The lessons learned from the UK’s first ‘COVID-19 Christmas’

Piranha Designs - Friday, January 08, 2021

Yes, we know what you’re thinking; that reference to “first” is not an encouraging one. Nonetheless, no matter how long the coronavirus crisis lasts, the fact remains that we’ve learned a lot about the state of retail – online and offline, in the UK and beyond – over the last nine months.

Those lessons, in turn, can have implications for how you choose to tweak your brand’s e-tail presence during the year to come.

Some figures in relation to customer habits over the last few months are, of course, still filtering through. But on the basis of what we do already know, let’s look at some of the insights and conclusions we can draw from the ‘COVID Christmas’ just finished.

Ecommerce is (predictably) thriving

While it has to be the least revelatory development of the UK’s coronavirus-affected festive season, it’s worth reminding ourselves just how drastically the pandemic has helped to accelerate an existing drift towards online shopping.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales had already long been on the up. The first nationwide lockdown, however, vaulted this percentage from 19.1% in February to 32.9% in May. For November – the month coinciding with the autumn lockdown in England – a new peak of 36% was achieved.

December saw the return of the tiered system of restrictions and the widespread reopening of non-essential retail on our high streets; it’s no wonder, then, that the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)’s monthly retail sales balance increased to -3 for that month.

The outlook for January, however, was a much bleaker -33. With much of England having been placed under tougher tier 4 rules for the New Year – bringing about the closure once more of non-essential retail – the ecommerce surge looks likely to continue well into 2021. That could mean even more opportunities for brands that have been optimising their online sales arms since March.

Not all e-tailers and product categories will have automatically done well

Unfortunately, some small businesses that attempted to maximise their online sales during the Christmas season are likely to have learned this particular lesson the hard way.

The fact is that even with the above apparent bonanza in ecommerce opportunities, COVID-19 didn’t just force us online – it also altered our buying habits, including in relation to Christmas gifts.

EBay data cited by CNBC, for example, indicated that gym equipment, board games and jigsaw puzzles saw strong sales in the UK in the run-up to the November lockdown. It therefore seems logical to expect such ‘indoorsy’ items to have been well-represented among popular gifts for Christmas 2020.

So, which product categories may have struggled during the festive period just gone, even for online sellers? Jonathan Pritchard, retail analyst at Peel Hunt, has suggested that “clothing faces the biggest problems because people are not going to Christmas parties”.

Keeping hold of customers is no less important than acquiring them

This particular insight isn’t likely to be a new one to a lot of the more experienced ecommerce brands. For those, however, who may have largely depended on a brick-and-mortar retail presence, only to be forced to largely switch their focus to online selling from March onwards, it’s a key mantra to take into 2021.

How your online store can get its Christmas social media approach just right

Piranha Designs - Thursday, December 10, 2020

You might be thinking it’s a little late for us to be telling you every detail of how you should plan your e-tail shop’s festive-season social media strategy, and you’d be right. Hopefully, you’ll have the key planks of such seasonal plans put down already.

However, it might still be handy for you to do a ‘check-up’ of your brand’s approach to social media this Christmas, before you launch the full campaign in earnest.

So, here are some of the key factors to be thinking about – or reminding yourself of – at this late stage.

Is your brand’s social media campaign well-aligned with its broader goals?

Whatever your business’s goals are for its social media channels, now is the time to re-familiarise yourself with them, as you’re planning your posts on the likes of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for the month or so ahead.

And of course, those goals may well differ from platform to platform. It might be that your brand has a presence on certain social media sites largely to increase brand awareness, while on others, you may be seeking to distribute authoritative and useful content for your target audience, or to acquire new customers.

Whatever – you need to be sure of what your e-tailer’s precise goals are for each social platform, and to plan your seasonal social posts accordingly.

In the process, do what you can to make those goals SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

What is your social editorial calendar looking like?

The above goals will all be important when you’re putting together an editorial calendar for your brand’s social media presence. Such an editorial calendar should consist of a list of exactly what will be published on each of your social channels, and when.

By now, you ought to have this publishing plan already set out for the rest of 2020. So, have another look now at the mix of what you intend to post.

