Coronavirus (COVID-19) is officially a global pandemic.
And we all have questions.
To help your ecommerce businesses navigate these uncertain times, we’ve put together this article as a guide and repository.
Day-by-day, we’ll be posting regular updates within three sections:
Despite positive signs at the global level — namely, the rebound of Chinese suppliers (Reuters; CNBC) and European travel restrictions only applying to “human beings, not goods and cargo” — concerns around supply chain issues and product shortages remain acute for online retailers.
As an index, we’ve compiled data from 20 accounts at a ~$50M annual spend rate.
All metrics have been standardized to 1-day-click and 1-day-view attribution and then separated into two sets as ecommerce benchmarks: Mar. 1-10 versus Mar. 11 onward.
As of Friday, Mar. 27 …
These trends are not only more accurate than initial data suggested but also more encouraging.
So too was The New Consumers’ report from Rakuten Intelligence that found US ecommerce spending up ~36% YoY from Mar. 12-Mar. 15, “almost twice the growth rate it had been generating this year.”
The starkest divide, however, lies between beauty and apparel. Again, comparing Mar. 1-10 versus Mar. 11 and beyond:
Wider data from ShipBob — monitoring over 3,000 merchants using its 3PL network in the US — shows similar disparity across verticals:
Nutrition or health
Food & beverage
Beauty & care
Apparel & accessories
Toys & games
Sports & fitness
Search engine marketing (SEM) is also being affected. Comparing per-day averages from Mar. 3-10 versus Mar. 11-15 reveals declines across the board:
“The temptation is to tighten or pull budgets as a knee-jerk reaction,” says Tony Chopp, CTC’s Director of Paid Search. “In some cases, we’re adjusting overall spend. For others, and especially for any account with automated bidding, we’re adding seasonality adjustments week-by-week.
“By manually entering previous days as conversion-rate baselines, automated bidding models stand a far greater chance of maintaining their targets.”
Slick Products — one of our in-house brands under the 4x400 banner — pulled exhaustive channel-by-channel data to compare YoY performance. Below is a small sampling of the totals and paid media: lime-green rows from March 2019; white rows from March 2020.
In short, while per-day revenue, sessions, and transactions are dipping, efficiency is holding:
Andrew Faris, the CEO of 4x400, has been sharing his front-line experiences on the Ecommerce Playbook Podcast:
“It is a fact that constraints generate creativity.
“Within this new world that we live in — for this moment, for however long it lasts — I’m trying to be clearheaded about the reality that the constraints we have are just going to force us to be more creative about the solutions that we put into place.
“What I fundamentally believe is that there will be a point where things will come back to relatively normal. I want to stay in the game long enough to get there. So I’m focusing less on growth and more on cash, more on profitability.”
If it wasn’t already hard enough, being an entrepreneur just got harder. In the weeks since “the world came slamming down,” the challenges of growth have multiplied exponentially.
So too has the opportunity.
ADmission is a membership community and training platform with real-time support, on-demand courses, and a thriving Facebook group of over 800 entrepreneurs, owners, and ecommerce marketers. Normally, it’s $250 per month.
But from now until Apr. 3 you can join for free:
To respond quickly and analytically, we’ve created individual dashboards for each growth-team client with two views of each business’s funnels.
To do the same, pull day-over-day data into a Google Sheet from the last ~2-3 weeks. Accounts that have seen a 10% or more decrease should be able to pinpoint what day that drop began, typically between Mar. 8-10.
Divide the days into two sets: Before Drop versus After Drop. Average the daily metrics within each set in a new tab and use %-change formulas to compare them:
Comparing the two data sets will tell you exactly where your funnel is breaking: i.e., either (1) when costs per event or action jump significantly or (2) when conversion actions suddenly decline.
“For businesses feeling coronavirus’ impact,” notes Cherene Aubert, Director of Client Marketing Strategy, “most visitors are clicking but not adding-to-cart at the same rate as before. Once they add to cart, checkouts and purchases are happening at the same rate. They’re likely window shopping and not getting much further than the home page or product page.”
“Improving add-to-carts is a top priority by:
That template can also tell you exactly where to invest in creative testing.
In fact, here are 10 tactics to get you started along with examples and results.
Should ecommerce brands discount during the outbreak? What about addressing safety and shipping concerns? Should you explicitly mention the virus or use softer language around health and staying at home?
More to the point, how can you think through yesterday’s messaging versus what will convert today in ads, emails, landing pages, header bars, pop-ups, and checkout?
As with all things, the answer is: it depends.
But, to establish a baseline, we examined all 418 homepages from 2PM, Inc.’s DNVB Power List — a database that tracks companies based on “employment, growth, funding, and Internet Retailer’s annual ranking.”
Of those brands …
In addition, we also took screenshots of 116 of the 142 sites currently discounting to represent a sample of the deal structures and positioning.
