(Updated 4/16) The purpose of this post is to share some of the tips, strategies, and experiences of ecommerce businesses so that we can all benefit from new and evolving ‘best practices’.
As an agency, we get to work with and hear from a wide range of companies: different markets, different sizes, different geographies, different AOV’s, etc.
The one common denominator is online sales.
Or at least it was the one common denominator. Now there is another: COVID-19.
For better or worse, the current health crises is profoundly impacting everyone, and almost every aspect of business. These changes – to business, to buying behavior, to social behavior – will continue to evolve for some time.
Some things may not return to ‘before’.
NOTE: Want to boost traffic, sales, and profits for your Shopify store? Fill out our contact form on the homepage for a free custom analysis & assessment of your store, or reach out to us by email or phone.
What follows (in no particular order) are some of the practices and tactics that other online businesses are experimenting with and finding helpful. We’ll be updating this post frequently. If you have a tip or experience you’d like to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add it to the post.
We’re seeing companies gravitating towards one of two strategic camps: the ‘damage limiters’, those scrambling to reduce costs and limit or cut out new spending; and the ‘opportunity grabbers’, those trying to take advantage of the opportunities created by the ‘damage limiters’, looking for creative ways to maximize sales and increase market share.
Government (and other) Financial Assistance
Shopify published a list of government assistance programs by country. I can’t vouch for its completeness, but there are some listings I wasn’t otherwise aware of. For instance, there are some state programs that I hadn’t been aware of such as Florida (where our office is):
In addition to the programs put in place to help businesses through the Coronavirus upheaval, the US federal government has a huge number of grants, loans, and other programs you may qualify for or be entitled to. The federal ‘benefits finder’ website can help you sort through the available programs; it steps you through an extensive questionnaire, then searches across all the various federal agencies & programs, listing the specific programs that fit:
There’s now also a specific ‘Coronavirus resources finder’ on benefits.org:
– CARES Act (PPP & EIDL)
The guys at The Hustle put together an excellent guide to the CARES act, specifically the ‘Paycheck Protection Program’ (PPP) and ‘Economic Injury Disaster Loan & Grants’ (EIDL), with clear summaries of the programs, eligibility, and links to the necessary forms:
– Private Industry, Non-Profit, and Other Gov’t Assistance
Separate and aside from the widely publicized “CARES Act”, there are a number of grants & loans being offered by private industry, non-profits, and various state & local governments.
Both Inc. and Entrepreneur have published listings of various programs you may be able to take advantage of:
Tips, Tactics, and Considerations
Rethink How You’re Communicating
It’s a difficult & sensitive time – not just for sellers, but for customers as well. Everyone is stressed, and some are worse off than others.
Make sure you adopt a supportive tone in your communications, and recognize that some of your ‘pre-pandemic’ messaging may feel tone-deaf or inappropriate; no one want’s a hard sell right now.
Go through your email sequences – abandoned cart emails, ‘Thank You’ emails, etc., and consider how they sound in the current environment.
And while a general message acknowledging that things are not normal, and highlighting what you’re doing to address the current situation is a good thing, not every message has to be about COVID-19.
Setting & Managing Expectations
NOTE: A word about ‘scarcity’ … we’ve already seen plenty of ‘bottom-feeders’ trying to take advantage of the current situation. There’s nothing wrong with highlighting expected inventory issues – most people know that some things are or will be in short supply – or goosing sales through limited-time promotions. But playing to fears of scarcity can feel like fear-mongering and come off sounding tone-deaf – and may backfire on you. Plus, it’s just bad karma and we don’t want to see you hit by a bus.
We do a lot of post-purchase surveys as part of our client CRO (conversion optimization) services. Two comments we hear consistently: frustration when out-of-stock items aren’t clearly identified as such, and irritation when there is a mismatch regarding shipping expectations; either shipping costs that weren’t expected, or delivery time that isn’t clearly communicated.
It should go without saying: you’ll have far fewer cancellations, chargebacks, and unhappy customers if expectations are properly set.
– Sitewide Status Banner
Consider a sitewide banner communicating your status. If true, a banner stating “No Delays Due to COVID-19”, otherwise something to the effect of “Our Current COVID-19 Status” that links to a page with more detail.
Inventory & Shipping
Anyone visiting a supermarket lately, or shopping for certain items online, already knows there are widespread inventory shortages.
