Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that explores the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on the world of ecommerce. Explore daily insights surrounding the coronavirus crisis or check out these additional resources to help you navigate your marketing strategy during this time.
The global coronavirus pandemic has ushered in an era of unprecedented times: social distancing is requiring people to stay home, businesses to temporarily shutter, and millions to seek unemployment relief while we all collectively work together to stop the spread of the virus.
Retail is one of the sectors that’s been hit particularly hard. Sales dropped 8.7 percent in March 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Ecommerce sales are up 37 percent, comparatively between the widespread start of the pandemic in the US (March 15-April 20, 2020) to the beginning of the year (January 1-March 1, 2020), according to research by Klaviyo’s data science team which looked at data across 32,000 businesses that sell online.
Why are online sales spiking?
Reasons vary for each business, but one reason is necessity. People are staying home to stay safe, so they need to find an alternative way to get the items they want and need.
Another reason is a human need for connection.
“The current crisis is also accentuating emotional drivers, like a sense of connection, that are already core to the direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand experience…Emotional connections can come from meeting the most basic needs during a time of heightened anxiety and desperation,” said Rich Garnder, vice president for global strategic partnerships at Klaviyo, in an article he penned about why a human need for connection is driving people to shop directly from brands online.
One easy way to brands can create a connection with customers? Email.
To see how online businesses have been using email to connect with their customers amid the pandemic, Klaviyo’s data science team looked at a dataset of 18,000 businesses that sell online.
The results are encouraging.
Within this dataset, both open rates and attributed revenue from email are up significantly since March 15, 2020. Open rates for March 15-April 20, 2020 are up 26 percent compared to the same time period last year. They’re also up 21 percent compared to the first part of 2020 before the pandemic became widespread in the US (January 1-March 1, 2020)
What does this mean?
Consumers are taking the time to open more emails from brands. It makes sense, considering people have been spending more time at home and less time dealing with the normal hustle and bustle of daily life.
The data science team saw email attributed revenue is on the rise for online businesses, as well.
In the chart below, you’ll see that before the pandemic became widespread in the US earlier this year (Jan 1-March 1, 2020), brands were generating $8.5 million dollars per day through email marketing. When the pandemic became widespread (March 15-April 20, 2020), that number went up 68 percent—these businesses are generating $14.3 million dollars per day via email.
Upon closer examination, revenue spiked during the week of April 13-17, 2020 when the first round of stimulus checks began to hit consumers’ bank accounts. Revenue attributed to email on April 16-17th, the highest performing email days, was at $24.5 million dollars per day and was more than half of what these online businesses generated across Black Friday (Nov 29, 2019 – $49.1 million) and Cyber Monday (Dec 2, 2020 – $47.0 million).
Since mid-March, 2020, Klaviyo has also been surveying brands daily about how the pandemic has been impacting their business, and the data science team’s analysis aligns with the results of those daily polls.
Consumers may have held onto their purse strings a bit tighter when states began to issue stay-at-home orders and kept their spending focused on essentials like food and toilet paper, but they’ve since been shifting their dollars to new essentials categories like health and fitness, beauty, and home goods.
Regardless of whether their sales are up, down, or flat, online brands say the one universal tactic that’s working to help them stay connected to their community of customers is email marketing. They’re using email to talk about how they’re responding to the coronavirus pandemic, ask their community for their help, offer promotions to their customers, promote new products, or, in some cases, to re-position what they’re selling.
Since data shows that email marketing has been particularly effective for online brands during this time, our data science team dove deep into the data of those 18,000 online businesses to see specifically how email campaigns (one-time sends as opposed to pre-scheduled automated emails) have been performing, as well.
Overall, 30 percent of brands that have sent a campaign since the pandemic became widespread in the US (March 15-April 20, 2020) have generated at least as much revenue as their best performing Cyber Weekend campaign last year (November 28-December 6, 2019).
With so many exceptional campaigns, the data science team took a closer look at the best of the best—email campaigns that have generated 5-10X a brand’s typical revenue driven by email—to find successful strategies other brands can use as they adjust their marketing strategies to navigate our current reality.
What they found? Four common content themes among these emails: sales and promotions, pre-orders and back-in-stocks, home entertainment projects, and shift toward selling face masks.
Let’s take a closer look at how the high-performing brands are creating effective email content across these specific content categories.
1 | Sales and promotions
Among the brands that have seen the biggest increase in sales, the most popular content they’re sharing is content about sales and promotions.
One way these brands could be effectively using content about sales and promotions: To clear out inventory and free up cash to operate and pay for overhead expenses, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Two additional ways brands are specifically using discounts are to sell items for holidays or to link them to the current moment.
The holiday promotions they’ve used have coincided nicely with Easter and Mother’s Day—times when consumers may like to treat family and friends to an extra special gift since they can’t be together.
The coronavirus-related promotions have featured extra-sensitive messaging that explains why they’re offering their customers a discount at this time or how they’re specifically targeting promotions to help healthcare and other frontline workers.
You can see many examples of how brands are effectively using these types of discounts in each of the daily insights here, though let’s take a look at a few specific examples.
Rufflebutts is an online children’s clothing store that offered an Easter “daily-deal” and outfit inspiration to celebrate the Easter Holiday.
