June 19 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic and Shifts in Online Behavior

COVID-19 online behavior shiftIn a matter of days or weeks, most of the world was forced to stay home to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every single one of our lives has been impacted, and not surprisingly, we turned to the internet to help us navigate this new world. Whether attending school by Zoom or food shopping online, even those who hadn’t fully embraced digital technology were compelled to quickly get onboard. The result? A potential permanent shift in online behavior that is important as digital marketers continue to modify their 2020 plans and set the stage for 2021 budgeting.

Digital shopping surge sets the standard

Shopping online wasn’t always everyone’s preference, but with many stores closed or being avoided because of health concerns, people were pressed to change their behavior. In April 2020, more than 1/3 of all Americans ordered grocery online for the first time ever. Well-known behemoths like Amazon, Target and Walmart have also seen enormous growth – with Walmart reporting a whopping 74% online sales increase in Q1 2020. While none of this is hugely surprising given the circumstances, it’s important for digital marketers in all industries to pay attention to these trends. Why? Because the user experience that visitors enjoy on these big-brand, big-budget sites creates a set of expectations for digital experiences across all sites. The long-term impact is that sites with a poor user experience will stand out more than ever, requiring businesses to use their budgets strategically to establish a positive web presence and maintain consumer engagement.

Social media rules of engagement

With Americans home and with more free time, social media usage has also seen a popularity surge. Social media allows people to virtually connect while being socially distant, so it has been a perfect communications medium during this worldwide pandemic. But as states open up and people venture into a new normal, the role of social media in our lives will once again change. Brands that use social media well have learned several key takeaways from the pandemic, which will continue to influence their digital strategies moving forward:

  • Authenticity and relatability are more important than ever. If you can’t find effective ways to communicate and connect, or you simply don’t get your audience, then they won’t have any reason to engage with your brand.

  • Timeliness matters, so being cognizant of the changing world around us and how that affects current perceptions and expectations is key. Sure, prescheduled posts will always be a resource saver, but evaluating the appropriateness of those posts on a daily basis is critical to preserving your brand impression.

  • Knowing when to product push and when to just be a brand is vital. Re-evaluate how your solutions add value to your target audience’s lives. Brands that will win are the ones that are able to position their products to fulfill a need right now in someone’s life. This ties in with the importance of being timely and flexible in your plans.

  • Supporting each other means being a good brand through and through. Think about how you can help other local business and how you can do good in the communities you serve. This will empower your employees and build goodwill at the same time. On the same token, don’t do this just for the PR value as it could have the opposite effect among an increasingly savvy digital audience.

Think digital first - really

The term digital first has been around for a long time but in reality, few businesses operate that way. Not because it doesn’t offer benefits to both businesses and consumers, but because it’s hard and sometimes scary to change. Prioritizing your investment in digital channels will continue to be important because those who have embraced technology during COVID-19 might realize the convenience and time savings it has always offered. So what should a business prioritize?

  • Website: If you’ve put off a website design or redesign, it’s time to dust that project off and get started. For most businesses, a modern, responsive, ADA conformant user experience is a very smart investment as it can provide value to consumers and support ROI for businesses.

  • Customer self-service: Most businesses have a hard time keeping up with customer service inquiries, so why not invest in digital solutions to support your hardworking customer support team? Whether it’s as simple as adding FAQs to your website, investing in an online chat solution or building a robust knowledgebase on your site, there are many things you can to do make your site better, now. To start, find out what the pain points are and then plan how to fix them – even if you need to have a phase 1 and 2 solution.

  • Digital marketing: For years companies have increasingly shifted their budget to invest more heavily in digital advertising and marketing. This is partly because it’s pretty quick to ramp up and relatively affordable. But digital marketing also offers something that traditional marketing doesn’t – the ability to be quantitatively measure performance against goals and adjust tactics based on that data.

The future looks much more simple

Many of us have used the pandemic as an opportunity to slow down and reflect. The same behavior should be applied to your business as well. Look for opportunities to make life easier for your customers and create a more engaging user experience. For many businesses, this will be an uncomfortable shift, but an important one to survive and build loyalty.

  • COVID-19
  • Social Media
  • Website

posted by
Michelle Brown
Michelle Brown
VP of Marketing

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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