With local delis shuttered, supermarket shelves bare, and Amazon’s stock depleted, many consumers found that a search for a bag of flour in March seemed hopeless. Were it not for venturing into uncharted territory – page two of a Google search – those consumers would never have stumbled across several pure play retailers with abundant stock, willing and able to help ameliorate the sometimes surprise shortages caused by the Covid-19 crisis. From looking for gym equipment to paintbrushes and even seedling tomatoes – consumers have been pursuing wholesome pastimes they previously never had time for.
According to a Criteo survey, most of us took up a pastime, and did so through a new brand with which we had never previously interacted. But as normality – or some semblance of it – returns, what does it mean for marketers? Will these new consumers stick around? Or were they an aberration born of necessity? This was the topic discussed during a panel titled ‘Has the social distancing economy created a new consumer?’ as part of the The Drum’s Can-Do Festival, in partnership with Criteo.
“Our results showed that 85% of those who found a new brand are planning to purchase through them again,” says Marc Ó Fathaigh, country manager at Criteo. “These new online shoppers are certainly here to stay. And in terms of stickiness, it's all going to come down to knowing who your customer is and being able to identify them.”
The panelists agreed that this new consumer is, at least in the short term, not going anywhere. In a world of quarantined products and socially-distanced shuffling, the high street browsing experience will never be the same.
Success this year and next will be defined by a brand’s ability to plug the gap left in physical retail’s wake.
Innovation, innovation, innovation
Carly O'Brien, chief marketing officer of multi-brand online retailer, The Very Group, asks: “How do we start to translate some of the positives of the physical into that online experience? I think that's where innovation is going to become so important. Not just relying on the benefits of online - the ease and the convenience - but really starting to rival that physical store experience over time.”
Rebuilding the customer journey to be digital-first has been a challenge for physical retailers whose primary revenue stream is, in ordinary times, the high street. Pandora, the trinket-bracelet maker, has in previous years sold only 10% of its stock online. A challenge, but Jennifer Glass, director of digital in North America, has relished this recalibration.
“It's a fun time to be a marketer, because budgets are shifting, and we get to be nimble and we get to show our stuff to the brand team and to the in-store team to help carry the weight of that shift from customers going in-store to online.”
Now that stores are opening, what next?
Bridging the gap between physical and digital retail takes different forms: ensuring websites have location-based, locally-available inventory with ads to match, innovative, dynamic creative, and simple but effective UX that graduates the digital customer to the physical, were all mentioned by our panelists.’
Pandora’s Glass has seen this play out first-hand as its stores have begun to reopen. “The conversion rate in-store has skyrocketed because the person that's walking into the store is so educated – they've done their research. There's such a high intent to purchase that the online experience becomes that much more important to be able to set up the right conversation for the in-store associates.”
Very’s O’Brien agrees: “It's been about: ‘How do we bring ourselves in front of that consumer in a way that they perhaps might not have thought about coming to us in the past?.”
A brand’s utilisation of its customer data platform has, of course, played a significant role in determining how it fared throughout Covid-19 – something Criteo’s Ó Fathaigh has seen the very best - and worst - of over the last few months.
“It really does make a difference if we can guarantee that this is person X,” he says. “We've seen them in three different locations, so we stop serving them ads because they've already purchased on the app, or they've already picked up curbside, for instance.”.”
Incrementality has been at the heart of every conversation Criteo has had in recent months. Identifying the interaction that moves a user from passive to active has grown more important than ever: to understand the ROI that you are getting and correctly accounting for the source of that growth, and to enable optimisation across different paid channels so that you can decide where your next dollar of marketing budget should be spent.
“The reality is, over the coming months, none of us really knows what’s going to happen, so I think just setting ourselves up so that we can adjust and flex as the situation evolves with relative ease, and with relative speed, is what we're really focused on,” says O’Brien.
So, will these new consumers stick around? Or were they an aberration born of necessity? Both answers are dependent on a brand’s ability to react. If you’ve gained new customers due to the pandemic, there is no reason you shouldn’t hold onto them, if your digital marketers are savvy.
“It’s kind of all eyes on us right now, adds Glass. “All of a sudden everybody in the organisation is interested in digital... everybody.”