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Why communication is the key to victory for eCommerce brands right now

We all know that eCommerce sales have been steadily increasing over the past decade. Recent developments around the world have served to accelerate the volume and range of goods being purchased online.

Restrictions on public gatherings, social distancing directives and growing unease at being in enclosed spaces, has accelerated the move of shoppers online-only. For some, it will be their first real experience of this, whilst others will simply be adding more to their shopping basket.

Indeed, the diversification of products being bought online over the past 8 weeks is one of the more interesting trends.  During one particular 10-day period in China last month, online sales of fresh food rose by 215%. Online grocery shopping in general, is exploding.

And this is not an isolated phenomenon, nor is it limited to groceries. We’ve seen similar trends amongst our clients throughout other parts of Asia, Europe and North America.

At a macro level, look at the most recent stats coming out of Italy, which has been so unfortunately ravaged by COVID-19. (Source)

eCommerce trends in the age of COVID-19

The chart shows the increase in online sales (averaged across all product categories) from mid-February to the first week in March.

Where are these sales coming from?

It’s not just that digitally-savvy consumers are ordering more, it’s also down to the volume of occasional and first-time online shoppers who now have no alternative.

In terms of the change in behaviour by demographic, it is unsurprisingly the millennials and Gen-z who are spending more online. That’s according to a very recent survey of US shoppers, as reported by CNBC. Over half of those surveyed in these age brackets said their purchases were impacted by the spread of COVID-19. By comparison, only 33% of Boomers said the same.

Interestingly, the same survey found that men were more likely to alter their behaviour than women, even though women reported greater levels of concern.

In the UK, courier service ParcelHero made a prediction earlier this month that online sales could double from 20% to 40% of all retail spend. It’s too early to say exactly how accurate that will prove, but there’s every reason to believe it.

Is it all just panic-buying?

The short answer is no, but it is fair to say that the product categories experiencing the largest surges are those with a real, or even perceived, shortage.

So obviously there is enormous demand right now for hand sanitizers, anti-bacterial sprays, masks, gloves and related items. Some estimates are suggesting an incredible 800% increase.

We are seeing a lot of brands diversify their catalogue to take advantage of this in the immediate term. Similarly, there are increases in sales of long-life foodstuffs, though not nearly at the same level. 

When this pandemic has subsided, demand for these goods will naturally drop but don’t be surprised if it remains at an elevated level compared to a few months ago.

Where are the opportunities for “non-essentials”?

There are huge opportunities for brands operating in the beauty, self-care and fitness markets. With consumers anticipating a prolonged period of near-isolation, there are a lot of services that will be “DIY” in the home. Everything from haircare products to chin-up bars will see an increase in sales.

Anything entertainment related is also set for a boom, as people look to occupy themselves indoors for extended periods. Video game retailers and online streaming services will likely be the primary recipients of this, but products that are suitable for families to enjoy together will prove popular too; board games, arts and crafts kits and so on.

Top customer engagement tips to make the most of these trends

How many consumers will revert back to their old behaviour when the crisis is over? That remains to be seen. The question for online retailers is can they use this window, however long it lasts, to win long-term converts? 

There is a golden opportunity if they can nail the customer experience. Meeting their expectations, or even exceeding them, could be the making of an online brand for years to come.


Welcoming new shoppers should be one of your biggest engagement priorities. There’s huge scope to enrol them in automated workflows and start moving them through the lifecycle from account creation towards repeat sales and loyalty.

Contactless delivery

If you handle your own deliveries (at a national level at least) then make sure you have implemented a plan for contactless delivery. If not, talk to your courier partners about their policy. 

Above all, be sure to communicate this service to your customers during the checkout phase to ease their minds. An onsite or in-app message, triggered in real time as the consumer is browsing, would be the perfect channel for this.

Recovering abandoned carts

Hand in hand with the increase in online sales will come an increase in abandoned carts. This is especially true of mobile shoppers.

There’s never been a better time to optimise your strategy on this front, so be sure to experiment with both your messaging and the timing of your recovery campaigns.

You read more specific tips on recovering abandoned carts here

Estimated delivery times

There’s so much uncertainty right now that some brands are struggling to give accurate estimates on when exactly deliveries will be made. And whilst logistics companies are making every effort to maintain their usual schedule, there’s no telling what the immediate future holds.

We recommend brands look into push notifications (both web and app variations) as the primary channel to deliver your latest estimates due to its immediacy and visibility. It also works really well as a way to drive traffic to your website or app.

Consumers do need to opt in to receive these notifications, but emphasising your intention to keep them updated about the status of their order will be a powerful incentive.

What’s next?

It’s important right that brands and service providers work closely together on strategy, and share information and ideas.

We’ll be creating more content to help eCommerce brands make the most of the current opportunities out there. We’ll also be hosting an in-depth masterclass webinar on digital engagement in this specific industry. The date and time are yet to be confirmed, but please get in touch to register your interest or to request a recording of it.

And of course, feel free to get in touch to discuss any particular use cases or concerns you might have in mind when it comes to customer engagement. There are a number of use cases that we can help you roll out quickly to help you come out the other side of this pandemic even stronger.

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