Q&A: Nicole Kivel, director – retail media demand, Northern Europe, Criteo

Criteo's Nicole Kivel discusses lockdown sales trends and how marketers can navigate a sensitive approach to consumer engagement.

online shopping

How do you think e-commerce has been affected by the coronavirus situation?

Here at Criteo, we’ve been analysing our data from the past several weeks to understand how retail is affected as the virus spreads. Our data includes insights drawn from across 80+ countries and two billion active monthly shoppers spending around $900 billion annually across approximately 20,000 e-commerce sites.

Social distancing efforts have already radically altered people’s daily routines with over half of consumers in the UK (52%) planning to shop more online as a result of COVID-19.

Digging into our data from the UK’s top retailers and brands, we can see three distinct phases of consumer spend; shock stockpiling, a steady plateau as shoppers adjust to the new normal, and finally a slow snap-back to semi-normality – though this will see long-term changes to online spending habits.

Stockpiling behaviour peaked in early March with purchases of long shelf-life products such as tinned goods, soap, and hand sanitizer, now with no need to refresh those items consumers are feeling secure that their homes are in order and we’re seeing a slow return to discretionary spending.

What kind of sales trends have you seen emerge during lockdown?

We are all aware that grocery sales have surged. With our data, we can pull out individual items, and see that the UK, in particular, seems to favour non-perishable milk and fruit. In February and March, UK sales of Canned & Dry Milk spiked by more than +350%, while Canned & Jarred Fruits were up by +297%. Flour sales skyrocketed to +623%. Compared to their averages in January.

The move to remote working has also had its effects. Video conferencing apps have been well-publicised beneficiaries, but so too have providers of office equipment. In the UK, office chair sales went up 198%, while desks were up 245%

At the beginning of April, our sales data shows sales of webcams went sky-high in France (+1830%) and Australia (+1083%), compared to the first four weeks in January. They also rose in the US (+458%), Brazil (+437%), Germany (+693%), Poland (+379%), the UK (+258%), and Russia (+109%). Computer Monitors also proved popular in South Korea (+19%), France (+30%), Italy (+65%), Spain (+77%), and Australia (+240%).

How have businesses’ sales strategies been impacted by the coronavirus and what can companies do differently to improve their financial situation?

From our conversations with clients, it’s clear that everyone is questioning how best to optimize efforts to connect with consumers and drive business results while remaining sensitive to the ongoing challenges the world is facing. With more shoppers turning online, many brands are ensuring visibility to this surplus with emphasis being shifted to ecommerce channels. With sales goals being obliterated for bricks and mortar stores, brands need to aim for over-achievement online to minimise losses.

How can businesses sensitively promote their products and services when consumers are worried about a global health crisis, job losses, financial difficulties, isolation etc?

Given that the status around COVID-19 is constantly changing, most consumers are taking things day-byday. Advertisers can follow their lead by focusing on the here and now. For brand advertisers, this may mean maintaining upper-funnel campaigns, so they don’t lose share of mind. Direct response advertisers can highlight products that are most essential for daily life such as groceries or entertainment. Some brands may even choose to pause their advertising efforts, but they risk minimising their voice in the market, as well as losing potential sales during this critical time.

No matter which strategies advertisers adopt, it’s still vital to demonstrate thought leadership and provide care to customers by focusing on what matters to them. Reaching the right people with the right message at the right time has never been more important. Advertisers can deliver their value-driven messages at scale during key moments with updates around delivery options, product availability, high-demand items that were re-stocked, and more.

Are there any brands you’ve noticed that you think are doing a particularly good job of this?

Engagement is a pivotal step for businesses looking to re-focus their e-commerce business. Not only does this keep the consumer embraced with the brand for the future, but it also helps foster discretionary purchases. Space NK is a great example of a retailer which is doing a great job of this by offering links to articles around health and wellbeing or developing their own blogs/podcasts. This has included curating product content around at-home relaxation while offering Zoom events with brand partners on subjects ranging from makeup tutorials to mindfulness and other topical items.

The UK online grocers have also done an impressive job in quickly increasing their delivery capacity and accommodation to the vulnerable. Frequent and consistent communication has been shared across the board from top execs in the business to keep their customer base informed.

How can businesses prevent website app traffic loss and make the most of the traffic they do get?

Methods previously used to drive traffic should be maintained, such as re-targeting and acquisition campaigns. With consumers shopping online now more than ever, it is imperative to stay front of mind. Many companies may look to aggressively cut marketing funds but doing so in this area would be counterproductive in offsetting losses. Additionally, speaking to shoppers with the relevant and timely content via email and social media channels will ensure that not only are consumers landing on your site but staying engaged with your brand.

What other advice would you give to marketers, especially when there is no indication that life will return to ‘normality’ for a considerable time?

Consumers are looking for businesses to step up and help others, rather than just conducting business as usual.

Communication is paramount to ensure consumers feel safe purchasing from an e-commerce site. Clear detail on offering contactless delivery and the methods being deployed by the retailer for safety through the supply chain are a must for all e-commerce businesses.

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