Does your editorial calendar look a little too heavy on one type of content, for example – such as memes or links to ‘how to’ blog articles – when considered alongside your aforementioned broader goals and the audience you have on that given social media channel?

Do you have a strong sense of who your audience is?

Every social network on which your brand is present should provide insightful statistics about your audience. So, before your Christmas social media marketing campaign gets significantly underway, it’s well worth spending a few minutes checking whether the actual audience you’re addressing on your social profiles is consistent with the one you think you’re aiming at.

If your store sells men’s products, for instance, you may be surprised by how strongly women are represented in your follower base on a specific platform like Facebook.

There are several reasons why this may arise. Your Facebook updates may not be very well-matched to what social content men are looking for in your sector, or your products might be largely purchased by women as gifts for the men in their lives.

You can determine what the situation is for your own brand by keeping a close eye on the demographics of your social followers on specific platforms, encompassing their age, gender, location, occupation and interests – among other things. This will then have implications for the exact social content that you produce.

Here at Piranha Designs, we provide social setup expertise as part of our top-level Platinum search engine optimisation and marketing package. It’s one of the key elements that will help you to get your ecommerce outlet noticed for the right reasons online. So, why wait any longer to talk about it with our UK and Gibraltar-based web marketing professionals?

3 ideas for your e-tail store’s content marketing this December

Piranha Designs - Tuesday, November 17, 2020

You won’t need our team here at Piranha Designs to tell you that this December won’t be like just any old December. While we wait to see to what extent a vaguely ‘normal’ Christmas might be possible amid the coronavirus pandemic, you should now be contemplating the implications of this for your brand’s content marketing strategy for the month ahead. 

Here, then, are three suggestions for the kind of content you might look to create in December 2020. 

Rising to life’s challenges in the COVID era 

2020 will be remembered for lots of things. The biggest, though, will be COVID-19, for the simple reason that it really has been all-pervasive, upending pretty much all of our lives. And with the winter having brought new lockdown conditions, now could be a great time to put out coronavirus-themed content related in some way to what your brand offers. 

A store that specialises in kitchen supplies, for instance, might produce an article or two this month on cooking with the family. Or maybe you run a health food store – in which case, you may write a few pieces on the products you stock that might support immunity and reduce your purchasers’ chances of catching a cold or flu. 

Your organisation’s social conscience 

Have your staff been helping to fundraise or provide products or services to the community throughout the tumult the pandemic has brought? If so, the festive period could be a great time to draw attention to it, and even give a ‘round-up’ of your brand’s charitable activities throughout the past year. 

After all, research has indicated that consumers are much likelier to buy from brands that they consider to have a strong purpose – as well as to defend those brands and refer them to friends and relatives. And in this season of goodwill, you’ll want to communicate that your own brand’s purpose is about so much more than its bottom line. 

Teaching skills to at-home customers 

With so many of us once again stuck indoors right now, it should be no great surprise that a lot of brands are appealing to those who are using their enforced at-home time to learn new skills. 

This will be an especially easy route to take with your content marketing if your store sells items that obviously require skill from the people using them – even more so if those items are likely to be strong Christmas sellers. 

That could mean a store that sells musical instruments publishing a ‘how to’ guide for playing the violin, or an art materials store outlining landscape painting tips for its blog readers. 

Or you may run a store that specialises in vinyl records and record players, in which case, you might blog about how to set up a turntable. Or maybe your car parts store could provide instructions on the process of changing the oil in a vehicle? You get the idea; ‘skills’-based content can be applicable to more online stores’ content strategies than you might first think. 

If you aren’t confident about your abilities to create your own compelling content or simply lack the time to do so amid the Christmas rush, why not get in touch with Piranha Designs? We can provide blog writing and guest blogging services as part of our broader search engine marketing solutions, and we would be delighted to hear from you when you reach out to us.

Will Black Friday sales be such a big deal this year?

Piranha Designs - Friday, November 06, 2020

We’re into November, and we’re sure you’ll know what that means – the return of the now-traditional Black Friday. Falling on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day in the United States – which means that this year, it’ll be 27th November – Black Friday has become one of the most hyped shopping days on the calendar. 

