As we are about a year on from the first wave of lockdowns across Australia, it seemed as good a time as any to look at the unprecedented ecommerce boom since then.
Unsurprisingly, one of the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was a stellar increase in online buying and ecommerce. It didn’t matter if you were B2C or B2B, global or local, in order to capture customers, you needed to be online. Commerce did, of course, take an initial hit, but was surprisingly quick to recover.
After all, consumers were suddenly stuck at home and stressed and isolated in both the physical and emotional sense.
People pivoted online – looking for everything from physical goods like groceries, healthcare products to activities and gifts for friends and families to while away the endless hours stuck inside.
And guess what?
They liked it! In fact, consumers liked it so much that they will continue to look online for goods and services in the future.
So if your business is not already online, now is most definitely the time to capitalise on this and jump on the ecommerce bandwagon.
The Hard Stuff
Initially, there was a need for organisations to be flexible and agile when it came to marketing strategies. In times of crisis, brands need to first move to protect themselves and a step back from heavy spending on marketing will necessarily occur.
Many brands achieved this by looking for gaps in the market where new consumer needs had arisen almost overnight. Experienced online retailers found themselves in the best position to do this, as ecommerce solutions did not require them to do much work at the outset.
We aren’t going to suggest that it’s all been rosy. Of course, many businesses shut down as a result of the pandemic, and bricks-and-mortar retail was especially hard hit. Some had to lay off staff even despite the JobKeeper payment, and there are still signs that the worst might be to come for some sectors of the economy.
However, not all of the data is grim. Even though some retailers are seeing significant reductions in foot traffic, according to Contevo, 20% of Australian retailers are actually seeing an increase in sales.
How? Well, once the initial impacts of the pandemic subsided, many Aussies continued to spend, albeit on different products and in different ways. These businesses that have continued to see growth are those that really looked for opportunities for growth and used digital marketing and ecommerce to their advantage.
The immediate response
In the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, consumers flocked to the Internet to stockpile on goods such as toilet paper, hand-sanitiser, pantry staples and various health-related products.
However, after the stockpiling and health related buying, there was an overall shift towards buying products that would make the COVID-19 lockdowns slightly more bearable. This was marked by severely restricted shopping trips to the physical stores in most countries around the world, including Australia.
Here, of course, lockdowns were less intense than other places around the globe, although sustained periods of lockdown did occur in Victoria and, to a lesser extent, NSW.
No matter what businesses sell, however, there is an opportunity for everyone to benefit from ecommerce in the post-pandemic lockdown.
Consumers will value companies and businesses that can be trusted in this increasingly complex environment marked by ‘fake news’ and the spread of disinformation.
As more and more businesses move online, getting customers to trust you is imperative. After all, along with all the good guys, there are always a couple who are up to dodgy dealings.
The “New” Normal
As lockdowns happened, consumers physically could not attend stores and instead had to look online, and now they know they can – why not continue?
Interestingly it was not only Gen-Z and Millenials who got involved with this trend, but older markets as well, who maybe previously had steered away from the online marketplace.
Businesses should also move to take advantage of different selling strategies. One of the noticeable effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was to bring into focus just how precarious many supply chains are. In some cases, the ‘middle-man’, whether wholesalers or supermarkets, became unnecessary very quickly.
In some cases, entire supermarket shelves were empty for weeks on end.
Businesses very much stand to benefit from the direct consumer reach that is available through technology, and specifically through the Internet. Automated online subscription-based models can also simply make the consumer’s life easier as a result.
Manufacturer-direct models also reduce costs for the producer as it streamlines the entire selling process.
Lastly, these models are fantastic when it comes to inspiring brand loyalty.
Standing out from the (very crowded) crowd
This is undoubtedly the tricky part.
Companies are standing out by doing anything from personalising their packaging to automating their shipping and order fulfillment, says Shopify.
For the moment, the brands which have already been online for a long time are going to win in this space.
The Iconic, for example, can offer free shipping within only a couple of days for metropolitan areas, as well as free shipping. While it may cost a smaller business more when getting started, it might become necessary if you’re going to have any chance at competing with these really big and super-established guys.
Adore Beauty, another Aussie success story, always delivers a Tim Tam biscuit with its orders, a practice they’ve become well renowned for. However, they have recently begun to take a more sustainable approach to packaging.
You can read more about Adore Beauty’s success as we’ve compiled a detailed case study on the brand.
This is the kind of detail that does not go unnoticed, especially by particularly socially-conscious consumers. More and more people are caring about where their products are coming from, how they are packaged.
