This post was developed with insights and data from Retail Bloom, a full-service eCommerce marketplace agency.
The question on everyone’s mind is: where do we go from here? While there is still a lot of uncertainty in the market from the knock-on effects of COVID-19, marketers and eCommerce professionals are deep in real-time planning mode for the second half of 2020. What trends from the past few months will continue, and where should marketers plan to invest to maximize sales in the new landscape?
On one hand, signs are pointing to a slow but steady recovery in jobs and purchasing in Q4 of 2020. Shopping behavior will likely not return to normal in the second half of the year, but the trend is on the upswing. Brands should be positioning for a positive outcome month by month instead of holding back their growth plans.
On the other hand, there is a very real risk of a second COVID-related shutdown in the second half of the year, so be on the lookout for a repeat of the same issues that were experienced in March and April. Brands should look to be well-stocked to avoid any inventory out-of-stock issues. While, either way, it will take much longer than six months to get back to “normal” levels, the ad auction is an efficient and self-correcting market, so we should have already seen the bottom in terms of CPCs and paused competition. Expect that competition will continue to heat up for those coveted ad spots through the end of the year.
Beyond the broad trends, we looked at several categories’ effects from COVID and their outlook for the remainder of the year.
Apparel & Beauty
According to Retail Bloom first-party data, CPCs in the beauty category were down 3.85% month-over-month in April 2020, pointing towards less competition, while conversion rates went up 27.17%. The unique brands that Retail Bloom manages in this category have been able to take advantage of specific product groups still doing well during stay-at-home life, and are reaping the benefits of more efficient eCommerce advertising.
With people staying at home and not having to go into the office, hair and makeup products have become an afterthought. Similarly, in the apparel category, the same goes for Clothing & Footwear, particularly on dress clothes for the office, and nice clothes to wear to an event such as a wedding or prom. For example, just looking at overall search volume, “dress shoes” took a major dip on Google and still has not recovered to normal levels.
With the focus on day-to-day purchases, Apparel & Beauty brands need to make defensive advertising a part of their strategy. Beauty brands in particular rely on customer loyalty and repeat customers to drive sales, more so than other categories. By not employing a defensive strategy of bidding on their brand name and targeting their own products with Sponsored Display or Product Attribute Targeting campaigns, they run the risk of competitors bidding on those terms or targeting those ASINs and stealing customers. This will result in diminishing the LTV (Lifetime Value) of their hard-earned new customer acquisition.
While Apparel & Beauty brands should utilize all ad types, they should not ignore Sponsored Brands campaigns. They can direct Sponsored Brand traffic to their Amazon Store page where they can leverage rich media and lifestyle images to better tell their brand story and values. Additionally, the Amazon Store page also allows users to discover their broader product offerings. When we look at the remainder of 2020, these types of tactics that build loyalty across your product lines will be important given the uncertainty in the market.
Only grocery is having a heyday right now, and the trend is expected to last. Online grocery is expected to grow from 3% to 30% of total grocery retail by 2025, according to an FMI & Nielsen Study. In fact, 41% of consumers who don’t currently buy groceries online, plan to do so within the next 6 months, according to GeekWire.
The grocery category is changing fast, and while this has been historically a difficult sector for eCommerce, that’s no longer the case. The two marketplaces seeing the biggest wins are Walmart and Instacart, with Instacart in particular growing at a rapid rate. It’s time for brands to adopt a multichannel strategy, and the next six months are going to be crucial for brands who compete in the grocery space to establish their presence, win Share of Voice, and start building a loyal customer base.
For grocery, we recommend an “always-on” strategy, meaning that you continue to cross-promote your products on both similar and complementary keywords. eCommerce grocery is all about basket-building, and consumers are more willing to try new brands and products while shopping in other categories. Keep your brand top of mind, but also promote your wide selection.