Should brands front load — or even create — products like books, DIY activities, toys, soaps, hygiene, candles, plants, self-care, etc.?
What about family-friendly or kid-focused editions and special packaging or bundling for “care package” gifting?
Combining the first two tactics …
“In the first 24 hours,” says Brian Garofalow, VP of Marketing and Ecommerce at Igloo, “it 4.6x’d YoY growth, 2.8x over projections. Refersion has also pledged to donate our monthly fees to help supporters spread the word after they buy.”
As an added touch, a number of Igloo’s Playmate coolers part of the donation collection are also family-friendly collaborations with Disney, Star Wars, and VW.
Together, those factors have helped each of the below ad sets maintain +3.0 ROAS.
Can “nonessential” brands — beauty, cosmetics, fashion, apparel, etc. — foster community, encourage UGC, and give products that rely on social non-distancing motivations a chance to shine … by hosting “show it off” threads, Stories, or live social-media events?
Custom sunglasses and goggles maker, Melon Optics, did this masterfully via an organic Instagram hashtag — #restingbeast — led by its head of marketing Ash Van Palmer.
“It took no effort, cost us nothing, got our community to feel involved and gave us content to post,” says James Pointer, Melon Optics’ founder. “In addition, it opened up a ton of DMs and got us engaging in conversation with our community directly.”
For high-price-point SKUs or SKUs that depend on out-of-home environments — e.g., fitness clothing — could positioning your offers as calls to maintain normalcy be effective at encouraging the comfort of routines (in an anything but routine atmosphere)?
Supply’s single-edge razors clock in at ~3x-5x the industry’s usual price-point. In good times, it’s a challenge overcome by educational marketing. In bad times, it’s a show stopper.
Last week was spent testing and iterating on multiple concepts to cross the conversion divide. The winner? A free year of blades featured in its own ads and integrated automatically to the cart:
The results? 5.07 ROAS … with plans to combine that offer with a new educational landing page highlighting the free year of blades from top to bottom.
To any of my DTC friends that may be struggling to determine what's up from down.— Patrick Coddou (@soundslikecanoe) March 20, 2020
I have no answers, but I do have a few thoughts.
We went from a monthly revenue LOW last week (Mar 11) to a monthly HIGH today. I'm riding the roller coaster with you, but I have a lot of hope.
Event industries like music, minor-league sports, and food have been disproportionately affected by closures. Could those groups not only be helped by ecommerce companies but enlisted for marketing and content production?
While perhaps not a first-order strategy, where do you have margin to promote special discounts?
Could bundling or tiered-discounts based on cart value help by increasing AOV? Would buy-now, pay-later campaigns entice?
Alya Skin’s “Afterpay Day Slay” campaign brought together three of these elements: (1) a sitewide sale, (2) multiple bundles, and (3) installment plans.
Over the last week, its ad creative for that offer has seen a 2.25 ROAS on +$45k in spend.
What type of digital products could you produce to better serve and engage your audience: videos, guides, tutorials, infographics, courses, etc.? Should you sell them, use them as list-building materials, or leverage them as extra incentive to nudge hesitant shoppers?
As an organic expression, Tracksmith’s Culture Club highlights running-related books, movies, and podcasts though an Instagram Stories campaign:
“I don’t know about you,” Lee Glandorf, Tracksmith’s Communications Lead, told Cualate in an article about shifting strategies amidst COVID-19, “but sometimes, even though running is the nicest thing to do when you’re stuck at home, it’s nice to have a little something to get you motivated or excited to run. A reminder of why we run and a little inspiration.”
Is it wise to create educational coronavirus-related assets for non-paid distribution and discovery — e.g., emails, blogs, organic social, etc.?
Or, is it better to invest in support content that doesn’t name the issue directly?
Summersalt’s Joycast is easily the supreme example of this. Managed via SMS, the program has already garnered mainstream media attention from the likes of Fast Company, Forbes, and others.
What’s more, the brand has also updated its home page and featured collection with messaging to meet the moment:
With CPMs still dropping, should Display and Audience Networks be abandoned en masse or excluded based on negative keywords?
For SEM, are you applying seasonal bid adjustments — determined week-over-week — to accounts using automated bidding?
We’ve potentially entered an era of cheap clicks and low-conversions — tight-fisted visitors all too happy to window shop.
To leverage inexpensive traffic, what tests can you run: video watch times, homepage CTAs, value propositions, email pop-ups, quizzes, or landing pages? Perhaps checkout as well as cart abandonment emails?
Equally important, how you can prepare now for a post-COVID-19 future?
As a model for walking that line, consider CROSSNET: a combination of four square and volleyball that’s typically played on the beach.
Since quarantine began, the brand has increased ad spend 2-3x. It’s also — as co-founder Chris Meade explained to Privy in a case study on thriving in uncertain times — “switched our sales approach from ‘BUY NOW’ to a message filled with optimism and that better days are ahead.
