The coronavirus is taking a heavy toll on global consumer brands especially on physical stores. Some brands responded quickly and resorted to online channels to offset loss offline. As in the place where the breakout started, Chinese brands are leading in digital innovations on customer experience, while western brands are catching up. This article explores cases from both China and the west to shed light on the opportunities to enhance the digital storefront customer experience during this crisis.
Since offline events have been canceled and physical stores closed in the wake of the outbreak, people are spending more time online consuming digital content. Over Chinese New Year, China saw a 20% increase in smartphone screen time versus the same period the previous year. While in Italy, the country with most confirmed cases after China so far, brands are already seeing increases in online traffic to their sites and social media.
“Western brands must prepare for increases in internet time and greater customer expectations of digital platforms and online response times.” Gartner digital strategy expert Danielle Bailey writes in a report.
In order to capitalize on the surge of time spent online and to maximize traffic conversion, it is critical for brands to improve their online shopping experience. For many brands in China, prioritizing digital investment and strengthening e-commerce offerings has been the main solution to compensate for lost business. Amid the crisis, L’Oréal China shifted all offline advertising budgets to only online and saw its online make-up sales rose in February.
Moreover, it is also important for brands to recognize that consumer needs and behaviors are changing, and thus brands should re-evaluate their digital storefront experience and address these changes throughout the journey.
“Customer-centric organizations will prepare for how their customers’ questions and needs will change rapidly in the coming months”, and the first step is to “consider likely and possible changes to customer needs and journeys.” Gartner customer experience expert Augie Ray writes in a recent analysis.
Education and Content Marketing
In light of increasing concerns over the virus outbreak, brands should proactively provide educational content and feature relevant products in places where it applies. For example, Chinese consumer goods brand Purcotton on the Tmall flagship store homepage, provides instructions on how to properly sanitize at home and linking content to relevant product pages. Sephora China offers guided selling to advise consumers on skincare and make-up tips amid the increasing amount of time spent indoors because of the coronavirus.
While in the U.S., Clorox highlights coronavirus content on the website homepage and educates consumers on how to use specific products to prevent the virus from spreading. Dial provides information on why, when and how to do handwashing on its website.
To scale content exposure and engagement, brands can potentially collaborate with influencers and repurpose the content on websites. Gartner’s Beauty US report shows that user-generated content (UGC) can effectively increase site traffic, and in some cases, e.g. on Glossier’s website, product pages with UGC saw as much as 80% more traffic than the product pages without it. Some beauty influencers have already taken the lead in creating coronavirus content. For example, YouTubers Monkey Sis and Lorraine_miaol created mask-proof makeup tutorials teaching how to select long-wear foundation and lipstick to keep the
makeup intact while wearing masks. Similarly, on Instagram, cosmetics specialist bayoekesyah_mac shared mask makeup look featuring M.A.C’s new dazzashadow liquid.
Online Service Offering
The online service offering is an essential differentiator for brands to enhance customer satisfaction. Due to declining travel and foot traffic, brands should highlight their online services offerings on the digital storefront, and if possible, expand services options to include some of the previously in-store only services. For example, in the U.S., CVS emphasizes its online services that help customers to minimize exposure to risks, including online health consultation, free prescription delivery, and 90-day prescription early refills. Coinciding with the virus breakout, Kiehl’s and Lancome Australia tested their virtual customer service to mimic the benefits of speaking with an in-store associate.
Contactless delivery service was initially introduced in China as a safety measure to reduce human-to-human contact during delivery pick-up. Starbucks in China continues to offer contactless coffee delivery service and designed a special counter for in-store pick-up. U.S. and UK food delivery platforms, Seamless, Postmates, and Deliveroo have followed China’s lead, also launching non-contact delivery efforts to reduce the virus spread.
Also, brands should consider optimizing their customer service chatbots and self-help tools to assist customers with delivery or other problems caused by surging demand for online shopping and delivery services.
Interactive features on websites enable brands to gain a competitive advantage especially during the coronavirus crisis. They could add more fun to the customer journey and facilitate purchase decision making. Features such as virtual try-on, product finder, livestreaming might require long-term investment to maintain, but such digital capability helps brands defend future disruptions in physical stores. 44% of U.S. beauty brands have already adopted interactive features on their mobile site according to Gartner Research.
Maybelline, for example, provides five different interactive features on their U.S. site, including virtual try-on, foundation shade finder, brow studio, mascara quiz, and fit me regimen finder to deliver personalized recommendations that are similar to in-store experience with a sales assistant.
Another trending interactive feature is livestreaming. In China, during the coronavirus crisis, livestreaming has become the only way for many brands to have real-time interactions with customers. Chinese cosmetics brand Perfect Diary strategically deployed their 50 in-store make-up artists to host livestreaming on WeChat mini program store. The average view for each live streaming in February received 3 to 10 times growth month over month, and this traffic growth translated into sales growth. Moreover, during the recent Alibaba’s 3.8 Queens Day festival, sales through see-now-buy-now live streaming saw an uplift of 264%.
Navigation and Checkout
Site navigation amid the virus crisis should focus on knowing what consumers want and ease the product discovery process. For example, as demand and search interest in sanitizing products significantly increased, brands should elevate the visibility of related products on the homepage, product menu and search bar.
Chinese retailer Watson’s created a sanitizing product category and set it as the default page on the navigation menu. The Body Shop highlights multiples of their hand wash products on the U.S. homepage, and Target highlights toilet paper, hand sanitizers and face masks in the search bar as trending searches on the website.
Opportunity also exists in delivery updates on the checkout page. When experiencing high demand in delivery or in the event of a regional lockdown, brands can simply put a notice on the checkout page to alert customers of possible delivery delays or any change due to disruptions. For example, Chinese retailer Sunning put an alert on the top of the checkout page and suggested customers to change the delivery address to a central pick-up hub due to lockdown.
Amid a disruptive event like this, brands need to be sensitive to changes in consumer needs and quickly mobilize resources to address these changes throughout the customer journey. These capabilities of market sensitivity and digital agility are sources of competitive advantages that endow brands with resilience and to outperform peers amid other market disruptions in the future.