in their online business. According to a report by ecommerce giant Shopify, global ecommerce sales are expected to touch $4.2 trillion.   

No matter how profoundly important an ecommerce is for your retail business, the fact is creating a website and selling your products through the same doesn’t come easy. With almost all companies on the eCommerce floor, the competition is growing steeper day by day, not to mention changing customer behavior.

Here I walk you through 8 trends that’ll help you cut through the e-commerce space’s noise. 

#1. Switch to Social Commerce and Influencer Marketing  

Social Commerce has been prodigal in its approach. There are enough and more opportunities to sell on social media, only that we act miserly when it comes to taking advantage of it. If you think social commerce and social media marketing are the same, no, it’s not. It is different from social media marketing in a sense as it does not redirect users to the online shop but offers them the wherewithal’s to check out the products directly from the social media page. And if you could combine social commerce with influence marketing, it could prove to be a killer strategy.  

Agreed, several businesses out there are not truly happy about hiring an influence marketer. However, the fact is, the trend is catching up, and companies are partnering with micro and macro-influencers. In fact, according to Bigcommerce report, 65% of the influencer marketing budget will witness an increase this year. And about 7% of the companies intend to invest over a million dollars every year for this strategy. However, the key is to rope in celebrities with massive followings and get them to endorse your products and social commerce to drive sales directly from social.

DSW, a shoe and handbag retail chain that operates over 500 stores in the United States and an e-commerce website contacted influencers to use some of their images in its marketing materials because in-person shoots weren’t possible this time of the year. Also, it increased the budget of influencers by 20% during the pandemic. The tie-up resulted in a double-digit increase in the number of the millennial generation and younger customers.   

#2. Adapt Your Marketing Messages to Target at-home consumers

Ads conceived during the pre-COVID era won’t work anymore. With social distancing being the norm and people spending so much time cooped up at houses, ads need to be turnaround in keeping with the current situation, only then it would strike a chord with the customers. For instance, Reebok and DSW put together a campaign that shows how consumers can do workouts at home in athletic shoes. Or even hold virtual happy hours with friends, or at-home fashion shows.  

Consumers are spending enough time at home, so the time spent watching TV, online videos, social media, and other streaming services are up by 35-49% compared with before the pandemic.  DSW is shelling out more dollars on these channels to capture the extra time consumers are spending here. 

#3. Offer Extended Returns 

With customers spending majority of time at homes, which means they have more time at hands to search for the best deals. So, one thing that you could easily offer without second guesses is by extending returns. In an email from Schuh, the company not only notifies of their store closures but also of an extended returns policy of up to a year!

With customers spending the majority of their time at home, which means they have more time at hand to search for the best deals. So, one thing that you could easily offer without second guesses is by extending returns. In an email from Schuh, the company not only notifies of their store closures but also provides extended returns policy of up to a year! 

#4. Highlight Your Philanthropic Side 

In Corona times, ‘Cause Marketing’ works. In other words, customers are choosing to buy from brands that have associated themselves with a cause that they commonly share. So, in a sense more than discounts its cause marketing that’ll count for your company.

This means brands need to look into causes that their target audience cares about the most and then join them in their efforts.

For instance, GoCoop promotes masks made by artisans across the country to help them sail through the crises. This shows them in a positive light and also does their bit for their society.  

DSW already has an established philanthropy program with Charity Soles4Souls that donates shoes to communities in need. With many people wanting to give back to society, DSW allows shoppers to drop off their shoe donations curbside.

Curbside is a new service that DSW quickly implemented to all its stores during the pandemic. “ We had talked about curbside, and we were testing it in one store, using a fancy application to make it happen,” said Stevenson to Digitalcommerce360. “And then COVID hit, and we were like ‘holy crap, we need to roll this out quickly.”

#5. Offer Discounts on Bulk purchases 

Customers these days are buying in bulk because of the limited availability of items and delayed deliveries. This helps them to be prepared for days ahead. So, when customers are buying in size, they look for discounts, and therefore they love to shop with brands that offer discounts on a broad spectrum of items they need.   

Not just grocery brands, even fashion, and apparel brands will need to understand their customers better to see which of their products in the inventory could be sold in bulk. E.g., creating bundles of fashion wear may not be a good idea today in keeping with the time. Instead, making bundles of comfort wear may do to the trick. Or you could pair low selling stock with high selling products to clear deadstock inventory. Use inventory management software to make this process of pairing different products easy. 

#6. Offer Online Payments to Ensure Contactless Delivery  

As more and more people want to remain contactless, there’s an increased need to set up online payment systems for orders. There’s a clear shift from COD to online payment modes such as Netbanking, digital wallets, etc. So, if fashion and apparel businesses don’t offer multiple payment modes to consumers, they’ll surely lose sales. 

To begin with, check out what your existing customer wants while making online payments. Also, study competing brands about their offerings to make online shopping easier. The idea, after all, is to offer popular payment methods in your target area.  

#7. Set up a Hygiene Page on your Store 

As mentioned, consumers are demanding contactless delivery from companies, which means companies have to think of coming up with the right delivery modes. One way out, which businesses could think of while convincing customers about their safe delivery services, is by setting up a hygiene page on their store. The page could shares the regulations that you are strictly following to ensure the safe delivery of orders. Not to mention, if you include a line or two about your packaging process, it’s sure resonate with the customers.    

#8. Think of ‘BOPS’ Option 

Yes, this is yet again a popular option to try out. BOPS –  Buy Online and Pick-up Instore.  For instance, if a few customers prefer to check out the product before buying them, then in such cases, you could invite a few customers at a time keeping the social distancing measures in mind to pick up their products.  

In fact, you could set up “Senior Hours” for senior citizens, just like Walmart, Costco and Target have done so that the vulnerable shoppers could avoid crowds.

In case you don’t own a physical store, associate with an existing brick-and-mortar business to serve BOPS customers. 

Rounding up 

As customers keep working from home, travel less and are maintaining social distancing measures, marketers will need to continue their focus on messages that promote online shopping via mobile apps, social commerce and other incentives.