But as you’ll also know, 2020 isn’t just another year. It’s seen upheaval at a level few of us have ever known, with likely knock-on effects for how we shop in the run-up to Christmas, too. 

You might have reason to rethink your Black Friday strategy in 2020 

We all know that 2020 has been a rocky year for brick-and-mortar stores forced to temporarily close for periods of lockdown, and to impose enhanced hygiene and social distancing measures on their premises when permitted to open. So, it would seem that the now-familiar Black Friday scrums are already firmly off the menu this year. 

Combine this with the fact that the latest England-wide lockdown is set to run – at the time of typing – at least until early December, and it’s clear that large chunks of the UK’s retail premises will be off-bounds to pretty much any shoppers at all this Black Friday. 

But even if these lockdown restrictions were not being imposed, there would be good reason to expect a more subdued Black Friday this year. 

That’s because many in retail are also eager to alleviate the stress the pandemic has already exerted on supply chains and delivery services. This is leading to a greater emphasis on season-long deals, rather than necessarily making a big fuss out of a single day or weekend. 

If shoppers can be encouraged to commit to their Christmas purchases earlier than Black Friday, there can be greater certainty about ecommerce stores having adequate stock, and customers receiving their ordered items in good time. 

A season-wide approach is likely to serve your store best this Christmas 

Of course, we don’t expect Black Friday to ‘go away’ completely as a big shopping event, just because of COVID-19 – a cursory search of Google News should be enough to confirm that. 

Nonetheless, it seems that of all years, 2020 will be a year to focus on such broader strategies as launching your ecommerce outlet’s Christmas sales early, refreshing your discount offers on a week-by-week basis, promoting products of particular relevance to those staying at home, and clearly communicating likely delivery times at this time of possibly widespread delays. 

In short, this won’t be ‘just another’ Christmas shopping season – and while you probably realised that already, you’ll need your store’s approach to Black Friday to reflect it. Reach out to the Piranha Designs team today, and we’ll be pleased to further advise and assist you with your Yuletide and New Year digital marketing, website design and related services. 

5 steps to boost your appeal to festive shoppers in 2020

Piranha Designs - Thursday, October 08, 2020

It won’t exactly be news to any members of your ecommerce brand’s team – or any of its customers – that 2020 has been a year like no other, although sadly largely in the negative sense. But of course, that simply makes a bit of well-judged Christmas cheer more crucial than ever, which is something your online store can play a part in delivering.

Below are some of our favourite tips for how e-tailers can capitalise on the strange times of the 2020 festive season with their online marketing and sales strategies.

Have a dedicated Christmas section

Of course, we were always going to start with the “obvious” advice, which is as relevant as it is in part because so many merchants actually overlook it.

It’s not necessarily an arduous task to re-jig an existing special section of your online store – the Halloween page, for example – to house and promote Christmas-related items such as festive decorations and chocolate boxes.

You might just be switching out some products and suitably renaming the page, not to mention replacing any links to this page on the homepage and navigation bar.

Be empathetic to your customers

Ask anyone, and it seems that we’re practically all stressed and fed up about at least something at the minute. We wish the pandemic was over already, and we’re fretting about our health and financial situations, and/or those of our loved ones. Other ongoing global events, such as the US election and Brexit situation, will also be causing stress – whatever your customers’ political views may be.

So, if there’s one thing your store should be, it’s supportive to its customers at an angst-ridden and uncertain time. Be the brand that represents the metaphorical shoulder to cry on, by training your staff to handle customer concerns with sensitivity and heart, even when only selling online.

Underline home comforts and conveniences

Whether or not your ecommerce brand also has a high-street presence, a significant proportion of your customers will probably resent still having to spend so much time at home, so long after the COVID-19 crisis first hit Europe in the spring.

But this does present your store with an opportunity to show that an almost exclusively home-based life can be an experience, too. Consider, then, what items your store specialises in that may be particularly relevant for domestic use – think everything from books, blankets and loungewear to home smart speakers, gift hampers and bathroom products.

Tap into the trends of the COVID-19 era

We all know that the pandemic has upended our world and lives, so why wouldn’t it have a similarly dramatic impact on what kind of items people wish to buy during the Christmas season?

