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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on a lot of uncertainty. From wonky social distancing guidelines (is six feet really far enough?), to questionable mask-wearing habits (hey, person at the grocery store, wear the mask over your nose), to stock market line charts that look like blueprints for a rollercoaster designed by Satan—it’s safe to say that 2020 can be summed up in two words: dumpster fire. 

If you’re an independent seller or brand with your own ecommerce store, we’re willing to wager that you’ve also faced a lot of uncertainty. From questions about your own supply chain to shipping logistics to tightened consumer budgets, it’s tough to predict what’s next on the horizon and it’s even harder to determine the best strategy to help your store thrive while it weathers the storm.

So, what’s best for your store’s budget … particularly its ad budget? If you’re thriving, what should you do with your surplus of cash? If you’re struggling, should you cut ad spend altogether? Whatever situation you find yourself in right now, here’s what you need to know when it comes to planning your ecommerce ad budget when the economy is in flux, consumer behaviors are changing, and there’s really no telling what’s on the horizon.

Ecommerce and Ad Spend: What’s the Trend During the Pandemic?  

Marketing, advertising, and ecommerce have all experienced the rippling effects of an economy trying to grapple with an unpredictable pandemic. However, since the early part of 2020, many surveys related to ecommerce, advertising, and marketing have been conducted by numerous research facilities with the hopes of uncovering predictable trends. For your reading convenience, we’ve gathered a list of notable trends (and it’s not all doom and gloom!).

  • Marketing activities vary. According to a statistics and ad spend COVID-19 marketing report from Influencer Marketing Hub, while 65% of brands surveyed for the study noted that their firms were already experiencing a noticeable decline in revenue, 1 in 4 companies planned to increase their marketing activities. 
  • Ad spend has doubled in the U.S. The same report from Influencer Marketing Hub found that between February 17 and March 9, ad spend from U.S. ecommerce sites doubled from $4.8 million to $9.6 million.  
  • Online shopping is more popular than ever. Technology company Bazaarvoice surveyed more than 5,000 consumers across the globe and found that 62% of U.S. shoppers say they shop online more now than before the pandemic. Other countries that noticed an uptick in online shopping include Canada (59%), Mexico (70%), and the U.K. (58%).
  • Consumers are looking for an all-in-one shopping experience. According to a survey conducted by Adobe, 57% of U.K.-based consumers who regularly shop online have made a purchase from an online marketplace, such as Amazon or Ebay, since March, compared with just 13% who made a purchase from a dedicated brand website. Consumers are drawn to broad product ranges, robust delivery infrastructure, and limited steps between login and checkout. 
  • The holiday shopping season will still be hot. According to a study by Rakuten Advertising, three-quarters of consumers are not planning to reduce their spending during Christmas this year.

    Eighty-seven percent of global shoppers will still be shopping for Christmas and other seasonal holidays, and more than half (57%) expect to make a purchase on key days like Black Friday. While 65% of U.K. shoppers said they had made more online purchases than usual during the outbreak, nearly three-quarters primarily plan to shop online during the holiday period, suggesting we could see an even larger shift to ecommerce in Q4 than we have seen in past years.
coronavirus essential goods

Nonessential vs. In-Demand Products (and How to Budget for Each Scenario)

Not surprisingly, the pandemic has forced consumers to change how they shop and what they shop for. A recent report from Stackline examined ecommerce sales across the U.S. between March 2019 and March 2020 and revealed the top 100 fastest-growing and fastest-declining ecommerce categories.

A few notable fastest-growing categories include:

  • Disposable gloves (+670%)
  • Weight training (+307%)
  • Soap and body wash (+194%)
  • Computer monitors (+172%)
  • Craft kits and projects (+117%)

 A few notable fastest-declining categories include:

  • Luggage and suitcases (-77%)
  • Event and party supplies (-55%)
  • Sunglasses and eyeglasses (-43%)
  • Camping equipment (-39%)
  • Necklaces (-38%)

If your ecommerce business currently finds itself in the position of being in a growing industry or it’s selling a hot-ticket/in-high-demand product right now, you’ll definitely want to keep the momentum going. To keep the good times rolling, be sure to:

Sell ethically. The last thing any online business needs is to be labeled “insensitive.” With a pandemic in full force, it’s important to keep your brand’s messaging and strategies in-tune with the times. Don’t promote or sell your products by using scare tactics (if you don’t buy this particular face mask then you don’t care about your loved ones), but instead focus on the positive benefits your products can offer.  

Be empathetic. With stress and anxiety at off-the-charts levels around the globe, consumers are looking for comfort during the unknown. Connect with your customers by using positive and empathetic language. Explain how your product(s) can help to lighten the mood or bring relief or happiness during these uncertain times.

