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Jessica Hulett
March 17th, 2021

How eCommerce Brands Are Navigating the New Customer Journey

Our Amazing Women in eCommerce honorees offer their tips on staying competitive in a rapidly changing industry.

Table Of Contents

2020 saw an unprecedented amount of growth in eCommerce. According to research from Digital Commerce 360, consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2020, up 44% from the year before.

As consumers have moved more of their spending online, brick and mortar stores have had to pivot to bring their customer experiences online. And eCommerce stores have had to deal with increased competition for traffic and sales.

The pandemic accelerated eCommerce trends that were already happening, but it meant brands had to figure out how to quickly navigate the evolving customer journey. And those changes are likely to continue. As part of our Amazing Women in eCommerce program, we spoke to several inspiring, innovative women on the cutting edge of eCommerce about their top strategies for adapting to these changes.

Create unique online experiences

For many brands that rely on connecting with customers face-to-face, making the shift online can be daunting. Premium drink mixer brand AVEC launched during the pandemic, and had to shift its event marketing plans online.

“We weren’t initially expecting to be an online-only brand,” said Dee Charlemagne, AVEC Co-founder. “We were always going to have eCommerce, but we didn’t see it as the main point of difference. Once we realized, okay, COVID is happening, people are going to be indoors, it became: ‘How can we create an experience on the internet?’”

AVEC got creative and began hosting online cocktail classes, giveaways, and forging strategic partnerships to get the word out about their brand. They were able to build a community of enthusiastic fans who share photos and recipes and has helped propel the business into a cult favorite.

Provide customer education

Sexual hygiene company Awkward Essentials offers products in a new category — post-sex. Their flagship product, the after-sex cleanup tool dripstick, is the first of its kind. In order to convince a customer to buy a product they’re completely unfamiliar with, it’s necessary to educate them about how it works.

“I used a Twinkie and the product to demonstrate how to remove the cream from a Twinkie or, in this case, get everything out after sex,” explains Frances Tang, Awkward Essentials Founder.  “Our brand is really about humor and being approachable and being able to like talk about these awkward things that happen to us. That’s our goal, right? To just normalize all the things that happen to us because they happen.”

Awkward Essentials had to put some of their experiential marketing plans — like handing out products from their massive, eggplant-covered truck — on hold, but by providing customers with a fun demo online, they were able to demonstrate how the product works while staying true to the brand.

Focus on authenticity

For many brands, especially those in the beauty and fashion industries, influencer marketing is still an effective channel, but many brands that have relied on influencers to promote their products are no longer seeing the same ROI they have in previous years. Why? As eCommerce competition has grown, customers have become wary about trusting someone who has been paid to promote a product.

“You can’t just buy an influencer anymore and expect a ton of sales,” said Hailey Branham, Senior Account Manager at digital marketing agency adQuadrant. “We actually had a customer spend almost their entire marketing budget on a very famous celebrity to help launch their brand and much to their surprise and frustration, they didn’t see the returns that they wanted because customers these days care about authenticity.”

User-generated content is a way to showcase your products in a positive, authentic way. Your happy customers are your best marketing tool — use their reviews, photos, and videos to promote your products and boost trust in your brand.

Be agile and pivot when you need to

For some industries, the pandemic meant eCommerce growth that they weren’t prepared for and didn’t have the structures in place to support. Probably the best example of this is the supermarket industry, which saw a 25% rise in sales in the first month and nearly 30% more people buying online.

For British supermarket chain Waitrose, that meant going from 60,000 deliveries a week to nearly 250,000 deliveries, plus a directive from the government to prioritize the most vulnerable shoppers. The brand had to work fast to shift gears and meet demand.

“Overnight, we pretty much had to figure out, how do we get data from the government? How do we cleanse it? How do we match it to our own internal data to make sure that we can identify a customer and then how do we give them priority access to make sure that the most vulnerable society gets a slot?” said Laura Burbedge, Director of Online at Waitrose. “I think within 10 days of being asked by the government to prioritize this group of customers, the team had designed, built, and launched the solution. I think the key lesson for me was about agility and how you need to be agile in a crisis moment.”

Stand for something

When it comes to helping your brand stand out in a crowded eCommerce market, doing good is good for business. In fact, more than half of consumers say that every brand has a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue that doesn’t directly impact its business.

“We announced our latest round of funding for a billion dollars, and I’m really proud to work for a company that decided we’re going to pledge 1% of that towards sustainability challenges around the world,” said Raji Behal, Head of Merchant Success for the U.S. at payments provider Klarna. “So this initiative will formally kick off next month for World Earth Day. But our goal is really simple: just to leave the planet in a better place where we found it.”

Meet changes as they come

“The customer journey has diversified and is more complex than ever. And you have to get so creative about how you’re marketing to potential buyers. You have to earn their trust and their confidence,” said Branham.

The customer journey has evolved a great deal over the past year, and next year will probably bring more changes. Brands that tackle those challenges by not just meeting, but exceeding customer expectations are going to be the brands that weather the next big storm in eCommerce.

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