Ecommerce During Uncertain Times: How Brands Are Delivering On Promises To Customers


The world of ecommerce has undergone two seemingly contradictory changes over the past 12 months. On one hand, online spending in the US was up by 44% compared to 2019. On the other, many ecommerce businesses have gone under, unable to survive the negative impacts on sales of the pandemic. 

Another noticeable change it has caused in consumer behavior is a higher emphasis on brand values like trust, accountability, and promise-keeping. 

So how should an ecommerce brand combat the rising demands of the uncertain retail era we are still in the midst of while maintaining a loyal following?

The answer is through a revamp of the promises they make to their customers.

Boiling Down Your Promise(s) 

The promises customers want to see kept have not changed much during the pandemic. However, they have become a tad more specific. 

Honesty, transparency, trust, and genuine care and commitment to each individual customer still remain at the forefront for value-driven brands. However, some new traits are also expected:

  • Ease of use and access to your products
  • An unlimited shopping experience
  • A safe and secure shopping experience
  • A personalized shopping experience
  • The ability to return items with no extra charge
  • Extended payment and return windows 

Let’s take a look at four ways to deliver on some of these brand promises crucial to customer retention.

New Values: Combating the Pandemic and its Effects

An emerging trend your brand can choose to adopt is relief, advocacy, and a charitable mindset. 

With so many individuals, families, organizations and businesses struggling to cope with these uncertain times, a brand that provides some sort of helping hand will be more valuable in the eyes of its customers. 

This promise appears easy to keep because of its flexibility. Donating some of your stock, products, or revenue is a great place to start, but other creative campaigns supporting the community are also an option. For example, providing discounts for frontline workers or products for senior citizens are great ways to show your audience that you empathize with their struggles.  However, there is a catch: if you at any point appear to be jumping on the relief bandwagon for personal gain, your strategy will backfire, and you’ll be mocked and cancelled, not praised.

Maui Jim’s “Mahalo to Heroes” campaign is a creative example of a community-first initiative to ease the stress of the pandemic; first responders, nurses, and healthcare professionals are eligible to receive special benefits and discounts on polarized and protective sunglasses. This is the brand’s way of showing thanks to frontline workers.

Maui Jim showcases user-generated content (UGC) on the brand site of frontline workers in their new sunglasses.

Extended Payment Windows: Showcasing Understanding

Another promise you can choose to keep is extending your payment window, demonstrating your understanding for the shifting incomes your customers are faced with. 

The priorities of most shoppers shifted when the pandemic first hit, and as we move into its second year, the focus no longer remains on food and essentials. Customers want to treat themselves to other categories of items, including everything from clothing and skincare to entertainment and household appliances. 

The one challenge they may be faced with is their fear of spending a larger chunk of their income, having relocated some of what was once disposable to their savings account. 

By using a service like AfterPay or Klarna, you can increase your conversion rates and retain customers. After all, if brands like Sephora, Nike, ASOS, The North Face and H&M have chosen to implement a buy now, pay later option, its value is nothing short of apparent.

Essential Vs. Non-Essential Items: Shipping Delays 

Another shift caused by the pandemic is prioritization based on whether an item is deemed essential or not. And while most of these priorities have now been relaxed, even Amazon has at one point changed its fulfillment systems

This has led to delays in shipping, especially on the global level, as delivery workers, postmen, fulfillment centers and brands struggle to keep up with an increase in demand, and all the restrictions shipping now comes with. 

As a brand, your first step should be to reevaluate your delivery promises. Have you promised next-day delivery in the past? Can you expect to keep that promise today? 

A lot of ecommerce brands make the mistake of promising swift deliveries, even when the process is completely out of their hands. They mistakenly believe that this promise will earn them more conversions, when in fact breaking that promise will lose them repeat customers

Honesty is what is required here; if you don’t know how long your parcel will need to arrive, say so plainly. Advise your customer service on how to deal with these queries, and switch to tracked deliveries, so you can keep your customers advised on the location of their package. 

Extend your return windows, and allow shoppers to change their mind and return an item with ease. It will ease their mind on spending money in the first place.

Extended Communication Channels: The Value of Social Media 

Finally, refocus your attention on your social media channels. As a large portion of your target audience will be spending an increasing amount of time there, you want to extend the way you communicate with them. As life continues an online focus, consumers will be looking for brands to create and engage in dialogue on social media about customer service, brand updates, and product news.

First, voice your new and improved promises there too, and not just on your website. Run an ad aimed at reminding your audience of your existence, highlighting the ease of purchase. 

Provide your audience with useful knowledge, comic relief, entertainment, or other content they’ll be eager to engage with. You don’t want to focus solely on product updates; you also want to remind your followers of your community values and how your products are helping those like them. Sharing UGC from existing customers on your social media profiles gives your audience authentic insight into how people are using your product.

PS Seasoning frequently reshares photos and recipes from its customers to inspire up-and-coming chefs at home looking to make a tasty dish.

Refocus your marketing messages to reflect the current climate. Sensitivity and understanding are key here, as is a heightened sense of community. Fostering one by answering customer questions, sharing their content and offering advice is a step in the right direction. It’s part of your job as a marketer to focus on positive messaging to promote good mental health among your followers, who may be exposed to copious doomscrolling and negativity from current events on social media.

Alo Yoga shares UGC in the form of a customer’s instagram post to show off how real people are rocking the brand’s apparel, and reminds its followers why they should get outside in the era of WFH.

Marketing and managing an ecommerce business is significantly different than it was pre-pandemic. As more ecommerce players swarm the field and some old ones retire forever, your task as a promise-keeper is to bury your ego and focus on the customer. 

It may seem counterintuitive, and you may be afraid of losing money. However, those who have managed to stay true to their word when things were rough are much more likely to welcome a surge in business when disposable incomes become disposable once again. 

Special thanks to our friends at Pixlee for their insights on this topic.
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