How smart retailers are embracing and supporting new online shoppers

Katie Ashford, General Manager - Group Marketing and Communications, Ovato

COVID-19 is keeping us all guessing, and we’re looking for normalcy in our lives. For many, that’s by developing a sense of routine or focusing on daily activities, like going for a walk or trying a new baking experiment each weekend. It’s also evident in the way we shop. We want the businesses and services we use to be steady and reliable, particularly when we’re consuming different things in different ways.

While online shopping and digital-only services have been growing for many years, there are plenty of people who haven’t purchased heavily online, who are now shifting their spend. For bricks-and-mortar companies attempting to stay engaged with customers, this means it’s an obvious win to increase online marketing activities. Research from our data partner Quantium shows that online sales are growing across almost every category, so there’s a unique opportunity to market to a new audience.

But to do it effectively, you need to be helpful and understanding – particularly for new online shoppers who find the experience unfamiliar.

Supporting new shoppers

It’s not a given that all your potential customers are online. The Australian Digital Inclusion Index measures access, affordability and digital ability. This helps to identify which groups of our society are impacted by the “digital divide” and less able to access online services. Based on the 2019 study, people aged 65+ are Australia’s least digitally included age group, while those living with a disability are 9.9 points lower than the national average. Australians with lower levels of income, education and employment, and indigenous Australians living in urban and regional areas, are also less digitally included.

When usual purchasing options can’t be reached and customers are turning to online channels, potentially for the first time, it’s critical that brands give these groups careful consideration to ensure that their online experiences are relevant, clear and easy to navigate.

Smart retailers understand how these different demographics differ in terms of behaviour, to design the right online experience. Research from Sitback Solutions shows that older consumers are 10 per cent less willing to provide personal information to brands, or have it used for marketing purposes. So, if you’re speaking to these consumers, it’s more important than ever to provide clear privacy policies and explanation of how you use their data.

For example, consider Woolworths’ Priority Assistance online functionality. Offering priority delivery services to vulnerable customers like seniors, people with a disability or those with compromised immunity, the online form is clear and easy to use. It highlights important information, such as how long they will take to respond to the request and explains that personal information is required so the consumer can be contacted about deliveries.

At Ovato, we can help you identify where there are clusters of shoppers who are significantly upping their online spend. Our core catalogue channel gives online players the chance to connect with these audiences in a way that leverages the trust of the other brands they expect in the letterbox.

Maintain a connection to your shoppers

Many of the new shoppers browsing and filling carts online are the same ones who were walking the aisles of physical stores.

Loyalty programs have long given marketers the chance to lower marketing costs by exchanging discounting offers for contact information and a reason to be in touch.

A different way to think about loyalty is to consider any people who have a history of shopping with your brand. One of the novel segmentations we are able to offer clients with Quantium is the ability to identify a larger group of loyal clients, often ten times the number of shoppers who have signed up and are carrying a card.

We can see that spend has swung away from the physical store, but as this crisis passes and stores are staffed and open, we are likely to see similar behaviours as countries who are ahead of us on the curve, with shoppers in China enthusiastically making a return to store.

Businesses with an investment in physical retail need to keep reaching their usual customers to ensure they’re top of mind when restrictions start to ease.

Closing the digital divide

New online shoppers need a supportive and rich experience to close the digital divide. Savvy retailers are ensuring loyal shoppers are supported as they move online - and encouraging them to stick around once stores re-open.

When optimising your own online presence, you need to:

• Make it clear – ensure the first step to service is as obvious as possible.

• Welcome them. Use messaging to help new customers through the process of signing up for an account with you, and even include a call-out for seniors or other groups that may need more assistance. Make it clear that consumer rights are protected and explain how their information will be used.

• Highlight the benefits. From being open 24/7 to records of their shopping lists for easy ordering, show consumers how online shopping will benefit them.

• Explain what they can expect, every step of the way. 72 per cent of older consumers abandon shopping carts because of poor pre-sale support, so don’t give them a reason to switch to a competitor site.

• Make it easy for them to find information. Don’t bury T&Cs or news about service changes in your website, put them front and centre. This extends to other platforms too – most newcomers will find you via an Internet search, so update your Google Search, Maps and Business profiles to include current hours of operation and website URL. If you’re running search ads, Google suggests adjusting the messaging to include the extra precautions you’re taking or whether you’re experiencing shipping delays.

Throughout this process, don’t forget about the value of offering online experiences as well. Virtual classes, educational webinars or online communities are all great ways to build a longer-term relationship with a new customer, particularly those looking for social interaction and a new daily routine.

Burwood Brickworks shopping centre, for example, is hosting weekly workshops on everything from Pilates and yoga sessions to how to care for your pet, staying connected to their community. Beauty retailers such as Kiehl’s are hosting digital 1:1 skin consultations to replicate the personalised customer experience people are used to in store.

Integrating online and offline

When social distancing restrictions begin to relax, and stores re-open, you want customers to be engaging with you online and offline – so your marketing should be integrated too. Support your online channels with other tactics, such as print media, to get your message to customers at home. Many customers will be more likely to stick with the brands they know and trust, so now isn’t the time to stop communicating with them. Your print catalogue is still a valuable way to share products, specials and updates, and can be used to drive people online to follow your social channels or shop from the digital catalogue.

IKEA has done a great job of rolling out an integrated retail marketing strategy at this time, from turning its catalogue into a workbook full of activities for bored kids at home to releasing a podcast about creating a better everyday life at home and even revealing the recipe for its famous Swedish meatballs.

As many retailers are proving already, a smart integrated marketing approach will let you build a trusted relationship with new customers, so you can carry on providing long-term value when the world eventually gets back to normal.