It’s important to remember that statistics change on a day-to-day basis, so if your ecommerce business finds itself in the position of selling a “not-so-hot” ticket item right now, it’s not the end of the world. Take this time to dig into the foundation of your marketing strategies and work on a couple of new angles:

  • Build a solid digital foundation for your store. If customers can’t find you, how are they supposed to buy your products? From email marketing campaigns to inventory management systems to a stellar website, now is the time to make sure your store’s ecommerce strategy is firing on all four cylinders.
  • Emphasize the convenience that your store offers. If your online store offers great customer service, there’s never been a better time to toot (actually, HONK) your own horn. Shoppers are looking for convenience and stores that serve on-demand. Whether you offer lightning-quick shipping, boast a huge inventory of goods, or offer impeccable customer service, let the world know that doing business with your online shop is the most convenient thing since sliced bread.

4 Budget-friendly Strategies to Seduce Your Customers

Even if your online shop has experienced a dip in sales, it’s important to stay positive and focus on what you can control—such as how you market your store. Use this time to examine the foundation on which your ecommerce business is built and fine-tune the parts of the business that need a little work. To keep customers coming back, be sure to: 

1. Embrace ads. According to a report by SmarterHQ, 72% of consumers say they now only engage with marketing messages that are personalized and tailored to their interests. Even if your online shop has experienced a dip in sales, now is a great time to focus on retention ads or more personalized retargeting ads to help tighten your ad spend budget. There’s no better way to stay front and center in the customer’s mind than through product recommendation ads or personalized discounts.

Creating finely honed ads means you won’t be “spraying and praying,” AKA, dumping loads of cash into ads for maybe a small boost in sales. Targeting niche audiences is a way to reduce your ad spend, save money for unpredictable events, and grow a stronger relationship with specific customers who’ll appreciate and remember a more personalized ad.

2. Create social media chatter or buzz. One great perk to social media is that it’s free to use. Whatever platform (or platforms) you settle on, remember to use visual content (image-based content is always more engaging that text), interact with your customers when they respond to your posts, keep the content short and sweet, and be sure to post on a regular basis. Growing your following through one-and-done events like a social post giveaway is an incredible way to boost your brand signal, engage with your audience, and cut out ad spend altogether.

screenshot of arby's tweets
Arby’s is infamous for having a strong Twitter game. With a balance of original content that engages with followers and social media trends that put your brand in the conversation, you could garner lots of retweets, engagement, and fans—for free.

3. Dive into the customer experience. The customer experience is the quality of interaction between your shoppers and your brand. Take this time to explore the customer experience your brand currently offers its customers.

Is the layout of your website clean and is it easy to navigate? Are you able to offer excellent customer support? Today’s truth is that consumers are feeling as unsure as you are about the future,

4. Mitigate Risks at Every Turn with a Better Post-Purchase Experience
One of the greatest loyalty-building strategies comes down to the customer experience, including what happens beyond the checkout. The post-purchase experience is largely forgotten by many online shops as they opt to focus on acquisition strategies. However, over 40% of consumers see the post-purchase experience—shipping, tracking, setup, issue resolution, returns—as the most memorable part of the overall experience with a brand.

Staple brands like Apple, Zappos, and Amazon have been doubling-down on the post-purchase experience, and just continue to grow in their ecommerce strength as a result. You don’t have to run a household brand to create a gold-standard experience for your shoppers, though.

Route was built to celebrate customers, enhance their experience with ecommerce brands, and bring them peace of mind by mitigating risks inherent to buying stuff online. With Route, ecommerce stores can easily offer:

  • A tracking experience for the modern consumer. With one-of-kind Visual Tracking, customers can see exactly where their purchases are in real time on a real map (which cuts down on time and costs spent answering “Where is my order?” inquiries).
  • Package protection to guard against theft, loss, or damage between the warehouse and their house.
  • Swift issue resolution should they find that they were sent the wrong item, their goods showed up broken, or they want to send it back and get a refund. Route covers these costs up front, which makes the process fast and easy for customers and merchants.

Plus, it’s free for merchants to add Route to the post-purchase experience and the app brings transparency to package tracking so that your customers can see exactly where their item is during the transit period. And with the upcoming holidays, package protection is a must for ecommerce merchants who want to create customer loyalty and deliver peace of mind to shoppers. 

It’s Time to Take Charge of Your Ecommerce Ad Budget 

While 2020 continues along its unpredictable path of twists and turns, taking charge of your ecommerce store’s ad budget is a guaranteed way to ensure a sense of stability for your business during these uncertain times. When it comes to managing and marketing your online shop, you’re in the driver’s seat. Keep a steady hand on the wheel, stay focused on your destination, and don’t forget to enjoy the changing scenery (life!) along the way.