With COVID-19 prompting isolation and social distancing measures, you could be forgiven for assuming that every e-commerce marketer is having the time of their lives as shoppers head online in lieu of physical stores.

However, with concerns for the economy and hard-hitting job losses or reduced salaries, spending more time at home hasn’t necessarily translated into increased sales. In fact, a recent study estimated that 62% of consumers are cutting back their spending.

These austerity measures also extend to marketers. According to a Marketing Week study, 90% of marketers have seen budget commitments delayed or under review, up from 60% just three weeks ago. With such uncertainty, it’s crucial that as an e-commerce marketer you adapt quickly and get creative in order to make the most of the resources at your disposal (however little they might have shrunk to).

We’ve been working with hundreds of e-commerce companies across the world to solve this very challenge. Based on what we’ve tried and tested first hand, here are our most effective low-budget tactics:

1. Get to grips with your conversion rate

Whatever you decide to do in terms of the acquisition, don’t make the mistake of ignoring your conversion rate. If it’s poor, your efforts in acquiring traffic will be akin to pouring them down the drain.

Thankfully, it doesn’t cost you anything to start optimising your conversion rate – we recommend carrying out customer journey mapping as a first step. By looking at the entire customer journey, you can identify the points where your traffic is dropping off and execute quick fixes. While you can run some A/B testing in the background to optimise for the long-term, consider using onsite personalisation tools to cut to the chase quicker. These could include exit intent overlays or just simple visuals showcasing USPs and information such as flexible payment options.

To give an idea of the results this can achieve, check out the below first order incentive campaign for our client, Vinomofo, which saw a conversion rate uplift of 34%:

2. Review your SEO game 

Having perfected your conversion rate, you’re in a position to look at what kind of acquisition channels will give you the most return for the least investment. Organic traffic is, of course, ‘free’…but with the big, big caveat that it takes a lot of work.

If you have the time, a logical first step is to undertake a technical SEO audit, so any quick wins will be flagged up and can be acted on immediately. After that, you can dig deeper with keyword research, getting straight to the crux of how visitors find your site and what they’re looking for. As the crisis evolves, so will search behaviours, so this is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what your audience needs at any given moment. 

Before you go headlong into this exercise, remember that this is a long game – don’t expect results overnight. It’s wise to also spend time looking at your paid acquisition strategy in tandem with this, since clicks have rarely been cheaper as a result of many brands pausing their strategies.

3. Segment your email database by intent

Our next tactic speaks directly to the fact that most brands are hitting up their email databases right now with messages of reassurance (that all seem to include the words ‘unprecedented times’), discounts or new products. We, therefore, implore you to step away from ‘batch and blast’ tactics wherever possible. Inboxes are noisy right now – to stand out, it’s worth investing the time in segmentation…and it doesn’t cost you anything to do so! 

By segmenting your database and grouping leads by intent, such as new vs. existing customers, you can better tailor your message to achieve a much higher cut-through with recipients. Carry out A/B tests on different subject lines and use open rates and click-throughs to inform your next move: the data will make it crystal clear what’s working and what isn’t.

Next, you want to create email drip sequences to target your segments/groups. Two of the most profitable groups to target are:

New sign-ups – They’ve made the big step of sharing their personal details because they like what you offer, so make sure they feel welcomed straight away. Create a nurture series that regularly engages the user right up until a purchase is made.

The below example from Selfridges advises what content the user can expect and allows them to personalise future communication to their exact interests. This works well because it results in higher engagement for the brand and a better experience for the user.

Cart abandoners – research by Moosend showed that 50% of recipients who engage with cart abandonment emails go on to complete their purchase. To give yourself that all-important second chance at the sale, be sure to follow up with an email that speaks directly to the products they were interested in and how they interacted with your site before they left.

Below is a great example from Medik8, which reminds users of their 30 day money-back guarantee to further mitigate the risk of making a purchase:

4. Leverage customer advocacy 

There’s a magical free acquisition channel out there…it’s called your customer base. Social proof – in the form of reviews and trust signals – is a powerful way to increase sales at no extra cost. 

An easy win is to display your existing customer reviews prominently on your homepage or individual product pages. By doing this, you build trust and in turn, should achieve higher conversions. Our client, Serenata Flowers, is a great example of this in action. They combine reviews with a view counter to further iterate the product’s popularity eg. ‘2481 people are loving this product right now’:

You can take this even further by turning to your social media channels to look for user-generated content (UGC). You will likely find a goldmine of images that show your products in use or being reviewed. The team at Sand and Sky utilise UGC on their product pages alongside short testimonials to act as proof points for the product’s capabilities:

5. Generate non-transactional content that offers other value

Our last tactic is a simple but effective one for keeping up brand awareness when budgets are on pause, linking back to the keyword analysis we mentioned earlier: content. With great content, you can showcase the deep connection and understanding that you have with your audience, while showing sensitivity to the crisis. 

The key caveat here is that this isn’t necessarily the type of activity that will have a measurable and visible impact on sales – consider this when deciding whether it’s the right course of action for you. 

That being said, building advocacy and generating engagement is arguably more important now than ever to keep your brand in consumer’s hearts and minds. With blog posts, videos, interactive quizzes or even podcasts, you can help futureproof the longevity of your brand, ensuring you’ll be there to reap the rewards once normality returns.

For example, Railbookers has reignited consumer appetites for travel by hosting a series of inspirational webinars. From the most scenic train routes in Switzerland, to hot locations closer to home, the interactive format taps directly into the visual element of travelling. It also importantly captures lead information to feed into their email database, paying it forward for future email marketing campaigns.

In conclusion

Ultimately, in these ‘unprecedented times’, it pays to be proactive as staying static risks bleaker repercussions later down the line. But be sure to focus your efforts in the right places, using the data at your disposal to help inform your decisions and effectively trial new tactics such as those we’ve suggested.

The important thing here is to adapt. You need to continually switch up your approach in line with the changing consumer behaviours, keeping abreast of your visitor data and website performance to guide you on your way. The storm will pass, but until then, keep calm and carry on marketing!