How to Beat Amazon and Walmart at E-Commerce amid Covid-19

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The pandemic has created one of the most dramatic shifts in online shopping behavior and spawned a surge of commerce moving online. According to the U.S. department of commerce, Q2 online shopping grew 45% YOY compared to consistent 17% YOY growth for the past 10 years. This year’s U.S. Retail Index from IBM shows that the pandemic has drastically accelerated the shift to digital shopping by almost five years, a sign that, even as stores open back up, some percentage of your customers will make online shopping their new normal.

As business leaders, we’ve had to make certain shifts, most very quickly, to adapt to how we are serving our customers during this time. Below are three ways we have adjusted our e-commerce operations amid the pandemic, and perhaps for the long haul, and how other e-commerce leaders can follow suit. 

Build a Relationship with New Customers

During the height of the pandemic, Sweetwater saw triple-digit growth in new customers. While on lockdown, consumers who normally would shop locally turned online while stores were closed. As major e-commerce players like Amazon spent the spring focused on essential items, many of the company’s customers left to find more reasonable ship times and inventory at other retailers. Online, customers realized they had more of a choice when shopping around than they might have in store.

Make sure your new customers are absorbing your brand story. How do you approach your sales strategy? If you’re not treating a new sale as if you are building a relationship, it’s time to re-think that strategy. Be sure to follow up on online orders, and pair up each customer with a sales representative to help them through each stage of the customer journey. This not only displays to the customer that the brand truly cares, but the relationship can also develop naturally with this approach. All sales teams should be asking themselves, “How can I help this customer achieve their purchase goals today?” 

Behind building relationships with new customers is a lot of time and dedication. In order to keep up, develop strong marketing campaigns and systems to go back and fill in the brand story as a way to re-engage customers and move them to purchase. This may mean auto-generating incentives and promotions to persuade toward the purchase depending at what stage they are in within your sales funnel. Make personalization a priority to stand out from e-commerce giants like Amazon. Offer true advice and perhaps extended warranties or return policies as a way to build trust. Value ads like tech support personally have gone a long way for our brand. Make sure you are encouraging and incentivizing customers to take the next step with your company. 

Navigating Inventory and Logistics Issues

Supply chain disruption has no doubt been a challenge for all e-commerce brands during the pandemic. Many retailers are struggling with limited inventory and stock-outs, a ripple that will undoubtedly move into 2021. To navigate these challenges, take the proper steps to focus customers on what is in stock. Retool your marketing campaigns and website navigation with urgent messages on low-inventory items (“only three left”), filter options in search pages to “only show in-stock items.” We’ve seen customers engaging with our “notify me when back in stock” emails at an all-time high. If your sales team functionality allows, engage with customers for expert product recommendations when perhaps they’ve added an item to their cart that is out of stock, providing them with an alternative item that is similar and handpicked by your sales experts. 

With carriers like FedEx, UPS, and USPS all disrupted, ensuring fast shipping is a hard promise to keep amid rate hikes and volume restrictions. Make sure you’re softening on those promises to avoid potential disappointment. Encourage customers to shop earlier than normal with strong marketing campaigns so that they don’t miss deadlines such as gift giving during the holidays. 

Re-Think Your Content Strategy

During Covid-19, we all adjusted our lifestyles — work from home, home school, new jobs, and new hobbies. With the whole world going through the same transitions, it’s a great opportunity for retailers to provide education and new content to add value to people’s lives. By taking a more “human” approach to your brands’ content, you can add value and build loyalty at a time where people are looking for small comforts.

Content also plays a unique role in this work-from-home environment where many consumers are learning new things and buying products and items they’ve never bought previously. Don’t underestimate your brand’s role in providing education, like “how-to’s” and training. For us at Sweetwater, customers are picking up new instruments, recording at home, figuring out streaming and podcasting, and so many other firsts. Churches, schools, and businesses are pivoting to online. This is a great opportunity for brands to pivot their marketing strategies to educate and train customers, which builds trust and demonstrates your expertise in a way that Amazon and other sellers cannot provide.

Mike Clem is Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer at Sweetwater.