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Retailers need e-commerce to survive an economy in limbo

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Garin Hobbs from Iterable discusses the need for E-commerce to support retailers amidst the crippling effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in with itself.

The economy is neither fully open, nor fully closed. We call this limbo. In a close-up view, the world seems to be standing relatively still. But from a wider lens, our perspective changes: Radical economic and social shifts have resulted in extreme, and seemingly conflicting, shifts in consumer behavior. For instance, eMarketer predicts we’ll see a 10% drop in retail sales in 2020, with no relief until 2022. Meanwhile, e-commerce sales are booming: According to the “US Ecommerce 2020” report, digital sales will grow 18% this year.

With no end to this economic purgatory in sight, retailers need to sustain their businesses. And e-commerce is the answer.

E-commerce solutions have a track-record of facilitating buoyancy; keeping younger businesses afloat (and thriving) while more lethargic retail giants invest in longer R&D timelines.

The only caveat to e-commerce success enablement? Time. To fully take advantage of e-commerce abilities (especially for first-timers), retailers must quickly build an engaging omnichannel marketing experience.

Why? Because consumers have more buying power and freedoms than ever before and the market is saturated in most product segments, making your task as a marketer more difficult. Socioeconomically speaking, the pandemic has small geographic pockets with widely varying financial and social impacts, yielding diverse (and hard to predict) consumer preferences. For example, a shopper with a pre-COVID penchant for pick-up-in-store may now stick to online shopping and delivery due to unexpected factors, like a lack of public transit or fear of visiting a storefront. And they wouldn’t be alone: According to a recent Iterable poll, 67% of shoppers plan to do all or most of their 2020 holiday shopping online.

It’s hard for marketers to predict wide swings in consumer preference. However, by leaning on empathy, it will become easier to understand and anticipate the emotional, geographic and economic factors driving today’s consumers.

So, once you have your empathy-informed consumer marketing strategy in view, how can you effectively pivot messaging and develop informed offerings for your consumers? Develop a hybrid shopping experience.

Developing a successful hybrid shopping experience

The fact of the matter is consumers expect to have the same experience in a store as in their back pocket. Meet those expectations by investing in personalized digital experiences, striving always for hyper-individualization. As you build a hybrid shopping experience, remember to:

  • Invite consumers into your narrative. Retailers must have a deep understanding of their audiences before moving to a hard sell. You wouldn’t want to push someone to make a purchase if they’ve just lost their job. Ask your customers for feedback every few months to determine how messaging should shift: How are they feeling/did they feel about making a certain purchase? Leaning into sensitivity and empathy helps you connect with customers and gather valuable information about what they care about and what motivates them to act. You can then use that information to make your products and services more effective props in the background of consumers’ lives.
  • Reconsider lines of segmentation. In today’s landscape, you may need to consider differences in risk tolerance as a way to segment customers. Understanding the basis of engagement with different consumers helps you contextualize each message to one of three camps: (1) people ready to go to stores, (2) people avoiding physical stores and (3) people somewhere in the middle. For example, people motivated to shop brick-and-mortar should receive CTAs about what’s open now (i.e., “We can’t wait to see you!”), while someone who’s hesitant to go out in public right now would be turned off by such a message. Make sure you have messaging and purchasing channels to meet consumers at any level of comfort.
  • Leverage extrinsic motivation. Products shouldn’t be the star of an ad — consumers should. According to Iterable’s research, 83% of shoppers are more likely to purchase from a brand with which they have formed an emotional connection. Contextualize the experience a consumer can, will or might have with a product to make that connection and close the sale. For instance, you shouldn’t showcase a bathing suit in isolation. You should market the beach, lake house, tropical vacation or poolside romance to motivate the swimsuit purchase. Providing context for the products you display and showing shoppers how you fit into their lives are especially critical during an economic downturn when shoppers may not be looking for opportunities to spend.

Caring is a prerequisite for building exceptional hybrid experiences. In a world where value and distinction are primary factors for purchase decisions, crafting a compelling narrative and a dynamic omnichannel experience is integral. As the nature of e-commerce continues to evolve, shoppers are always looking for industry leaders to guide their shopping preferences. By contextualizing your messaging, you allow customers to engage with your digital and in-store experiences. That’s how you compete with, and outmaneuver, retail giants.

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Garin Hobbs, Principal Product Marketing Manager of Market Insights.
Garin Hobbs is currently the Principal Product Marketing Manager of Market Insights. At Iterable. Prior to this he was the Director of deal strategy at Iterable.

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Garin Hobbs
Garin Hobbs is currently the Principal Product Marketing Manager of Market Insights. At Iterable. Prior to this he was the Director of deal strategy at Iterable.