With shoppers still unlikely to spend hours in stores or malls, retailers and brands must reimagine the customer experience, pivoting to serve an online audience.

Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of Socialbakers

COVID-19 brought on the toughest year yet for retailers—from job cuts to store closures. For brand marketers, the pandemic means that brands can no longer rely on the in-store shopping experience, from the helpful assistant to festive music and lighting, to give customers a great experience. That customer experience needs to start with the first “like” on social media and finish with post-purchase care.

Can brands adapt? Will retailers find more than coal in their proverbial stockings after the holidays are over? What can brands do to save fourth-quarter sales?

Learning from lockdown

Once the pandemic hit, dramatic changes in our daily lives happened overnight. This meant more time spent online and much less time spent with friends and family for most people. For brands, existing plans and marketing strategies quickly had to adjust to this new world. Walmart even went so far as to say their business underwent five years of change in five months to pivot to meet customer needs in the digital world.

Over lockdown, we saw brands tighten their reigns on marketing budgets. In March, there was a steep decline in ad spending across Europe and the U.S. By the end of June, global ad spending rose and moved back towards pre-pandemic levels, indicating that brands were quickly adjusting and adapting to the crisis. Through the lockdown, consumer behavior provided brands with valuable insights into their audiences and showed them the importance of digital marketing on community building and sales during a crisis.


Now, brands must put these insights to good use to figure out what they can do to bring the magic back this Christmas—for their customers and their bottom lines.

Think customer experience first

Retailers and brands must reimagine the customer experience now that shoppers are unlikely to spend hours in stores or malls. They must pivot and cater to an online audience, making sure customers can discover new products and purchase them easily and simply without entering physical shops.

While some will use externally owned ecommerce platforms, savvy marketers will (if they haven’t already) turn to social commerce features, which engage consumers as they scroll through their social media feeds. When it comes to product awareness and discovery, 60% of Instagram users now say they find new products on Instagram. This is where social commerce is exciting to customers and invaluable to brands.

Different tactics and channels all play a role in reaching wider audiences and building customer loyalty. If a brand wants to target Gen-Z, they know a brand partnership on TikTok is a safe bet. For consumers over 50, Facebook ads often deliver. 

Influencer marketing has proved popular for all demographics in recent years. However, as the pandemic took hold, budgets for influencer marketing were slashed, resulting in an 11% decrease in the use of ad influencers on social media during the second quarter of the year. Despite an overall decline, we saw brands pivot towards smaller influencers capable of driving campaigns with their loyal base of followers at a reduced cost. Looking towards the fourth quarter, we can expect influencer marketing to remain a powerful tool for marketers as brands leverage smaller scale influencers with highly engaged communities to connect with their audiences and tell a more authentic story.


Staying relevant with social media

The world has changed, and brands cannot pretend otherwise. During pandemic-related shutdowns, beauty brands were especially creative in finding ways to stay relevant even though women staying home during lockdown might not have felt the need to purchase cosmetics.

For example, Revlon started a campaign, #butithelps, encouraging women to put on their makeup even if they stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. The campaign boasts more than 3,600 posts on Instagram. Meanwhile, e.l.f. Cosmetics started a dance challenge on TikTok with a song promoting hand washing and social distancing. U.K.-based beauty company Natural Living switched up the online experience. It sent out free samples, re-wrote product descriptions and saw a huge rise in people buying “miss you” gifts for loved ones they couldn’t see in person. A lot of beauty brands have also donated money or products to healthcare workers or other communities.

With shoppers still unwilling to rush to the mall, brands need to turn to new ways to bring the in-store experience home. Clothing brands and retailers had to overcome the challenge of real-life fitting rooms being closed during the pandemic. This has resulted in a lot of experimentation with virtual fitting rooms using augmented reality (A.R.) to show shoppers what they might look like in the apparel they are considering purchasing. Among the retailers and clothing brands trying virtual fitting rooms during the pandemic are Macy’s, Adidas, ASOS, and ModCloth.

The pressure on marketers to deliver real business impacts is greater than ever before. To win new customers, brands must adapt to their customers, what they want, and where they want it from the first like on social media to post-purchase customer care. Today more than ever, customers are demanding an outstanding omnichannel experience, whether they know it or not. From Facebook to TikTok, from A.R. to T.V. ads, and even in-store promotions, marketers need the right tools to capture the right audiences, with the right message, at the right time. This is how they will grow their community and bring their business back on track.

As brand marketers focus their marketing efforts even more on the digital world, we can be sure of one thing: for this year at least, the digital world might be the new mall.


Socialbakers is a social media marketing platform.