As we pass the anniversary of the first national lockdown, many retailers are pausing to reflect on how the past year has impacted their business. While some have struggled to adapt others have thrived, seeing restrictions as an opportunity to attract new customers through Google Shopping and e-commerce platforms.
With the vaccine rollout in full swing and the government relaxing restrictions around brick and mortar shops, retailers have started to shift their attention to post-Covid-19 trading. A hot debate is around whether the last year will have left its mark on us longer term. Are consumers going to continue shopping online and will digital strategies adopted by retailers during Covid-19 need to change after the pandemic?
The transition from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce during the pandemic has been pronounced, with research finding that digital sales in 2020 accounted for a third of total retail sales in the UK for the first time ever. By comparison, digital sales only represented a fifth of retail sales in 2019.
Regardless of easing restrictions, it looks like e-commerce will continue to thrive after post-Covid. Whilst new research on footfall has shown that customers are likely to head back in-store after the lockdown is lifted, in the long term the move to online has been irreversible and will only continue upwards. Indeed, 81% of UK shoppers believe their shopping habits have changed for good, with a further 60% stating that they have bought more online now than they did before the pandemic.
Digital strategies post lockdown
Reacting to the e-commerce boom, retailers have invested in digital platforms to drive continued growth. Google Shopping has proven to be a vital pillar of many brands’ online strategies, allowing users to find, compare and buy products across different retailers who have paid to advertise their products on the platform.
The channel is particularly valuable for retailers as consumers are driven to the retailer’s own platform to make the purchase, thus unlocking valuable consumer shopping insights that are generally unavailable via straight marketplace selling on platforms like Amazon, which limit access to data. Google Shopping is highly effective at driving sales, with ads delivering 12% more revenue than text ads.
Retailers are also investing in digital transformation. According to a report surveying 100 retail CFOs, 48% said they are pursuing digital transformation this year. In fact, many retailers have already been revamping their e-commerce sites and improving how they use customer data in order to reach potential shoppers. As digital becomes more competitive, even more retailers will no doubt follow suit.
With e-commerce sales set for continued growth, Google Shopping and digital transformation will undoubtedly remain essential for retailers going forwards despite stores reopening. However, campaigns will need to change as restrictions ease. While we don’t anticipate that consumers will head in-store in the same numbers as they did pre-pandemic, they will still purchase products in physical locations in some form.
This means that retailers should look to use data to marry up online and offline engagement with a harmonious omnichannel strategy. For example, retailers post lockdown should use local inventory ads to entice consumers to nearby stores to check out products they had previously shown interest in online.
They should also ensure that campaigns are optimised for high intent search terms around specific products (e.g Levi 501 skinny 30 waist 32 leg) in order to capitalise on people price checking products after they browse in-store. There are many other creative ways data can be used but the point here is that unless retail brands are moving fully online, then they need to make sure their physical stores are working hard to complement online activity and vice versa.
While digital strategies adopted over the past year have helped brands sell products online in greater numbers, the reopening of the high street in the coming weeks will cause a seismic change to Google Shopping and digital transformation programs. Retailers that understand the coming changes and start to create a holistic omnichannel strategy will set themselves up for continued growth.
Liam Patterson is CEO and founder at Bidnamic