Driving online sales in a difficult landscape: for retail

Posted by Fox&Bear

With many retailers temporarily closing physical doors for the safety and wellbeing of customers and colleagues, there are understandably fears around how the sector will survive the economic repercussions of COVID-19.

Following our guide for marketing professionals in healthcare, the Fox&Bear team have put their heads together to share actions and considerations for retailers to adjust digital marketing strategies and remain present throughout the challenging landscape.

Key takeaways:

  • Be flexible with change
  • Make key information easy to find
  • Go the extra mile

Paid social advertising

Earlier this month, some experts forecast that ecommerce could double from 20% to 40% of all retail sales in the UK at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak. Whilst, of course, no retailer could have pre-empted the escalation of the situation or huge strains on supply as a result of sudden increased demand, there is still opportunity for businesses in retail to capture huge amounts of traffic, particularly with more people likely to be online more throughout the day.

Get in front of people

It’s a good time to raise your brand awareness and get yourself in front of people. Set the expectations for new and returning users and ensure your ads are up to date with information on your delivery and opening times.

Stay focused on your goals. Whilst there are likely to be big opportunities for capturing new customers, prioritise getting your engaged customers over the line and ensure you’re their first online stop with remarketing ads.

Sales and discounts

Throughout periods of uncertainty, customers will be more price-conscious and likely influenced to make decisions around this. Now is the ideal time to push discounts or offers you may be running and (but do this sensitively), if you’re not, consider where incentives such as free delivery will be beneficial for capturing new customers.

Pursue high intent

Some brands will be making cuts to media spend at this time, but driving revenue remains key to making it through this difficult time. Paid media offers a chance to examine true ROI and with everyone spending more time online during this time, a chance to maximise digital spend. Refine and narrow your audiences to ensure you’re targeting those with the highest intent. Looking back at your historic data is a key tool here – and don’t forget, it’s free!

PPC advertising

As with our paid social advice, be sure to keep consumer confidence at the front of your mind and ensure your offers and incentives are at the front and centre of your campaigns. This is a good opportunity to boost campaign visibility with the use of free promotion extensions.

Consider changes in habit

Depending on the retail type, search volumes for ‘shops near me’ and similar keywords may be reduced during this time (although food outlets may find the opposite) but remember that screen time is increasing. Reallocate your unused budget elsewhere for maximum visibility, such as display activity for increased awareness.

Monitor changes in device screen time. Are more of your users using mobile and tablet devices currently, or are shifts to working from home seeing a rise in desktop browsing? Increase your bids accordingly to ensure your campaigns are best placed to reach the right people.

Make it easy for customers

Amidst so much uncertainty, the main thing your customers will want to know is whether you remain open (online) and active. Make this easy for them and utilise call and location extensions within campaigns so they don’t have to look far.

For more complex questions and answers, use sitelink extensions to point your customers in the direction of the answers to their queries.

Organic search

Keeping information about your business visible and up to date is essential. Your customers are likely going to be coming to your website with additional questions in mind:

  • Is your shop still open (for essential services)?
  • Can I still get items delivered?
  • Have delivery times been affected?
  • Are there restrictions on what I can buy?

Direct customers to important information

Use your website as an opportunity to reduce the number of incoming calls and provide alternatives to help reduce strain on your customer service teams.

You could consider a live chat functionality, which can be manned by one or two team members or use simple automations to answer the most basic queries (opening hours, contact information etc.). In the absence of a chat feature, check you have visible contact forms and/or links to contact information visible on all pages.

A clear FAQ or updates page that easily outlines any changes to your products and service at this time should be easily accessible from all areas of your website. Utilise calls to action, sticky bars or banners to position your updates somewhere visible and ensure it links through.

Tip: Add the date to your updates, so visitors know they have the most up to date information.

Minimise your customers’ effort

Keep on top of your Google My Business listings to update store information, such as interim opening hours and contact details. Use it to communicate updates, highlight new products or promote recent incentives via the posts section. This means users can find necessary information without having to search far.

Content and social

In a time where things might not be business as usual for you and appetite for spending is low, don’t fall silent.

Maintain your presence

Show you’re still active on your channels and ready to engage with your audience. Whilst you’re not expected to be an authority on the coronavirus situation, maintaining a consistent presence will be reassuring for those actively engaged with you, as well as important brand awareness to re-engage with customers when the outlook is brighter. Plus, with longer-term vision in mind, are there things you can share for customers to look forward to?

