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BizReport : Ecommerce : July 31, 2020

How to ensure your business is ready for 2020 holiday season

The back-to-school (BTS) season may be a rougher one than usual for many merchants and brands as consumers deal with the continuing COVID-19 crisis. A less-than-steller BTS season could mean a lower-than-usual holiday season, too. Here's what brands need to know to make the last half of 2020 a success - despite the worldwide pandemic.

by Kristina Knight

Kristina: While ecommerce has skyrocketed during the pandemic, overall retail remains down for much of the year. Are you seeing similar in the B2B space?

Michael Mathias, CEO, Whereoware: We saw a decrease in e-commerce sales initially, as retailers (and the world) cautiously paused spending to understand COVID-19's impact on their business and customers. Retailers faced store closures and stay-at-home orders, plus the trade markets were cancelled, so it was a rocky and unpredictable time, to say the least. Retailers with strong e-commerce sales were better positioned to withstand the pandemic, and some of our clients saw huge increases in e-commerce sales. Whereas retailers that hadn't invested in e-commerce, or had invested poorly, scrambled to catch up (some standing up websites in record speed). Retailers and their customers are adjusting to our new normal, and e-commerce activity reflects that. But we're seeing an uptick. In our recent Q2 report of our B2B clients, website revenue increased 10% and average order value increased 9% over last year.

Kristina: There are fewer than six months out from the holiday season, a season when many brands and merchants make the bulk of their profit, what should these businesses be doing now to prepare?

Michael: Get creative and expect things to get weird. Buyers are still shopping, it's what they're shopping for and how they're shopping that's changed. In-store visits will be fewer and different, due to social distancing restrictions. Wallets will be a little tighter. Lighter, easy-to-ship items may gain popularity. Your retailers may be struggling, worried, and financially insecure. You need to operate within today's context, not last year's or even last quarter's.

Use your data and be intentional in your marketing plan. You need to know which of your products continued selling past March. What product categories gained in popularity, or how has the use of your products changed? Which channels are you seeing engagement in? These insights can guide your strategy, so you're making smart, contextual decisions, not guessing or running on autopilot.

If you haven't already, it's past time to embrace digital in a big way. E-commerce is the fastest growing channel for most B2B manufacturers - the Coronavirus' impact will only accelerate that trend. Digital shouldn't only be thought of in terms e-commerce, either, but as the defining vehicle for how you market, communicate, sell, and service customers. Online experiences can't just be an afterthought - they need to be connected, on-brand, and as thoughtful and strategic as a big store opening or large-scale event.

Additionally, stay updated on CDC guidelines, in-store restrictions, opportunities for federal or state financial relief.

Kristina: For B2B brands, especially, how important will the holiday season be?

Michael: For many B2B brands, especially those selling to retailers, the holiday season is hugely impactful on their bottom line. Their holiday sales start in the fall to help retailers stock shelves for the busy consumer shopping season, and a poor sales season can be disastrous to overall annual sales - it can be nearly impossible to recoup in the less urgent months.

COVID has disrupted this typical cadence big time. Retailers may be overloaded with stock they couldn't sell during store closures or stay-at-home orders, or if they sell Home Office furniture, for example, they may be positioned for their best holiday season yet, as consumers are shifting spending from entertainment and travel to home comforts. It's still early to tell. I expect to see uncommon trends throughout this next year, but I do expect retailers and consumers to continue to spend and gift loved ones during the holidays.

Kristina: How can B2B brands ensure they're ready for the season?

Michael: Businesses must stay focused on the big three: customer acquisition, retention, and maximization (cough: Whereoware's specializations). For the COVID-19 impacted holidays, this means doubling down on the customer acquisition channels that work for your brand. Email is an extremely cost effective channel to nurture and engage customers, while maximizing customer spend through upsells, cross-sells, and abandonment campaigns to recoup at-risk orders. Social, SEO, and PPC together can widen your audience reach and drive new customers to your website. Retain and maximize customers by delivering the best possible experience - from your website, to your reps, to customer service.

Which brings up another good point - don't leave your sales reps in the dust. For many, this might be the first year your sales rep channel goes neck to neck with e-commerce. You can reduce the friction between these channels by marrying the digital and rep experience. One of our B2B clients recently did a sweepstakes promotion to promote online registrations and orders. Instead of making it an online-only campaign, they incentivized their inside sales team to drive customers to the website by offering commission on orders placed online through trackable coupon codes. There are creative ways to marry the channels.

Kristina: What do B2B brands need to know about their customer base that is different from 2019 to 2020?

Michael: Customers are uneasy. The economic, civil, and political unrest is deafening, on top of the pandemic impacting loved ones, schools, careers, supply lines - you name it. Think of how you're feeling to place yourself in your customers' shoes. Uncertainty and insecurity is a dense fog right now, and we're all just doing our best to wade through it. It's a lot of pressure. Your customers are going to be cautious, risk-adverse, price conscious, and reliant on your understanding and support. Do what you can to help your retailers, whether offering heavier discounts than typical, extending credit lines, offering "order now, pay later" options, or helpful advice on store merchandising within social distancing restrictions. Whatever you can do - a financial incentive or a friendly ear - your retailers will remember and appreciate the consideration you showed them through difficult times.

Tags: 2020 back to school shopping tips, 2020 holiday shopping tips, ecommerce, ecommerce tips, Whereoware

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