Similar to grocery brands, pet brands, in particular pet food brands, should also take advantage of new, emerging online marketplaces. Instacart includes leading pet retailers, as well as grocery stores, and with competition lower on Instacart than places like Amazon, as well as a lower average CPC, this is a good opportunity for pet brands to reach more consumers efficiently.
The wide variety in the pet category requires a lot of segmentation and targeting. Just in pet food alone, consumers are choosing between raw and organic, wet and dry, treats, cat, dog, and more. A long-tail keyword strategy is essential in the pet category. Segment your campaigns down to the individual product level and find keywords with low competition and high specificity.
Sports & Outdoors
CPCs increased 53.88% and conversion rates increased 64.54% CVR month-over-month in April 2020 in Sports & Outdoors, according to Retail Bloom first-party data. Stay-at-home behavior has drastically shifted the focus in this category, but demand (and competition) is still high.
Recently, the Sports & Outdoor category has done very well due to the at-home fitness equipment craze. With gyms being closed across the country, people have put those saved gym funds into building their own at-home gym in order to stay active. For example, just look at how much the term “fitness equipment” has surged on Google these past few months.
As such, brands should continue to promote at-home exercise, lawn sports, and other home equipment. Additionally, sponsored brand ads are a good alternative to sponsored products when you’re unsure of consumer demand or want to promote secondary products for which your brand might be less well known.
Coming up in 2020, there are three big seasons and events for the Sports & Outdoors category converging at the same time: Summer, Back to School, and Prime Day. Even with Amazon Prime Day delayed this year, we expect this to be a significant driver of sales for the category.
Like we mentioned, though, there may be some differences. While normal outdoor activities will likely see usual trends, such as pool accessories and hiking, there may also be an uptick in at-home sports and outdoor activities, as the effects of COVID-19 continue to impact consumer shopping behavior and some locations will take longer to return to normal than others. Similarly, some school districts will likely still be doing remote learning in the fall, which could extend the window to promote some of these activity products past the typical back-to-school deadline.
Kitchen & Dining
The Kitchen & Dining category, encompassing everything from kitchen appliances, cooking tools, and glassware, requires a wide variety of tactics to be successful. However, one common trend brands should consider right now is that demand for luxury items will likely be limited. Given the macroeconomic situation and falling consumer confidence, kitchen brands should focus on their more cost-effective products. Additionally, while summer is often the time of group gatherings, from backyard barbecues to dinner parties, group gatherings may be limited this year, and advertising should be cautious of these types of promotions.
However, one overwhelming trend is huge boost for this category: online grocery. With more and more consumers choosing online grocery for convenience and choosing to cook at home, demand for kitchen items beyond the essentials is skyrocketing. Similar to the beauty category, DIY items, from bakeware to basting, are a good choice to promote in ads right now.
The baby category has been difficult for eCommerce advertisers lately, with CPCs up 29.82% and conversion rates actually falling, down 26.17%, month-over-month in April 2020, according to Retail Bloom first-party data.
Like many industries, the baby industry was hit hard by Amazon prioritizing shipments out to customers on a strictly defined set of essential items. That meant that normal Prime 1-day and 2-day shipping was no longer an option for most products. People would click on an ad for a product, see that the delivery date was 2 weeks out, and then hit the back button and click on another product, wasting ad dollars for advertisers. The long shipping times caused conversion rates to plummet, as customers were not buying items at the same rate they once were.
While shipping and in-stock issues have mostly been resolved at this point, brands in the baby industry should be mindful throughout the remainder of the year, retaining brand loyalty on essential items and diversifying the products in their ad campaigns.
Q3, Q4, and Beyond
No one can predict what the remainder of 2020 will look like, but one thing is clear: eCommerce is no longer an afterthought in the C-suite. The brands that are proactively making an investment into eCommerce diversification, marketing, and advertising are the ones thriving right now.
We are optimistic that Q4 will see a resurgence in eCommerce shopping across categories that will continue into 2021, but no matter what happens, new consumers and their new online behaviors means now’s the time to spend more effort, not less, solidifying your brands position in the market.