Pistol Lake, an online clothing store for men and women, sent this coronavirus-related promotional email to their customer community with a very clear explanation that times are difficult and why they’re offering their merchandise at a discounted price.
If you’re interested in learning how to get started with sales and promotional planning, now is the best time to start especially with Mother’s Day right around the corner.
Looking forward to other Spring holidays? Here are a few resources to help you effectively plan your upcoming sales and promotions.
- Mother’s Day Marketing Guide
- How to Communicate With Empathy During the Coronavirus Crisis
- How to Use Coupon Codes
2 | Pre-Orders and Back-in-Stocks
Among the brands that have seen some of the highest sales recently, the second type of content they’ve been using are pre-orders and back-in-stocks notifications.
Pre-orders essentially allow your customers to order and pay for a product you haven’t yet released. Back-in-stock notifications let your customers know when a product they’ve explicitly expressed interest in is available again so they can make a purchase.
These high-performing brands could be using these two specific tactics both as a way to circumvent supply chain and shipping issues that have been caused by this current pandemic as well as to limit financial risk.
Pre-orders help brands forecast the demand for a product so they can gauge how much of the product to produce, which in turn helps them limit excess inventory from sitting on the books and free up cash. They also help brands collect money from customers upfront, which can help them immediately pay to produce the product and cover other essential business needs they may need cash to cover.
With pre-orders, brands have been creating product detail pages on their websites with clear, detailed information about the product, and when customers can expect it will be shipped to them.
With back-in-stock notifications, brands are using popup forms on their website, on which customers can check a box and add their email address if they want to be notified when the product becomes available again. When customers sign up for their waitlist, the brand has been able to successfully grow their overall email list, as well.
Here are two examples of brands that have set up a pre-order or back-in-stock notification.
Revolve, a women’s online clothing retailer, offered a sweatshirt from Frankies Bikinis that was available for pre-order. The product description features estimated delivery dates and clearly sets realistic consumer expectations.
Who Gives A Crap
Who Gives A Crap, a brand that sells toilet paper online, sold out and used a popup form to collect email addresses for their waitlist so they can let customers know when their products are available again. Their popup form also serves as a great way to communicate with new customers that they can’t be fulfilling new orders at the moment.
3 | Home entertainment projects
Another type of content that brands with increasing sales are using is content that centers around self-entertainment and staying active and engaged with projects while at home.
Brands may be using this type of content since states have issued stay-at-home orders, which leave people with more free time on their hands while at home.
“One game maker has seen U.S. puzzle sales soar 370 percent year-over-year in the past two weeks,” reported Hannah Miller for CNBC.
In their analysis, this is a trend the data science team observed, as well.
Brands that sell products online in the toys and hobbies category have seen sales increase substantially since March 15, 2020.
The same is true for brands that sell online in the health and beauty category.
The same is true for brands that sell sporting goods online.
Brands have been showcasing home entertainment content in many ways, but two of the most popular have been to create virtual classes or downloadable guides that complement their products.
Several health and fitness brands, for example, are offering free online workout classes that showcase one of their key products viewers would need to do the class, while some children’s toys companies are offering downloadable activity booklets to help adults entertain and teach their kids at home.
Here are two examples of brands that are using home entertainment as a key component of their content strategy.
Peloton, a health and fitness brand, is offering a 90-day free trial of their on-demand workouts through their app. Usually, this offer is only good for 30 days. While the running and cycling classes complement their treadmill and spin bikes, you don’t need to purchase their equipment to get a workout in. They offer other classes like stretch, HIIT, yoga, cardio dance, and much more.
KiwiCo., an online toys and activity destination for kids, is offering a plethora of activities for kids to do at home, including downloadable guides that complement their subscription box crates. These are a fun and easy way for parents to engage their children in learning activities at home.
Want to offer your customers home entertainment options that match up with your products? Explore this guide to see how you can include lists of recommended products in your email outreach.
4 | Face masks
Finally, brands with increasing sales have been featuring content about how they’re either making, selling, or donating face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended we all wear face masks when in public, brands have been selling them to support the skyrocketing need. They may also be selling them as an alternative way to make money if their current products aren’t ones people are buying at the moment.
Two apparel and accessories brands who have pivoted their operations to begin manufacturing and selling face masks shared their stories with us.
They’ve both been particularly careful in how they communicate what they’re selling to their customers. They don’t refer to the masks as “medical masks,” but as “face masks” because they aren’t produced according to specific guidelines that meet the needs of frontline medical workers.
Here’s an example of Pistol Lake’s face mask and the messaging they’ve included on their product page:
While pivoting your business to begin producing and selling face masks isn’t something everyone can easily do, there are several guides on how to produce the masks, including what types of fabrics and templates to use. Here’s a guide that Pistol Lake found helpful.
In a time when human connection is more of a need than ever, relationships are incredibly important. Email is a great tool that brands can use to build deeper relationships with customers while keeping them informed and staying connected.
Many brands are relying on email to talk about how they’re responding to coronavirus, ask their community for their help, promote new products, offer discounts, and show new products that they’re selling to help meet the needs of the moment.
Among the brands that are seeing unprecedented sales numbers in recent weeks, the most common content they’re sharing tends to feature sales and promotions, pre-orders and back-in-stocks notification, home entertainment projects, and communications about how they’re now selling face masks.