Let’s Fast Forward to Post-COVID eCommerce by UM’s Ruqayiah Al Usman

By Ruqayiah Al Usman, Associate Media Director, UM/J3 MENAT

When 2020 started, eCommerce enthusiasts were projecting a growth of about 20-25% in the MENA region. Consumers had started to become more accepting of online shopping after all. But what marketers and advertisers didn’t account for was the sudden and steep rise in ecommerce adoption, leading to a 150%+ increase in orders, driven by the wave of COVID-19 in March of 2020. No one, including eCommerce platforms themselves, were prepared for the radical change in consumer shopping behavior that hit them. In a matter of days, consumers were forced to move from shopping at brick and mortar stores to clicking on digital websites and accessing essentials for purchase, online. This was new territory for everyone; brands, marketers, agencies and consumers alike. What followed this shift has probably been the fastest digital learning curve that most of us, myself included, have experienced in recent history. eCommerce, which was previously only crawling into our lives, has full-fledged knocked down the walls of our purchasing behavior and is here to stay and grow further.

Now that the initial panic, confusion and a fair share of coming to terms with the new reality of consumer shopping behavior has (hopefully) taken place, we need to discuss what some of the best ways to deliver on eCommerce are. Bear in mind, it isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. As agencies, we need to ensure we can guide our brands in the right direction for this growth acceleration to take place. We need to evaluate capable eCommerce partners to work with, based on their ability to give our brands the right visibility while ensuring the consumer is given a seamless purchase journey. Within this article, I’ve focused on three areas that are key for acceleration specifically for clients with no owned ecommerce assets: kicking off your eCommerce visibility, going beyond the basics with shoppable media and lastly, measurement framework guidance for brands to follow.

Start small, scale upwards: Getting Visible:
If you haven’t already started your journey in the world of eCommerce, but believe your brand needs to be present, then that’s exactly where you need to start. Work with your brand marketeer to firstly understand who their key retailers are and if those retailers sell online. Analyze your brand’s audience profiles and work with pure play and omnichannel e-retailers to then understand where your consumer is shopping most. Once you have these answers, ensure strong and consistent distribution of your key SKUs is supported along with A+ content.

There on, we move on to media visibility, starting with search. It could be as simple as including an ad extension to your current SEM campaigns, driving to your preferred partner. In addition, you can also work with your chosen e-retailer platforms for a more focused consumer experience. Luckily for UAE as a market, we have Amazon with their Sponsored Ads offering and Instashop with keyword visibility to get you started with.

From experience, I can speak for Johnson and Johnson who did a great job in prioritizing key selling SKUs across multiple e-retailer partners, and with agility, transformed existing campaigns to include shoppable elements. Using e-retailer and brand data, we were also able to identify proximity-based partners such as Instashop UAE and Nahdi in KSA that have become the go-to online destination for consumers. Through this, Johnson and Johnson was able to propel their market share to growth while giving consumers the equity driven value products they were looking for in a currently crunched economy.

Exploring shoppable media:

While initial investment onto eCommerce may have resulted in quick results, it’s time to ensure we bring in the right shoppability strategies into place. It’s not just about adding on a ‘buy now’ call-to-action on every single asset. Consumers are slowly moving back to discovering brands, comparing benefits and prices and eventually making informed value purchases. Some may argue that we need to give them the ‘opportunity’ to buy wherever they are on their digital path to purchase. As an avid online shopping consumer myself though, I still like seeing posts on my social feed just telling me about a product instead of blaring discounts in my face all the time. Agreed that consumers aren’t desensitized to discounts, but it is nice to sometimes watch an ad with a strong awareness-based storytelling aspect that informs me about the ‘why’ of the product instead of just the ‘where’ and “at what cost”.

Speaking of which, social and video are strong contenders through which you can start converting consumers who are considering to buy your products. Work with your partners to create snappy, bite-sized experiences that give them a reason to add to cart through a Carousel or Collection Ad format that displays your assortment of products, while communicating your focused range benefits. Remember to remind your consumers to add your products to their next grocery list. Research shows that dynamic tailored eCommerce social video ads receive 2-3x more engagement and an ROAS increase of 70-90% on average.

Partners like Amazon and Facebook allow you to customize consumer shopping experiences and remarket on a past purchase window cycle that can be very helpful in driving subscriptions, and of course, repeat purchases. The time is now to take advantage of the high ROAS they’re delivering on with limited competition in the market.

Measurement Frameworks:

We could go back and forth on what the best measurement framework can be. Let’s break it down into two goals. Short term and Long term. Currently, with a reduced consumer in-store footfall, an immediate source of gratification for brands investing in eCommerce media is ROAS. Work with partners who commit to share purchase and sales numbers allowing you to calculate ROAS on your campaign (3+ is a healthy number) as a starting point. Brand eCommerce support can be crucial here as their commercially established relations with e-retailers can go a long way in helping you acquire the purchase data you’re looking for. Various media formats are also available now such as Sponsored Ads and Collaborative Ads that allow agencies to calculate these numbers for brands as well. Non-media frameworks can also be utilized which include working with 3rd party collaborators like Nielson that can help you evaluate eCommerce uplift through ROI metrics of measurement.

Then there’s the long term. As brand owners and agencies, we still want to be able to collect 1P data that can be used as part of a CRM structure, creating remarketing campaigns, look alike audiences and so much more. Website analytics can serve as a great measurement tool if we are able to implement ‘where to buy’ within owned brand platforms. Not only will you be able to identify how many consumers are willing to purchase, but even what their interests and affinities are, allowing you to customize future campaigns and driving stronger brand recall.

Key to remember here is that measurement frameworks are still being fine-tuned for the most part. Patience is very important while bearing in mind that the expected growth acceleration might take time. But with a certain amount of trial and error, testing and learning, agencies in partnership with marketers will be able to push forth strong business results.

In conclusion:

If there’s anything you need to walk away from after reading this piece, then its 1) identify the right partner your brand should be present with online and build the right visibility for a seamless shopping experience 2) don’t forget about the consumer journey and only turn shoppable where necessary and 3) in the absence of an established measurement framework for eCommerce, work with your brand marketers to best align on a way forward based on their goals. And yes, continue to learn and scale because one size does not fit all in this situation.