Given the economic chaos the coronavirus has visited upon us, it shouldn’t surprise you that high-end luxury goods have already been de-emphasised in many stores’ marketing campaigns this year. In their place, we’ve seen much attention drawn to gifts that are unique, but also immediate sources of joy and comfort in the home at this trying time.

Encourage customers to connect virtually

We aren’t just talking here about how those shopping with you may reach out to your team via email, ‘live chat’ or Facebook Messenger – although this aspect of your service is certainly crucial at a time when your customers won’t want to be left waiting for a response.

That’s because we’re also referring to the myriad ways in which families, friends and colleagues may keep communication lines open with each other as the winter wears on.

Perhaps you could highlight the fashion and makeup products of your brand that could help your shoppers to look and feel good on camera, or the food and wine items that might represent excellent choices for a ‘virtual’ family tea or snack?


Are there ambitions and possibilities for the design or redesign of your e-tail store’s website, or its SEO or PPC marketing, that you would like to discuss in greater detail with the Piranha Designs team? If so, you’re welcome to reach out to us in Gibraltar, London or Edinburgh now.

What can your e-tail business do now to prepare for Christmas 2020?

Piranha Designs - Tuesday, June 30, 2020

As crazy as it might seem in many ways to be even thinking about the end of the year, the fact remains that it tends to be just after Halloween onwards that customers turn their attentions to Christmas gift buying, running right up to Christmas Eve.

Retail phenomena like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have helped to turned the festive shopping season into something more than a frenzied couple of weeks’ buying immediately before Christmas.

However, it also seems unlikely that the COVID-19 pandemic will have become a mere bad memory by the time customers start their Christmas buying in 2020. So, how should the added complexity that the lingering virus brings affect your ecommerce firm’s festive preparations?

Navigating the persistent uncertainty around the pandemic

One of the problems with this subject, of course, is that no one truly knows what course the coronavirus outbreak will take in the UK and any other territories that your store might serve, even a month from now – never mind in another five or six months.

While monthly estimates have shown, for instance, that UK GDP fell by a frankly frightening 20.4% in April 2020, it is far from certain whether there will be a slow, fast or medium-paced economic recovery – or indeed, any immediate recovery.

This will also inevitably be influenced by such factors as the longer-term jobless figures and how much cash shoppers have in their pockets to spend as sources of support like the UK’s employee furlough scheme are gradually wound down.

Another statistic that you are likely to have noticed as an ecommerce store owner – at least in terms of the level of demand you have experienced from your own customers – is the sharp recent jump in Internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales in Great Britain. While this was 18.9% as recently as February, the ratio had vaulted to 32.8% by May.

Again, though, what is the long-term trend likely to be here, as more and more brick-and-mortar stores – even for ‘inessential’ sectors – reopen? A fast recovery, slow recovery or no recovery are different scenarios that could drastically impact your planning here, before you even consider how comfortable shoppers are likely to be with returning to physical stores.

There are still some actions, though, that you can take

As frustrating as the current uncertainty is, as an online merchant, you don’t have to simply throw your hands up and give up until more information is known about, for example, the likelihood of a much-talked-about ‘second wave’ of the virus.

Instead, take such concrete actions now as contacting your suppliers to ensure inventory will be available for Christmas, pinpointing any potential inventory issues and placing orders early if possible.

Also look at what your arrangements will be for delivering this inventory to customers, while contemplating what delivery disruptions could occur in the event of a ‘second wave’ and another lockdown, perhaps based on your store’s experiences the first time around.

Don’t be afraid, too, to ask your site’s customers about their festive shopping plans. What would they like to see your store doing or offering when the Christmas season arrives?

Finally, it’s a good idea to review your store’s online presence and what your needs for it are likely to be in the coming months. Could now be the time to get in touch with website design, mobile app or SEO marketing professionals like ours here at Piranha Designs, so that you can be sure of your store being as ‘COVID-19 ready’ as it can be from the autumn or winter onwards?

Now’s the time to make the moves to place your online store in the best possible position for success throughout what could be a tricky winter period – simply get in touch with our experts today to learn more. 


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