Remember: Keep telling the stories that make your brand what it is but be sensitive around messaging and tone. Failing to acknowledge the climate altogether can lead to some uncomfortable backlash.

Show your community side

In these challenging times, pulling together and showing support is the encouragement we all need. Still have teams overseeing deliveries or serving the public? Shine a spotlight on them to say a big thanks and reflect their hard work and resilience. Have you introduced any new initiatives to support safety and wellbeing whilst your teams are still working and enable your customers to access your services? Let people know!

Consider where you have the capacity to go the extra mile to connect with your audiences, share some positivity and provide support. Independent clothing brand, Lucy & Yak, has been sharing regular video content on social channels, including interactive yoga sessions, team takeovers and polls or Q&As. Are you in a position to get creative and share some unique content or resources with your audiences?

Email marketing

Communication at this point in time is essential and email updates provide a convenient way to get messages out to your audiences quickly.

Appropriate correspondence

Almost every brand has emailed customers with COVID-19 responses, so there’s a danger of the white noise effect within inboxes. As a retailer, consider the responsibility you have for your customers and the most important messages you need to communicate right now and do exactly that.

Some great examples throughout this period so far have come from the supermarket giants, with personal messages from CEOs to provide updates as situations unfold. Sainsbury’s, particularly, have been proactive in its approach to customer communications, acknowledging requests from customers to alter services during these times and actioning them, as well as providing regular updates on how it’s adapting to government briefings.

Enhancing the experience

Other retailers have taken more lighthearted, yet compassionate approaches to engaging with audiences. Glossier, for example, curated a selection of beauty videos as a value-add to customers spending more time at home, with a subject line that strikes a chord in line with the new lifestyle we’re all adjusting to.

Think creatively about ways you can enhance the overall experience to help spread happiness and positivity to your customers. For example, could you include a small free gift, a chocolate bar, some luxurious tea bags or even some positive messages on postcards to help brighten a day and provide a memorable experience. Could you consider additional incentives to acknowledge the challenging times many are facing, such as Klarna (buy now, pay later) or free delivery?

Web design and creative

Adapting to consumer behaviour is important for any retailer and, with modern technology, it’s easier and cheaper than you might think to take your bricks and mortar business online. If you’re a local retailer and can limit people’s need to leave home, help keep people entertained or provide hard to get supplies and services, this is going to minimise the financial impact on your earnings, whilst providing essential services in a time where it’s needed the most.

Simple ecommerce functionality

Setting up a web shop can be fast and simple. For WordPress websites, a plugin like Woo Commerce can add ecommerce functionalities to your website in just a few clicks. Similarly, platforms such as Shopify and secure payment systems like PayPal mean you can start selling your goods online in a matter of days.

This doesn’t only have to apply to product-led brands. Think outside the box on how you can offer a hands-off approach to your service, or even temporary alternatives. Could you offer paid-for consultations using video conferencing technology? Investigate the additional possibilities of ecommerce plugins or platforms, such as appointment bookings and inventory management, to present your brand in the best possible way

Communicate your message with visual assets

The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, as 90% of the information transmitted to our brain is visual. Using visual assets is a great way to cut through all the noise and provide your audience with immediate solutions to their queries.

Infographics are a great way to grab people’s attention as they are visually interesting and can convey huge amounts of information quickly. Draw out your key messages or powerful statistics to really push the benefits of your business right now.

Tip: There are loads of free resources and tools available to help you create simple yet appealing assets. Check out software like Canva or Easelly.


There is no doubt that retail is in a potentially precarious position at the moment, but there is also opportunity if managed correctly. Brands need to be sensitive, authentic and provide value for people on limited budgets, but who have more time on their hands to browse than ever before.

If you can trade online, you need to adopt an online-first strategy as soon as possible, diverting budget from trade shows, exhibitions and large OOH advertising into more measurable channels such as paid media and email.

As ever, it’s all about the right message, via the right medium at the right time. Think about what your audience really needs at this moment and deliver it to them.

It’s going to be tough, but we want to help. There are opportunities for the right retailers, so if you’d like to discuss how we could help, please get in touch with us and we can schedule a video call, a voice call or simple email response. We’re here to help you get through this.