“People are looking forward to the summer, spending time with their friends and the world returning to normal.”
As a result, sales have increased by +500%: “We had our best day in company history, five days in a row during the week of March 16th.”
The winners will be those who can peel back wallet-clasped fingers by removing every impediment to action while still maintaining sensitivity to wider needs, causes, and realities.
“We know that your business may be experiencing disruptions resulting from the global outbreak of COVID-19. We’ve heard that a little financial support can go a long way, so we are offering $100M in cash grants and ad credits to help during this challenging time.”
“Fortunately, most major credit card issuers are responding by offering assistance to their customers. Goldman Sachs, which issues the Apple Card, is allowing customers to skip their March payments without accruing any interest fees. Amex and Capital One are following suit with similar programs for eligible cardholders.“
Download the Amex app on your phone, choose "account", scroll to the bottom, "Help / Contact Us" → "Call Us" → click "Member Services" icon. It dialed some special code and rang directly through to an agent for me.— Bill D'Alessandro 🚀 (@BillDA) March 18, 2020
“Governments around the world are rolling out financial relief measures and programs to support small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, you'll find a list of available programs in different countries to help raise their visibility and keep you informed.”
Full text of the Memorandum: Proposals to Help the Economy During the Covid-19 Crisis; including sections on Protecting Consumers and Bolstering the Economy, Assistance to Small Businesses, and Protect Financial Stability and Transparent Markets.
With Amazon “temporarily disabling” non-essential products from entering its fulfillment centers, delaying non-essential shipping, and state-by-state “Shelter in Place” restrictions developing in real-time, we’ve reached out directly to a number of 3PLs.
None report interruptions in service (last updated: Mar. 27, 5:00pm PST). The links below will take you to each provider’s “Status” page:
✅ ShipHero, Promofill, and LeftBrain (confirmed via DM)
Still, we suggest reaching out directly because work stoppages could significantly slow down delivery times and need to be communicated with customers sooner rather than later.
Posted: Mar. 18, 2020
57.2% of the 230 businesses surveyed report ecommerce sales are down; 19.8% say they’re up — particularly, at-home essentials in health and beauty as well as food and beverage.
Takeaway: “They’re spending more on advertising to take advantage.”
While 28.9% say they “don’t have the inventory they need,” issues with fulfillment disproportionately affect Amazon sellers and Chinese manufacturers. A mere 2.6% say their 3PLs are “lagging.”
Take-away: “Communicate fulfillment expectations transparently.” (Editorial aside: implement this type of onsite messaging cautiously and not prior to direct, verified information.)
(3) What’s working
Posted: Mar. 15, 2020
Our friend Andrew Youderian — Founder of eCommerce Fuel — sent the following email earlier this morning.
We urge you to read it’s content and consider taking action.
Time Sensitive: Paid Leave Bill Leaves Financing to Businesses
You may be aware that the U.S. Congress is currently working to pass a coronavirus stimulus and paid leave bill to help support workers and the economy.
Under the bill many workers will receive up to 14 weeks of paid leave in the event they are sick, need to take care of children when school has been cancelled, etc.
The Federal government is paying for this leave through the form of tax credits to businesses instead of direct payments or loans.
By funding the leave with tax credits, businesses are required to dip into their own cash reserves when their revenues and cashflow are being the hardest hit due to the coronavirus outbreak.
For many businesses, this two-sided assault on cashflow (not to mention the productivity hit) will be extremely difficult to weather.
I’ve reached out to my representatives in congress and would encourage you to do the same. You can find contact details for your members of congress right here.
I’ve also drafted an email template you can use to reach out. You can find the pre-written letter here. Feel free to use it verbatim with the appropriate minor tweaks.
It’s important to act quickly. A version of the bill has already been passed by the House and the Senate is reviewing it now.
Given the time-sensitive nature of the crisis, there’s a good chance it will be voted on very soon. So if you’re willing to reach out please do it now.
Hope you’re as well as possible given the circumstances.
As of Mar. 13, all of Common Thread Collective will be working remotely.
Because the vast majority of our time with clients is remote anyway, just expect to see a few additional “screens” when you join any regularly scheduled meetings.
For your own organization, here are a few links to help you navigate:
With active members across a host of ecommerce groups — Ecommerce Fuel, Shopify Plus’ Facebook Community, LeanLuxe, and 2PM’s Polymathic — we’ll be paying attention to noticeable shifts or activity.
(Note: Many of these groups are closed, so we’ll only share anonymized commentary, tips, and links.)
Things are changing fast. We’re keeping a pulse on the best sources in the industry, distilling them, and delivering it to you as soon as it becomes available.
Aaron is the VP of Marketing at CTC. Previously the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus, his content has appeared on Forbes, Mashable, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, The New York Times, and more. Connect with Aaron on Twitter or LinkedIn (especially if you want to talk about bunnies or #LetsGetRejected).