Be clear and upfront about stock and shipping / delivery delays – if items are out of stock, either remove them, or mark them clearly; if longer delivery times are anticipated, make it clear to buyers.
Now would also be a good time to consider ‘back in stock’ campaigns or flows.
If you’re using Klaviyo, they have a very slick ‘back-in-stock’ flow that you can use (if you’re not using Klaviyo, you can replicate it in Omnisend or Drip):
You can also check out ‘back-in-stock’ apps here:
Installment / ‘Pay Later’ Options
If you’re not familiar with them, these are “shop now, pay later” purchase options. The specifics vary, but typically these integrate into your checkout via app or code, after which they become a checkout payment option. If a buyer chooses to use it, their purchase is split into multiple installments billed over a few weeks or months.
Importantly, you get your full sale revenue when the sale occurs, minus the percentage or fee charged by the installment financing company.
With fear and uncertainty over income clearly hindering some purchasing, reducing the immediate out-of-pocket impact of a purchase may help lessen the number of lost sales and even drive some new sales.
Whether, and how much, you might benefit will depend a lot on your market, your products, and your AOV. Half of our current clients are now using a ‘pay later’ service, and all consider them to be responsible for an increase in sales, from 15% on up. I was familiar with some of these installment options, but hadn’t really appreciated how valuable they are for some store owners. One retailer I spoke with last week tells me that almost half of their purchases pay this way. Even assuming many of these sales would have happened anyway, it’s still a big net positive.
Afterpay – https://www.afterpay.com/for-retailers
Affirm – https://www.affirm.com/business
Sezzle – https://sezzle.com/merchants
Klarna – https://klarna.com/business
QuadPay – https://www.quadpay.com/for-businesses/
Paypal Credit – https://www.paypal.com/us/webapps/mpp/promotional-financing
Asking Suppliers For Discounts
I’ve talked with or heard from a number of online retailers who have asked their suppliers for 10-20% discounts on invoices over the next 4-12 weeks.
Surprisingly, many of them succeeded!
It’s a safe bet that most mfg’s of recreational, luxury, and other non-essential products are seeing a drop in demand, and with it, an expected drop in revenue.
One thing I can say with certainty: you won’t get it if you don’t ask!
Delayed-Use Gift Card Bonuses
In an effort to move hesitant buyers to spend now, one client is promoting ‘bonus’ gift cards. For a limited time, gift cards get bundled with a discount code that becomes active in 60-90 days.
For example, for a limited time, a $100 gift card will include a 25% discount code for specific products or collections. The discount code has an active date 60 days in the future, and expires (the discount code, not the gift card) 30 days after that.
In addition to Shopify’s somewhat limited Gift Card feature (not previously available to ‘Shopify Basic’ stores), there are a number of different Gift Card apps:
Note: Shopify has now made Gift Cards available on the Shopify Basic subscription plan (previously available only on higher plans).
The businesses that fall into the ‘damage limiters’ group are clearly the majority of businesses. And a big part of the damage-limiting is cutting back on adspends.
This has led to a significant overall reduction in ad spending – and that is driving down ad costs.
If you’re able to, this can be a good opportunity to build retargeting audiences cheaply.
– Google Ad Credits
Google is offering $340 MM in ad credits to SMB’s. To qualify, you must have a Google Ads account that has been active since 2019.
Nothing you have to do; if you qualify, you’ll see a credit notification in your account “in the coming months”. You can read the announcement here:
– Facebook Small Business Grants
Facebook is offering $100 MM in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses.
They will start taking applications “in the coming weeks” – you can follow it and sign up for notification here:
Live Chat / Messenger / Chatbots
It’s clear that both live chat and chatbots improve conversions and reduce returns.
Live chat is also something that staff, who you might otherwise have to lay off, can do from home.
Create & Host Online Events
It’s really easy to do Facebook Live videos, and especially during this time, casual at-home videos are perfectly acceptable. In addition to the benefit of staying top-of-mind, ‘casual’ videos can help create customer bonding.
You can also take advantage of all the stay-at-home time by hosting an online event. Again, given the situation everyone is in, hosting live Q & A’s, product demos, and other creative events may be very welcomed.
Social Media Contests & UGC
With so many people at home and online, it’s a good time to consider holding an online competition or giveaway.
Ask your customers to share their at-home ‘adventures’ using a certain hashtag to create a sense of community throughout your customer base.
