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Defending against eCommerce 'brand disruption' during COVID and beyond por Łukasz Stebelski

Defending against eCommerce 'brand disruption' during COVID and beyond

Warning, the COVID-19 crisis, with its underlying structural changes, ticks all the boxes for product and brand disruption.


Before I joined eStoreMedia in 2013, I had spent 14 years at Procter & Gamble. For much of that time, my role focused on organizing sampling trials and product retrials in an effort to persuade consumers to choose P&G products and brands.

Coaxing shoppers to change is not easy. Consumers are generally loyal to their chosen brands – that is until something big happens, or a number of variables come together to present the opportunity for change. When I worked on the Pampers brand, we offered samples in maternity wards just after mothers gave birth. For laundry brands, sampling was usually aimed at engaging consumers when they were getting married, or moving into a new household. The goal was always to establish new behavior – or if you like disruption – in parallel with significant life events.

Covid-19 brand disruption

Analyzing what’s happening today, in the mist of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s clear that the situation ticks a lot of boxes for brand disruption.

Panic buying at the start of the Covid-19 crisis in Europe and elsewhere meant thousands of products went out of stock, online and offline, leaving consumers with no choice other than to try alternatives. In addition vast numbers of consumers started shopping online for the first time, exposing them to new products, brands, variants, pack-sizes, promotions and pricing they might never have come across in traditional brick and mortar retailers.

It’s at times like this that new challenger brands emerge. Just as happened during the great depression of the 1930s, when brands such as Disney and Converse blossomed. Disney emerged because people needed hope, while Converse accelerated to national brand status in the US as people, who could no longer afford leather shoes, chose cheaper, and now ubiquitous, fabric and rubber options.

Exploring new categories

At the same time, consumers are experiencing new categories. Up until March, millions of office workers around the world would get their post-lunch coffee from the corner coffee shop or the office espresso machine. Often they didn’t know what brand the coffee was, or where it came from. Now they are working from home and have to find a machine, and buy their own coffee beans online, often for the first time.

The impact of Covid-19 disruption is already visible. Shoppers are switching products and brands. A recent survey found 69% of consumers are open to trying new brands, and up to 45% of them are willing to make the change permanently.

Change brings opportunities as well threats. Categories and subcategories are affected in different ways, requiring careful analysis of subtle impacts. Here are the three key tactics we are recommending to our clients to ensure they avoid the threat of brand disruption, and are positioned to identify and take advantage of the opportunities.

Monitor and protect product availability.

As Marco Suurland, Head of e-Commerce Benelux at COTY, explained in a recent eStoreAcademy webinar, daily product Availability monitoring is essential for dealing swiftly with out of stocks. In addition, it enables COTY to adjust online marketing tactics to push consumers to ‘stocked’ e-commerce sites every day. Brands also need to track Buy Box performance on Amazon, and consider extending the long tail of products monitored to ensure they spot category and subcategory nuances, while driving accountability with a robust process for rapidly dealing with the issues identified.

Watch the competitive landscape.

Understand who your competition is, what new products they launch, and how they perform in terms of search and promotions. The growth in e-commerce means your products are compared more frequently to products that might not be available in physical stores, products that are winning search and category visibility online. To compete, established brands need to ensure they have a competitive share of voice in search, promotions, and deals.

Build retrial and fight for your consumer.

Once lost, shoppers won’t come back by default. If a shopper has selected a competitor brand or generic product, they might be very happy with it. It’s likely your brand will still be part of their consideration set, but is no longer their first option. Brands will need to fight to get shoppers back, planning trial and retrial promotions as if targeting these consumers for the first time. You might also need to reprioritize categories, and as always make sure you have a winning conversion story with e-content and understand what’s driving star rating and review performance.

If you want some help, feel free to contact me or your eStoreMedia Client Partner.