Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Mastering social commerce in the wake of COVID-19

By Shamsul Chowdhury, VP, Paid Social, Jellyfish

The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been far reaching, affecting markets and businesses of all sectors and sizes, leaving no stone unturned and forcing marketers to navigate new waters with great speed and agility. The retail and ecommerce industry has faced increased obstacles brought on through lockdowns and social restrictions, with brands needing to quickly adjust their advertising and social commerce strategy to keep pace.

For the last few years, “digital transformation” has been the focus of many businesses, as organisations look to digital technological innovations to transform business and provide on and offline digital fingerprints for every touchpoint along the whole of the customer journey.

The digital transformation revolution aims to link the entire consumer journey, providing a better, easier, and more engaging user experience – from a better in-store checkout experience to a website designed with the consumer in mind. However, like many organisational changes, especially of this magnitude, businesses quickly realised that this task was akin to moving a proverbial cruise ship, not an agile and nimble jet ski.

The truth is the global pandemic that has shaken the core of our very definition of “normal.” The emergence of new technology is not new to us, but this innovation, coupled with the global pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, particularly for the retail and ecommerce industry.

With storefronts closing across the globe, retail brands, like many others, have had to quickly pivot in order to survive the new marketplace. In this quest, many retail brands faced difficult questions when approaching new challenges brought forward by this crisis – from the customer experience to brand loyalty and ultimately, whether the organisation’s infrastructure can handle today’s new consumer consumption habits.

Let’s take a deeper dive into these questions and challenges as a means of understanding how brands and retailers can maintain business success in this time of upheaval.

Brand loyalty:

The pandemic has undeniably accelerated the growth of digital commerce – we have seen the number of people connected worldwide rise from 56% in 2019 to 67% this year and view and dwell time across social platforms has skyrocketed with lockdown and social restrictions.

As today’s consumers favour on-demand content more and more, marketers need to understand how to connect and engage with these audiences across multiple platforms, touchpoints, and devices in the right way, and at the right time.

To do this, brand loyalty is no longer a bonus or ‘nice to have’, it is absolutely essential for business today. In a time of heightened emotion and anxiety, those campaigns that consistently promote their brands in a safe, inclusive, and engaging way will bolster trust with consumers and keep them loyal.

Fully integrated digital campaigns:

It is not surprising to see that the brands and businesses that have been agile and adaptable to the challenges thrown up by the global pandemic have been the ones to sustain business throughout this year and who will likely be the ones to pull ahead during the recovery period.
These are also the businesses that have been not only quick to respond to the crisis this year, but have also been quick to ensure that digital lay at the heart of their organisation. Retailers have learned this – that digital commerce must be integrated into the bedrock of every business.

Ensuring engaging digital campaigns that integrate social commerce and include touch points along the way will motivate customers to stay on the journey.By incorporating online content, website optimisation, social media and email marketing consistently together as part of digital advertising campaigns will increase consumer traffic across the board and positively impact the bottom line in a transparent and measurable manner.

Upscaling the high street:

Brick and mortar retail shops will have to change their model to survive in this new age – from downsizing high street shops and limiting stock to reduce overhead costs to expanding larger warehouses to offset the costs of large and expensive retail real estate.

One example are the digital native, DTC brands we’ve seen come of age in the US – Bonobos, Casper, and Glossier to name a few – that have taken their online brand presence ‘offline’, despite the pandemic, opening storefronts and expanding their physical presence in major cities like New York.

From a digital strategy perspective, brands will have to lean in to mobile and app environments to really win tomorrow’s customers over. Their inventory and fulfillment management will have to be buttoned up. If you want them to come into the store, you’ve got to have a good reason, either demonstrated via digital efforts or creating worthwhile in-store experiences such as fitting augmented reality (AR) mirrors into changing rooms, instant checkout points and mobile checkout.

Customer experience:

With the huge increase in ecommerce in light of lockdown, brand marketers must lean into social platforms to deliver a unique hyper-personalised experience for the consumer, mirroring the in-store environment.

The use of virtual and augmented reality can facilitate this, for example, a virtual fashion show, or an AR showroom allowing consumers to shop ‘in person’. And the rise of social commerce is also creating new and different customer experiences – from the TikTok Shopify partnership to the launch of Facebook Shops this year – which offer consumers a more personalised shopping experience and retailers the potential to reach and engage with wider, global audiences through these targeted platforms.

Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves though – what this year has certainly taught me, and I don’t think I’m alone, is that none of this would be possible without an organisational infrastructure fit to handle the new consumer consumption habits we’re seeing emerge.

The digital landscape is constantly evolving. Businesses that are setup with a digital mindset at their core will not only be able to effectively navigate the platforms and tools available now, but will be first to master new digital innovation and platforms. Take Tik Tok, for example – once an unknown platform to shy away from, it is now regarded as a critical clog in the digital wheel for businesses today.

It is no secret that those businesses that can master the key challenges of digital commerce – and that can use them to their advantage – will ultimately be the ones that will survive in this ‘sink or swim’ economy and culture as we move into a brave new world next year.