Covid-19 has had a seismic impact on the growth of online shopping, with e-commerce accounting for 21% of retail sales in the US in 2020, up 6% from the previous year, according to e-commerce research platform Digital Commerce 360.
According to IBM’s 2020 Retail Index, the pandemic has accelerated the shift from physical retail to e-commerce by as much as five years. With the pandemic looking set to continue causing significant disruption to physical retail throughout 2021, brands are increasingly looking to build buzz and excitement around online shopping events and sales.
Major events such as Black Friday will still go ahead, as in 2020, but with a dialled-back physical presence and a renewed focus on the omnichannel experience that takes into consideration the ways in which shopping habits have changed over the last year.
We explore the strategies brands are using to engage customers online, with e-commerce events that generate buzz and build excitement.
Look to build anticipation and demand by trailing new products ahead of time and encouraging customers to join a waiting list, where they will be the first to be notified about upcoming deals and flash sales.
Consider how different categories of discounts and deals can serve different purposes, whether it’s drawing customers in to encourage browsing or using FOMO tactics to look for quick conversions. For its Prime Day event, Amazon offers a variety of deals which grab customers’ attention in different ways. Gold Box Deals feature a wider range of product in an area of the site specifically restyled for the event, tooled for browsing and finding new bargains. Meanwhile, Lightning Deals last only a few hours and have very limited stock.
In the run-up to seasonal events, daily and weekly competitions and deals encourage repeat interactions and build increased familiarity with the brand and selections. Ahead of Holiday season 2020, UK womenswear brand Toast emailed subscribers with a prize draw for five consecutive weeks, extending dwell time on its site and bringing customers back week after week. Similarly, boutique subscription travel site Kip Hideaways offered its 12 Days of Kipmas with different prizes every day, encouraging customers to revisit its site to win.
For Lunar New Year 2021, Burberry tapped into mobile users’ desire to collect luxury red envelopes (known as hong bao), commissioning four Chinese illustrators to design images for Burberry red envelope covers. Before collecting the envelopes, users left a message on the brand’s WeChat page, considerably boosting the brand's engagement and search visibility on the platform.
Livestreaming has been key to the success of blockbuster shopping events such as Singles’ Day in China for a number of years now, and the concept is gaining momentum in the West, as brands harness livestreaming tools on social media as a springboard to reach a younger, wider audience.
Following a successful TikTok livestream pilot focused on apparel sales in December 2020, Walmart announced its Spring Shop-Along: Beauty Edition livestream shopping event on the platform for March 2021, an hour-long stream featuring creators and influencers. The company didn’t disclose sales figures for its December event, but it reported that viewership was seven times higher than expected, and the event helped the brand grow its TikTok audience by 25%.
The retail giant has tapped influencers including @GabbyMorr (3.5m followers) to take part in the event, giving demonstrations of their hair and beauty routines, and show off the Walmart products they are using alongside household brand names including NYX, Maybelline and Kim Kimble. Products will be directly shoppable through the TikTok app by clicking on ‘pins’ displayed onscreen.
Instead of focusing on mass influencers to help shift product for Singles’ Day 2020, Japanese beauty giant Shiseido instead tapped its own employees to promote its products, allowing it to speak directly to customers and foster stronger interest in the brand.
With consumer interest growing, other platforms are expanding livestream shopping capabilities for mobile. Launched in July 2020, Google Shoploop uses short videos to introduce new products. Facebook has acquired video shopping start-up Packagd, and continues to expand video shopping across Instagram and Facebook.
Retailers are using invite-only shopping events to create a sense of exclusivity and bring a premium feel to the e-commerce experience.
While physical retail remains disrupted, brands are using digital tools to bridge the gap between e-commerce and high-touch service. Swedish live shopping startup Bambuser is helping brands to bring exclusivity to online shopping events, making it possible to host invite-only shopping streams in place of physical private shopping.
Leaning in to personalisation is also helping brands build hype ahead of shopping events and forge stronger relationships with their customers. Shoppers are increasingly open to texting, with a 2021 survey by text marketing platform Attentive Mobile finding that 91% of US consumers are open to signing up for text messages from brands. New York-based Mented Cosmetics has invested in personalised text services, segmenting its customer base by how much they have spent, and rewarding VIP shoppers with early access to sales and new deals. This is building a highly engaged audience that converts quickly.
Brands are using virtual and remote services to boost engagement and make productive use of unused store spaces during the pandemic. Based in London and New York, Hero is a virtual shopping platform that connects customers directly to a sales associate via video or text messaging, often in a nearby store, providing access to expertise and information that was previously only available in stores. Even post-Covid-19, this hybrid approach to retail will help provide a more high-touch experience for remote shoppers.