Ways to build loyalty during the pandemic include: telling stories of innovation, fine-tuning rewards programs and turning online shopping into a social experience.

Benjamin Wall, author of "Amazon: Managing Extraordinary Success in 5-D Value", customer loyalty

Benjamin Wall, author of “Amazon: Managing Extraordinary Success in 5-D Value”

Three marketing aims are prominent for ecommerce companies in the coronavirus crisis: managing customer disappointment short-term with delivery delays, stimulating spending medium-term despite falling consumer confidence and ingraining the online habits formed in the crisis into long-term shopping behavior on the web.


Measures to achieve these aims include a personal story of innovation in logistics, giving consumers the sense that they are building savings while still spending and making online shopping into a social experience. Digital retailers will benefit from more loyal customers as well as personnel, business partners and investors who are enthusiastic at the retailer’s creative response to the crisis.



Build loyalty by emotionalizing innovations in logistics


Online retailers have been exemplary in rocketing up their capacities in logistics to handle the massive increase in orders while implementing physical distancing and hygiene. In their communication, they have informed customers up-front about the potential for bottlenecks, delays and out-of-stock items. The details about the exceptional efforts to improve logistics while protecting the health of personnel serve as a backup to manage in the short-term the expectations of customers waiting for deliveries.


Such clear, direct and objective information helps to rein in negative customer reactions to the situation in logistics. However, emotions can perhaps be more effectively met with emotions: a personal story from an employee in the supply chain highlighting the innovative spirit with which the company is meeting today’s challenges are can resound with more impact in customer minds. For example, the retailer Migros in Switzerland gives four employees the chance to tell about leaving their usual jobs and pitching in to help with operational challenges, all in good spirit (see here for those who know German or are willing to paste the texts into a translator).


Customers who feel personally troubled by the retailer can offset their feelings with the personal efforts of the retailer’s employees. Their identification with the retailer and its extraordinary efforts at the personal level to serve customers will translate into enhanced understanding and loyalty.



Building a nest egg for later


The typical response of consumers to falling confidence, as we are experiencing now, is to raise their savings to be able to deal with whatever the future holds. Thus, the boom which ecommerce merchants are experiencing today may not last into later this year.



One way for online retailers to acknowledge consumers’ justified concerns about the future is to fine-tune their rewards programs to support spending in the medium-term. A special plan for which customers can explicitly opt-in could be e.g., to double rewards on their account in the coming six months under the condition that the rewards are traded-in at the end of the period to cover half the price of a big-ticket item. Such a clearly defined option could do the trick of raising savings and spending in one shot. Consumers have the satisfaction and security of seeing the balance on their rewards account growing in leaps and bounds. At the same time, retailers will feel confident that spending will continue throughout the year. Consumers could also feel buoyed by the thought of that wished-for item arriving shortly, a cheering prospect in these dark times.


Online shopping fun with friends



Having more contact with friends is a general need at this time of social distancing. One advantage physical stores have over online shops is the fun of shopping with others. And fun with others is currently in short supply. Ecommerce companies can respond to this need in the crisis while laying the basis for new shopping habits, which can change the face of retail long-term.


Web conferencing platforms in heavy use these days have the functionality to share a screen. Setting up a meeting with friends and sharing a screen for navigating through an online shop is a way to stimulate the joys of shopping as a social activity and build loyalty Where the shared screen can rotate between participants, the collective experience can be for each friend to search on their own and share the best finds on the screen as they come up.



Digital retailers can promote this kind of shopping party online with appropriate stories on social media and the website. A more active approach would also be to invite customers to share online their fun experiences. A screenshot of the online shopping party, along with comments, could be posted on social media under e.g., the hashtag #shoppingpartyretailername. Retailers can regularly search for such posts and, respecting privacy wishes, re-publish them on their own social media and website, thereby heightening the lively experience for all.


This kind of group shopping experience online, born in the current crisis, may well catch on and prove to be popular long-term. It would be another example of how ecommerce companies can replicate online the advantages of brick and mortar stores, tilting shopping behaviors yet further towards the web.



Benefits for all and more customer loyalty


In these three proposals, the digital retailer reaches out creatively to respond with transparency, communication and new offers to meet the new needs of customers. Customers will, in turn, respond with greater loyalty to the ecommerce companies who are innovating in their interest. Online retailers will also benefit from personnel, business partners and investors who appreciate the resourceful will of the retailer to make the best out of the current challenges.


Benjamin Wall is the author of “Amazon: Managing Extraordinary Success in 5-D Value.”