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Inflation and recession: how to remain top of mind as a post-pandemic eCommerce empire

The pandemic caused a boom in online spending and many eCommerce brands saw rapid growth. But, now that everyone is out of the house for at least more than 5 minutes a day, are people still shopping online? What’s the forecast for post-pandemic eCommerce?

The pandemic caused a boom in online spending and many eCommerce brands saw rapid growth. But, now that everyone is out of the house for at least more than 5 minutes a day, are people still shopping online? What’s the forecast for post-pandemic eCommerce?

Here’s something we know to be true: people aren’t shopping how they used to. 

The pandemic has taken us all for a wild ride and has dropped us, unwittingly and a little wind-swept, into this new, unfamiliar world. With all this talk of the “new normal” – it’s important to remember that there is absolutely nothing normal about post-pandemic life. Nothing will ever be exactly as it was before. 

So, what does that mean for business owners? Or, more importantly (and perhaps a little more relevantly), what does that mean for eCommerce business owners?

Well, people may not be shopping in the same ways but that doesn’t mean spending is slowing down. According to a recent report by Statista, in 2021, retail eCommerce sales amounted to approximately 5.2 trillion U.S. dollars worldwide. This figure is forecast to grow by 56 percent over the next few years, reaching about 8.1 trillion dollars by 2026.

But, experts do say that inflation will drive consumers to do a little more homework before spending like they once were. It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that people are different. How we behave is different. 

The pandemic didn’t just change how we work, travel and spend. It changed what we believe. It changed what we value. It changed the things we desire. 

And, any good marketer knows that when human desire changes, business changes. Post-pandemic business needs to be so much more than just “business as usual”.

And, here’s why that’s actually a good thing.

With rapidly changing consumer behaviour, many big businesses are scrambling to stay relevant. Old school, sales-driven, performance-marketing heavy brands are struggling to keep up with paid advertising costs and cost of acquisition skyrocketing.

That means, brands who exist for more than just to make a profit are about to have their time to shine.

Here’s what you need to know and how to stay on top:

1. Solve new problems and fill new needs. And do it like you care.

With advertising costs rising, most big brands are heading back to the drawing board. Big advertisers are cutting back on ad spend and scrambling for more ideas on how to attract new people, but they’re missing out on a huge opportunity to stand out like never before - by nurturing the relationships with the people they’ve already got.

Listen, the facts are still out there. Chief commerce experience officer at VMLY&R Commerce Jacquelyn Baker says that, “inflation concerns are very real” and too right! No one is arguing with that. 

But this doesn’t mean that shopping will come to a standstill. Some of history’s most remarkable brands found their moment to shine in a recession. Why is that? Because, while other businesses are retreating, you have a unique opportunity to be heard. 

Shoppers are smarter, better connected and more considerate of where they spend their hard-earned money and it’s the businesses with genuine and heart-led values that will capture their attention. People don’t stop having needs to fill and desires to actualise because we’re in a recession. Simply put, their problems and desires are just different.

“Brands that emphasise their marketing investments on searchable content that demonstrates consumer value will prevail,” says Baker. All the dip in the economy means now is that people are looking to solve different problems and fill different needs, not stop spending altogether. 

As consumers become more and more discerning about where and how to spend their hard-earned and tightly-stretched cash, their decisions about spending will become more emotion-led. And it’s the businesses that showcase their values and beliefs upfront that will see the most results.

This isn’t the time to shy away and turn your back on your people. They’re not undecided or confused, they’re waiting for the right business to connect with. This is the time to step up and connect with your people like never before. Show them that you’re listening. Prove that you get it.

Relationships and heart are going to be the leading edge for any brand, in any industry.

2. Get Ahead of the Changes and meet people where they’re at.

So, we can all accept that assuming people are going to revert to pre-pandemic shopping behaviours is a big mistake. Nobody is behaving the same. 

Nothing is the same.

Just look at WFH for example. There are a ton of people who have discovered a new love for working in their slippers and skipping the frosty morning commute. Parents who can be at home with the kids, then talking strategy in a big client presentation - all within the same 5 minutes. 

As big corporations and brick-and-mortar businesses struggle with how to keep their people happy at work, eCommerce businesses have a unique opportunity to get ahead of the changes and meet people where they’re at in their real lives.

What has changed about the way your people operate in the world now? Do you sell products to parents? How have their lives changed since going back to work / school? How can you address that? Do you target corporate execs? How are they travelling more? Where are they eating? 

What can you relearn about your people now that the pandemic has changed our lives once again? What’s different? How are you recognising that and making them feel seen?

Social platforms are giving us new ways to engage with consumers, build relationships and socialise with them simultaneously. According to Shopify, sales through social media channels around the world are expected to nearly triple by 2025. (Yes that’s basically only two years away, wasn’t it July like yesterday? Right there with you).

Places like Instagram and TikTok have already implemented shopping features into their apps and “social shopping” is on the rise, but it doesn’t stop there. Brands are starting to create their own versions of shopping whilst live streaming (or “live commerce”) on their own sites, while over a third of Facebook users are more than ready to purchase directly from the platform.

The pandemic made it normal to socialise, shop, parent and work - all at the same time. How can you lead the way? How can you go to your people instead of making them come to find you? Post-pandemic business is values-first, connection-focussed and more proactive than pre-pandemic times.

“Social commerce is definitely an opportunity for brands to reclaim their destiny by owning the customer experience and the relationship with customers,”
-  Étienne Mérineau, Senior Director of Marketing, Heyday by Hootsuite.

Perhaps it’s time to give those Instagram filters another swing…

3. Your identity matters

With ad spend not returning anywhere near what it was at the height of the pandemic, as an eCommerce BRAND you have a unique opportunity to stand out for all of the right reasons. 

Your brand identity is no longer a simple afterthought, a logo and a few colours and a font that you throw together once you’ve aligned your ad budget and decided on how to bring the most possible people into the top of your funnel. 

Now, your brand identity is everything. 

Who you are, what you stand for, how you talk, and what your brand represents is going to be the ultimate way to stand out. 

It used to be that we could bring enough people into the top of the funnel using paid ads that a brand identity was a nice to have, not a need to have to get the conversions. That’s not the case anymore. So, with less people to enter at the top of the funnel, we have to do a better job of nurturing and converting the people who are already in it. 

And, that means walking the talk. Standing for something. Making commitments and sticking to them. Doing better work in the world. 

Organic social media is coming back into the limelight by giving brands a unique opportunity to build a deeper connection with their people through their identity, values and mission. 

So, now what?

Times have changed. We’ve watched the shift with our own eyes. The question isn’t if your people have changed, it’s: how will you change what you’re doing to join them. 

How can you really meet your audience where they’re at now?

How can you show them that you’re a brand they can trust and connect with?

How are you going to evolve with the future of eCommerce? With post-pandemic eCommerce?

Those who are driven by integrity, purpose and a desire to help real people in new and creative ways will be the ones to stand out. 

So, will you take the opportunity?

Chris Thomas


Chris Thomas

CEO & Founder

Chris has been at the forefront of eCommerce and a pioneer of online retailing since the early 00s. A 5-time Drapers Award winner, Chris has extensive experience in developing fashion brands online.

Chris founded Cake in 2016. Based in Birmingham, with offices nationwide, Cake specialises in helping fashion brands understand their market online and then helps to develop appropriate strategical direction to achieve their plan, all backed by his 20 years of operating in the retail market.