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eCommerce and Coronavirus: Data, Strategies and Resources to Address the Risks of the Pandemic

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The quarantine and the major restrictions imposed on mobility are changing consumer behavior and the web remains the only window on the world. The time has come to react and take advantage of this period to re-evaluate the importance of online commerce and take your business on new paths.

The Covid-19 pandemic is an event of historical and unprecedented importance for our hyperglobalized economy. At present we are forced to navigate by sight making decisions based on the contingent situation and without having enough information to be able to plan our activities. The good news is that ecommmerce and coronavirus can coexist.

Crisis and opportunities always go hand in hand and, despite the enormous difficulties in many sectors, there are several economic operators who are taking advantage of this moment to start virtuous digitization processes. Even if we do not know how consumers will react and to what extent the next economic crisis will be, we can certainly say that the strong restrictions on personal freedom are changing purchasing habits and methods, pushing more and more people towards online shopping (on this point is interesting the article published on Forbes.com ” Coronavirus and shopping behavior “).

According to the incoming news, most e-commerce operators are experiencing massive growth in demand and even consumers who are usually unwilling to shop online are converting quickly. The increase in orders is having repercussions on the entire logistics and shipping system. Even the Amazon Prime service has suffered as a result of an extension of delivery times. The delays mainly concern non-essential goods, this is because the operators in the supply chain are giving priority to the delivery of basic necessities, as stated in the notice on Amazon.co.uk:

We are prioritizing the products customers need most. Some items may not be available.

eCommerce and coronavirus: is it possible to grow during a pandemic?

The answer to this question is yes. What matters is to look in the right direction with initiative and adaptability. At the moment, however, we must take note that not all online stores are browsing gold and for those specializing in the sale of outdoor items, parties and other products related to outdoor activities, it is not an easy time.

However, edge cases aside, the coronavirus is giving ecommerce wings . According to the data provided by Triboo (a group that operates in B2B e-commerce and takes care of the online activities of 130 brands) in this period there is a strong surge not only in online sales, but also in digital marketing activities in general .  speak for themselves and between February and March 2020, online sales in Italy recorded a significant increase compared to the same period in 2019, especially during weekends. Only on the day of March 8, for example, ecommerce sales marked a + 90% compared to the same day of the previous year.

Impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on e-commerce in Italy 2020. Published by Statista Research Department, Apr 3, 2020.

Among the sectors most affected by the sales boom are above all the food, household items, pharmaceuticals and personal care sectors.

The Google Ads thermometer: what are the growing sectors

Google search trends and search network campaign performance are perfect tools to get an overview of the health of different markets. Wordstream.com published the results of a study conducted in the United States that analyzed data from 15,759 companies to provide an overview of the effects of the pandemic on Google Ads campaigns . Among the most important negative indicators are the decrease in the number of clicks on the ads and the decrease in the conversion rate.

How COVID-19 has Impacted Google Ads Results for 21 Industries [Data] – Wordstream.comThe trend of the graphs shows that the coronavirus has influenced both user searches and online purchases, moving people’s curiosity and needs elsewhere.

Fear of contagion has prompted users to purchase more immune defense supplements and drugs , boosting the profits of medical companies and the pharmaceutical industry. In particular, it was registered:

  • 47% increase in conversion rate for pharmaceutical search ads ;
  • 24% increase in conversion rate for medical search ads .

The Finance sector , which is normally the one with the highest costs per click and the most expensive keywords, has seen a decline in CPC and an increase in CTR and conversion rate since the beginning of the pandemic. Fear of a new economic crisis has pushed up searches for information and financial advisory services on the net.

Another noteworthy sector is that of beauty and personal care which, again in the United States, has recorded a lowering of costs per click and an improvement in conversion rates.

People stuck at home are increasingly searching for and buying beauty, body and personal hygiene care products online because they prefer to avoid public places such as salons and beauty centers, the data, even if referring to the American market, is particularly important for Italy where hairdressers and beauty salons were closed by decree .

Finally, among the positive protagonists, the on-demand media sector cannot be missing . Social distancing and quarantine are increasing the consumption of hours per day devoted to watching movies and TV series with conversion rates that in the US have seen increases of 102% in Google Ads search campaigns.

Facebook Ads campaigns: what to do and how to react

Various data also arrive from the Facebook Ads platform to understand how to act during an emergency. Let’s say right away that the technology built by Facebook has never been so useful as in this moment in which relationships in the “real world” are reduced to the bone to prevent the spread of Covid-19 . In the countries most affected by the Lockdown, Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram are reaching levels of use never seen before, however the closure of many companies and activities could also have different consequences for the Manlo Park social network .

