How brands can stretch to find ecommerce opportunities in moments of crisis

As COVID-19 continues to impact on retailers, Moensie Rossier explains how brands can find new avenues to service their customers. 

Online shopping has become laborious and disappointing as supply chain problems mean longer delivery times, or items being out of stock altogether. In-store shopping, meanwhile, is panicky and suspicious with the rise of price gouging, queues and belligerence.

The crisis we find ourselves in has torn the pleasure out of shopping for leisure and doubled the pain of shopping for the mundane. It’s only going to get worse if brands keep raising the white flag to Coronavirus. Zara is following Apple’s lead and totally shutting down its retail – and factory – network globally. Such measures may be necessary to protect staff and customers, but what are they doing to offer customers something positive and cheerful amidst all the bad news?

As someone who loves shopping for fashion (particularly the IRL kind, where you browse with all your senses, not just your thumb, but any channel will do) I’m extremely disappointed. Marketers and CX professionals should prick up their ears. In crisis, there’s opportunity to alleviate pain points and deliver moments of branded wonder.

Such was my reaction when I noticed fashion brand Ixiah offering Facetime appointments to virtually shop their sale. It’s the gift of discovery and the joy of not missing out, plus the reinforcement of one’s excellent taste from an accompanied shop. This sort of lateral thinking enhances the brand relationship and sets it apart from others who have gone into transactional mode. It’s a kind of branded ‘buy on behalf of’.   

The Chinese ‘daigou’ (buy on behalf of) craze was born out of a crisis when a baby formula scandal almost destroyed consumer confidence in locally made brands. Ranks of personal shoppers in Australia began buying for Chinese customers. This had the unfortunate knock-on effect of infuriating Australian parents who couldn’t get hold of their baby formula. Despite being seen as an unofficial and unregulated channel, daigou has grown to be a massive industry, including speciality stores and logistics firms, distributing all sorts of Australian brands. 

One of the growth opportunities in the current crisis, as social distancing becomes the norm, is social ecommerce. Brands that want to add fizz to their ecommerce offering can make the experience flow seamlessly from discovery to purchase with things like shoppable Instagram posts. Lego and Snapchat co-created an augmented reality boutique to launch Lego’s Disney-branded merchandise. Nike’s Air Jordan 111 Tinker shoe sold out within minutes with an AR lens and instant shopping function. Features like visual search of Amazon’s store via the Snapchat app’s camera add another dimension to the experience.  

On the front foot with its email marketing, fashion label Bianca Spender is offering to book customers private appointments at boutiques, as well as opening up phone lines to ensure those shopping online can have a chat with a boutique team member. Recognising a growing feeling of isolation, they’re keeping it personal across all channels and creating more lighthearted video content to share.

Timed shopping is on the rise, in physical and online spaces. Woolworth’s has been praised for implementing special purchasing hours exclusively for older and vulnerable customers. When well executed, it’s a good initiative that protects and respects customers, while allowing for social distancing, and it helped elevate Woolworth’s somewhat in the social citizenship stakes.

Ecommerce is no stranger to time-based marketing. Mums with young kids have been known to practice ‘vampire’ online shopping when they have some quiet time in the dead of night. This was an opportunity for retailers to target mums with content and offers. Some were opportunistic and seen to exploit vulnerable shoppers by encouraging splurges. But there was also a genuine need for entertainment or company, which brands could meet responsibly and so deepen their customer relationships.

Now, with the threat of lockdown and doom and gloom in plentiful supply, people will seek out opportunities to shop for fun with some categories such as make-up practically recession proof. Online events that amplify excitement and give a sense of occasion are magnets for pleasure seeking shoppers. The annual Vogue Online Shopping Night is every Christmas come at once. I have a feeling it might do rather well this year.  

Moensie Rossier is a strategy director at branding agency Principals.

Photo by AndriyKo Podilnyk on Unsplash.