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As physical stores are forced to close their doors, brands look to enhance their online strategy


Retailers and high-street shopping brands have been hugely impacted as COVID-19 has spread rapidly throughout the world. Increasing numbers of people are observing social distancing recommendations in a worldwide effort to limit the spread of the virus. This has also contributed to a sharp decrease in physical store footfall as many opt to, or are forced to, stay home and shop online. In the UK in particular, ChannelSight has seen a 1911% increase in traffic to online grocery retailers and a huge 3256% increase in sales since the outbreak of Covid-19. You can read more here for more insights on this.

In Ireland, well known retailers Brown Thomas and Arnotts have closed their stores, followed by Penneys or Primark as it is more commonly known. While the decision has been conveyed as a temporary measure, there is no timeline yet as to when the doors to these stores might reopen. Following the trend across Europe many stores have closed in Germany, Poland, Austria and Netherlands. 

Many other high street shops and retailers such as H&M, Zara, IKEA, Bershka, Oasis, Lego and Harrods have also taken the same measures to close their retail shops in the UK and Ireland. They have shifted their focus to online now. TK Maxx have closed their 349 stores country wide and Stablemate Homesense closed it’s 78 stores in the UK and Ireland. High-street stores continue to close around the world, while online traffic for shopping is on the rise. Due to this, brands are forced to adopt measures to enable online shopping. 

Evolving Online Strategies

It is commendable that stores are taking exceptional measures to ensure that their employees are kept safe whilst providing services for their customers to continue shopping with their online stores. They have conveyed this to their members of their community via email marketing and social channels such as Instagram and Twitter. 

With this move to a focus on online shopping some brands have adapted their strategies with  stores such as H&M offering free standard shipping and extending their returns policy to 100 days as an effort to better serve their customers.  New Look has also given similar offers on returns. Others such as Primark have been forced to shut their doors completely as they do not have an online ecommerce presence. 

On the grocery side, retailers such as Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s are seeing a surge in demand for groceries. These stores will be allowed to remain open in the case of blanket lockdowns which we are seeing in many countries around the world at the moment. We are not only seeing increased demand in physical stores but also huge surges in online demand.  An Asda spokesperson acknowledged that “Our online business is growing and we do have capacity to take on more orders”. Demand continues to grow for some categories like FMCG and healthcare, it is becoming apparent that it is the retailers that have invested heavily in their technical infrastructure will be best placed to meet the online surge. 

How Can Brands Shift Their Focus to an Online Strategy?

As the common phrase goes, when life throws lemons at you make lemonade. Brands and retailers must use this time wisely to refine their online strategies. For those that have an eCommerce website and are shifting their focus to drive online sales in lieu of bricks and mortar stores, there are many tactics they employ:

  • Treat Retailers Wise

    Just like we have seen with the closure of non-essential shops in the high-street, Online retailers and fulfillment companies are going to be under increasing pressure to pick, pack and fulfil. Many retailers use different final-mile fulfilment companies so ensure that you treat all retailers equally at this moment in-time to avoid over-stocking a retailer that can no longer meet their delivery demands. 
  • Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

    Get in touch with your community whether through email, or social media. Talk to your users, tell them what is going on in the world of e-commerce, if you have social campaigns pointing to a dead-end purchase point then why not use that media-spend to build engagements and stories instead. Now more than ever is a good-time to invest in live-chat.
  • Keep track and make the most of the demand

    If you are one of the lucky brands to find yourself in an essential goods category, then your main problem is going to be managing the supply chain globally and domestically. Keep your eye out for fakes and price-gouging (ask ChannelSight for some help if you are unsure where to start).
  • Capture your Audience

    If you are not lucky enough to be an essential vertical, then remember, you’ve never had so much of your target audience online before (and with so much free-time to give). Live streams are becoming the norm, you are also potentially still footing the bill for some big name influencers, why not get them to help you with story telling, quizzes or Q&As.  
  • Say Thank You

    Your customers will remember how you treated them during this time. Be sure to thank your customer community for staying loyal, and make the online experience as easy as possible for them. Let them know about alternative shopping routes, whether through your own website, or online marketplaces.
  • Engage Online

    Engage with your community online. While we are practicing social distancing around the world, many brands are engaging with their communities online via live streams on Instagram or Facebook. Engage your customers and let them be a part of your online experience.
  • Avoid Panic

    Remember not to panic, user dead-ends will happen as the supply chain and fulfillment of produce becomes more and more pressurized, make sure you have the analytical touch points in place to track the mistakes and learn from them.

Many businesses have been impacted by Amazon’s decision to temporarily prioritise fulfillment on essentials. You can read our blog where our Head of Brand Performance shares 5 actions brands can take to mitigate damage. 

Ben FaircloughAs physical stores are forced to close their doors, brands look to enhance their online strategy