The economic crisis born of the pandemic, the consequent rise in unemployment and the fall in consumption could have long-term repercussions on overall advertising spending, says Laura Martin , senior analyst at Needham & Company . The collapse of sectors such as tourism, travel, entertainment will have repercussions on the entire system and will even reduce Facebook’s advertising revenues. In short, at least in the short term and barring changes in direction, there will be a drastic reduction in competitionfor those who advertise on Facebook and Instagram with a consequent reduction in CPM (Cost per Thousand Impressions) and CPC (Cost Per Click). The trend is already clearly visible: the owners of restaurants, bars and all the companies in the tourism sector have already put the countryside on hold in Italy. Furthermore, Facebook has on its own initiative disabled campaigns with a “drive to store” objective to encourage compliance with government directives that provide for restrictions on people’s mobility.

The data examined in the previous paragraph also apply to Facebook Ads. Some sectors are in fact experiencing sales growth and improved performance for ongoing campaigns. For businesses affected by the lockdown , however, it may be useful to follow some of these tips.

  • Working on brand awareness– this is a goal to aim for by taking advantage of the cost reduction of CPM within Facebook.
  • Review the  content strategy– it is essential to maintain a solid bond with the reference community by adapting creative content and formats.
  • Keep active campaigns that work– Facebook’s Rob Leathern communicated via Twitter that due to recent staff reorganizations, there may be delays in analyzing and approving ads and suggested extending active campaigns rather than inconvenience. than to create new ones.
  • Lead generation and email marketing– for companies that are facing sales reductions or blocks to normal activities, a piece of advice could be to work on improving the newsletter and collecting new leads through Facebook Ads lead acquisition campaigns . The goal is to reach and intrigue new potential customers to subsequently communicate promotions and news on the reopening and reactivation of services.
  • Remarketing / retargeting– with the increase in hours spent online, now is a really good time to reach users who have already interacted with our brand by offering special promotions or incentives such as free shipping.

Support and tips from Google and Facebook

The two largest companies in the world of online advertising are preparing to support struggling advertisers with information and tips posted online for businesses and ecommerce that need to reorganize to cope with tougher times.

Already a few days ago, notices with links to free resources and direct assistance services for the management of the COVID-19 emergency appeared within the advertising platforms Google and Facebook Ads .

After initial disruptions due to the reorganization of the internal staff and the activation of smart working, Facebook and Google were still able to give an answer. Google Ads, to streamline ad approval procedures and avoid overloading the assistance service, has implemented an automatic procedure for handling appeals.

You can access this form directly from the warning message in the announcement status column and by clicking on “file an appeal”. The approval times are now a bit more extended but, after an initial period of adjustment, the procedure should guarantee a considerable saving of time by avoiding many calls to telephone assistance. It is also worth noting the postponement of the new Google Partners program to allow companies and professionals to dedicate more time to the COVID-19 emergency. The entry into force of more stringent spending and certification requirements for obtaining the partner badge, initially scheduled for June 2020, has been postponed to 2021.

Facebook, for its part, has instead made its consultants available, allowing advertisers to make a telephone appointment to receive free information.

In addition, the Menlo Park company has uploaded free guides and toolkits to its business resources platform to enable entrepreneurs and professionals to plan effective strategies for dealing with disasters. In particular, the following should be noted:

  • toolkit to help small businesses overcome difficult situations– document contains best practices, tools and self-assessment tests to protect the company during a crisis;
  • quick action guide– to plan emergency response and develop plans to minimize downtime.

The attention that both Google and Facebook are devoting to the response of small and medium-sized economic operators is due to the fact that SMEs represent 99% of companies in the United States and employ 50% of private sector employees (Source: Federal Agency for Emergency Management, United States Department of Labor and United States Chamber of Commerce.). The risk that anyone running a business now runs has been calculated on the basis of the impact that fires, floods and earthquakes usually have on the economic fabric.

Data from the Facebook Ads business resource platform

The COVID-19 outbreak is global, but its impact is local and its effects can be compared to those of other natural disasters. According to data reported by Facebook and relating to the United States, 40% of small businesses risk not reopening after the pandemic. The figure was confirmed for the Italian market by a recent survey conducted by Confesercenti on a sample of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs . 44% of the interviewees did not rule out the possibility of not reopening at the end of the emergency.

For anyone who has an online business , it is therefore very important to act quickly by working on some absolutely essential aspects:

  • get information from reliable sources;
  • stay safe and work remotely;
  • have an extraordinary customer service plan;
  • update the list of frequently asked questions on the site;
  • take care of staff training;
  • organize online events.