If there are creative ways to use your products to adapt to the new environment ask your customers to share those on social media — and get them started with some of your own. For example, have parents use the box your products arrived in to create a project with their kids like a school supply holder, a diorama, etc.
This is also a good time to solicit UGC (“User Generated Content”) of all types. We have a few clients who are reaching out to customers and asking them to record brief videos and share or upload them. These include reviews, ‘unboxing’ videos, and product demos.
One client emailed their list and asked for funny or practical “how we’re quarantine-ing” pictures & videos. They compiled them on a page, then created a campaign on Facebook & Instagram inviting people to it. It’s drawn a lot of visitors, a lot of sign-ups, and some new sales.
Email Campaigns and Segmenting
First… it would be ‘marketing malpractice’ if I didn’t say – emphatically! – that you should already be segmenting your list, and if you aren’t, this is the time to start.
Segmenting is about getting the right message, to the right person, at the right time. And better, more highly segmented lists perform better, period.
As buyers become increasingly concerned about spending, it’s especially important to know who you can re-engage, and where you can drive repeat purchases. It’s also key to better tailoring email and ad campaigns.
Most email marketing automation providers – Klaviyo, Omnisend, Drip, etc. – have a range of pre-defined segments that you can easily apply to your contact list.
Klaviyo published an excellent post going over basic behavioral and demographic segmenting:
They also published a terrific, in-depth post showing segments and their performance across a few different markets:
Hot Tip: use detailed segmenting to create better Facebook Custom Audiences; for example, create a ‘high-value, high-engagement’ segment – contacts who have spent more than your AOV, have visited your site recently, and have opened all recent emails – and use that as the ‘source’ to create a FB Custom Audience!
NOTE: companies that take full advantage of email marketing automation are generating a third or more of their revenue this way, yet more than half the accounts we look at are not fully leveraging this opportunity. If that’s you, we’d be happy to look at your business, then have a conversation to help you understand what you could do and what you kind of results you could reasonably expect.
Contagion and Sanitary Concerns
With all the ‘social distancing’ talk, ‘stay at home’ mandates, and fears of contagion, more & more people are becoming concerned about packaging and deliveries.
You can help mitigate some of the fears that might keep someone from purchase by highlight measures you are taking to insure your warehouse, packing dept., etc. is being scrupulously disinfected.
Creating a post to that effect may have a positive impact on conversions, and also creates a good email campaign opportunity.
Volume Discounts / Bundling / Recommendations / Upsells
We’ve heard from a number of sellers who have had some success creating volume discounts to encourage bulk purchases.
In addition, now would be a good time to fine-tune your recommendation settings.
If you’re not already, you can also take advantage of recommendation, upsell, cross-sell, and ‘frequently-bought-together’ apps:
Similarly, consider bundling or kitting to raise AOV:
Loyalty Program ‘Xtra Credits’
We heard from companies having success driving sales and higher AOV’s by offering ‘bonus’ loyalty program points e.g. “To help our customers during this trying time, we’re giving 1.5 x Loyalty Points on every purchase for the next 60 days!”.
If you aren’t using a loyalty or rewards program, now would be a particularly good time to consider it:
There are a number of app developers that are offering some level of assistance in the form of reduced or suspended fees. We are trying to sort through the noise and separate the legit offers from the opportunistic marketing – not always easy or obvious.
– Gorgias, one of the top customer support / helpdesk apps is offering “up to six months” free access: if you’ve seen a drop in sales of 20-40%, you’ll get three months free access; if you’ve seen a drop greater than 40%, you’ll get 6 months free.
– AiTrillion is an integrated marketing platform that combines a number of key functions including email marketing, loyalty program, chatbot, reviews, and more into a single app. They are offering free access for 6 months.
With the obvious impact on the supply chain coming from Asia, companies have been scrambling for alternative sourcing.
A past client I spoke with had some success with a creative sourcing ‘remedy’ – contacting competitors who are struggling with or worried about acute cash flow issues and “offering to take some bulk inventory off their hands for cash”.
While it may be ‘too late’ in an immediate sense, take heed and do the footwork to create a business continuity contingency.
Follow up with finding alternative sourcing channels; you’ll be way ahead of the game should something else jeopardize your current supply chain.
We will try to keep this post updated; our hope is that you come out of this as well as possible, and perhaps even in a stronger position!
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