Consumer experience is also important – personalised help when it’s required, a 24/7 support service and an easy process for returns can all help to encourage customers to make that all important purchase.
Customer service is different when online, yes, but oftentimes customers come to expect more when they are online shopping.
As more and more companies have raced online, Google Ads and other paid strategies that work on a CPC basis have become increasingly expensive. That’s one reason it might pay for brands to focus on other ecommerce strategies like SEO.
An Ecommerce SEO Strategy?
No matter how great your product or service might be, if you’re not showing up in the SERPs, no customer is going to be able to avail of them. However, SEO for ecommerce sites does get a little bit more complicated because of the sheer amount of products offered on the website.
The first place to begin is by ensuring that your site can be crawled easily by Google’s bots. It’s also important that your content has to be structured in a way that is simple and effective and gives users options as to how they can filter your offerings.
Similarly, information found on blogs and community forums needs to be structured in a way that helps search engines understand how relevant your content and products are to a user’s search query.
A lot of sites will organise topics into keyword themes or overarching ideas. Really take the time to sit down and brainstorm how somebody might be searching for your product.
A massive online store like The Iconic is able to capture and solve many different user queries.
A young woman might be searching for a 21st birthday outfit, including shoes and a bag, or a wedding guest might be looking for a suit and gift.
All of these problems can be solved by a visit to The Iconic. But people might also be searching for comparative articles designed to help them on their purchase journey.
Once information has been collected and organised, it’s important the information is able to be found by the bots and users. This is done by using both internal and external links, setting up a sitemap and internal site search.
Google prefers information that is well-ordered because it’s more discoverable.
The larger a site gets, the harder it gets to ensure the site is easy to index. Google Search Console data is able to help you get a snapshot of which pages Google is able to crawl. Ensure any pages you don’t want to be crawled are appropriately marked as such with a robots.txt tags.
Alongside the technical elements of on-page SEO, there is also the element of user experience. Google has recently started ranking pages based on how easy the site is to navigate for actual users.
This also includes elements such as page speed and reducing redirects. All of this is only likely to encourage users to click away from your site.
When creating an information structure the most valuable pages need to be higher up in the site’s architecture, so start broad and then go further down the sales funnel to the more conversion-focused specific pages at the bottom.
This is the natural way users will travel through the site, as they research, learn and convert.
When building out the information architecture, think logically about the categories people will naturally want to separate their search by.
This might begin with gender, for example, and then split to colour or size, age group or material. Then, there’s separation by brand or product type. Lastly, it’s possible to split by seasonal products like swimwear or backpacks.
When your site is in operation, keep an eye on which search terms are returning a higher volume, no matter how specific these categories may be.
Then, of course, you’ll want to optimise for these keywords as they have more chances of returning a conversion. If one particular category of shoes was returning a higher search volume you’d want to emphasise this with a subcategory with a specific link.
The larger a site gets, the harder it obviously gets to keep up with doing all of your manual SEO yourself. Even doing basic changes like titles, meta descriptions and tags will get too difficult and complex when you end up with hundreds of pages.
Automated optimisations might be quicker, but they are sometimes much more limited in what they can do. It may be best to implement a mixture of manual SEO elements for the most important pages, and leave the lesser pages to be automated.
A quick way to understand a site’s performance is with crawling tools such as SEMRush or Screaming Frog. Otherwise, Google Chrome can generate a performance report to show issues like broken links and code issues.
Any business that does not appear online and with a strong, SEO-optimised site is going to lose ground in the digital age.
But, there’s more to it than simply being seen or spotted online.
You need to build content that inspires consumer trust above all else. In this age of increasing disinformation and distrust, consumers will keep on looking until they find a site that seems to be reputable, and one which is actually giving them what they need.
The very beginning of the marketing funnel opens up by simply getting your brand out there. Awareness, however, is about more than simply sharing your name, it’s about encouraging customers to trust you.
For more on the marketing funnel, we’ve got you covered, too.
It’s imperative that you appear as authoritative.
This authority, however, as well as being perceived by consumers, can also be measured by Google’s bots. This is where the more technical elements of SEO will come in.
Now we already spoke in detail about these, so just quickly – possibly the most important aspect is that your keywords are arranged by theme or family, and all of the information is logically presented in a simple-to-understand hierarchy.
Without this, your site is confusing for both users and bots.
Don’t let any of this put you off, however, as we are really serious when we say that ecommerce is simply an opportunity that’s too good to miss. Having an omni-channel strategy is going to become vital, not only as we leave the pandemic behind, but well into the future.
Users, however, will become more demanding as they begin to expect more choice online. So, make sure you’re ahead of the trends by prioritising their user experience.