Get information from safe sources and avoid fake news

Information, in any economic activity, is very important and that is why it must always be of good quality. In order to make decisions, it is necessary to rely only on the institutional channels of the Government . The decrees and measures adopted are available online and continuously updated. If there is, therefore, the need to examine regulatory references to verify if and how it is possible to carry on your company during the pandemic, it is essential to consult the text of the decrees directly. Here are some references, not exhaustive, to be taken into consideration for those who have an ecommerce .

  • The Prime Ministerial Decree of 11 March 2020 allows online and distance selling – Annex 1 to the decree which identifies the permitted activities and among these:
    – Retail sale of any type of product carried out via the internet;
    – Trade to the detail of any type of product effected for tele;
    – Trade to the detail of any type of product for correspondence, radius, telephone.
  • The Prime Ministerial Decree of 22 March 2020
    – maintains the possibility of distance and online sales provided for by the ordinance of 11 March;
    – allows the maintenance of all production and commercial activities included in annex 1 to the ordinance of 22 March, see the ATECO codes present.
    – suspends all production and commercial activities not listed in Annex 1 of the ordinance of 22 March.

The communities of professionals in the sector , on the other hand, can be useful as a place for discussion to evaluate together new operating methods and new responses to the evolution of the situation. Furthermore, in difficult moments, it is important to cultivate a sense of community even among the professionals of a particular sector, putting aside unnecessary rivalries.

Smart working

Remote work, for companies that can afford it, is one of the many solutions to the present state of emergency. In Italy a simplified procedure has been created to speed up the activation requests by companies, detailed instructions are available on the website of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies.

As regards the organization of smart working , it is important to guarantee all remote workers remote access to the most important data and information. Communication and collaboration with one’s colleagues can be effectively coordinated using shared documents, video conferences and virtual chats.

There are several free tools available online to effectively connect a team. Among the most used are Slack , Trello , Google Drive , Dropbox and Google Meet . Google also provides an entire guide on how to manage work remotely .

Customer service

The customer support team will be very busy during this time and the advice to follow is to create guidelines for those involved in customer care to address all the questions related to the emergency:

  • “Has your business been blocked by the decree?”
  • “Do you also deliver in the red areas?”
  • “What kind of delay will the shipment suffer?”
  • “Is it possible to return during an emergency and what are the modalities?”

It is important to show responsiveness and transparency to customers, to be immediate in giving answers and to supervise all possible channels. Chats like Instagram Direct, Messenger and Whatsapp can help us make communication less cold. If you haven’t done it yet, it’s time to insert the Messenger / Whatsapp chat on your ecommerce.

Update the FAQ

The section dedicated to frequently asked questions is usually very popular within an e-commerce and people often prefer to consult this area of ​​the site rather than contact the company directly via chat or email. It is a matter of privacy, not everyone is willing to give up their contact in exchange for simple information.

During calamities and exceptional events, even if they are short-lived, people need more answers and reassurance, therefore, this section should definitely not be overlooked.

Training and digitalization

The shocks caused by an exceptional event are very often the source of major changes. The pandemic and the consequent reorganization of production activities, albeit amidst enormous difficulties, is giving an extraordinary boost to the digitization process of Italian companies and the public administration.

The time has come to experiment with new tools and develop new strategies. Also in this case the resources are not lacking and it is advisable to start the staff towards new skills as soon as possible. Digital marketing tools will become more and more important and below we point out some training courses with links to free resources available online.

Organize online events

One of the many viable ideas to stay on the crest of the wave is that of online events via Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. This is a good tip for any type of business. For example, the owner of a restaurant forced to close could organize cooking webinars, while a tablecloth e-commerce could schedule a series of online appointments to explain to people how to set the table correctly.

Conclusions

Faced with a constantly evolving situation that threatens to change our life habits even in the long term, what matters is to be ready to change our strategies while maintaining a flexible approach. In many cases, considering the duration of the lockdown and the mobility restriction measures, it may be necessary to completely restructure and rethink our business.

For professionals, consultants and agencies that in this period find themselves working alongside companies in difficulty, this is a decidedly extraordinary test. It will take a creative and methodical effort out of the ordinary. Companies, in fact, are completely reviewing their commercial strategies and many are completely cutting advertising costs in order to make ends meet and avoid promoting products and services that at the moment they cannot offer. In these cases, however, it is too easily forgotten that branding activities are vital for long-term survival.

In the retail sector, many physical stores temporarily forced to close are investing to digitize their business and even small shops are organizing to reach their customers with delivery services and orders via chat. Many existing e-commerce companies are working to keep sales volume high with discounts and benefits to acquire new customers even at the cost of reducing profit margins and overall profitability.

All these upheavals require a reorganization of marketing objectives and, why not, a rethinking of the customer journey with new touchpoints . The advice is to rewrite the objectives for each segment of the new funnel, identifying KPI and timing from time to time . Good job!

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