Marketing During a Recession: Strategies for eCommerce

Marketing During a Recession: Strategies for eCommerce

Thinking about it now, the early days of the pandemic and the lockdowns seem so far away. These past two years transformed our lives profoundly - like the boom in the digital economy. eCommerce soared to record levels and played a crucial role in the survival of many businesses. The IMF reports that the online share of total spending grew sharply from 10.3 percent in 2019 to 14.9 percent at the peak of the pandemic. Even with restrictions easing, things starting to go back to normal, and footfall in brick-and-mortar increasing, eCommerce continued strong. In fact, the global eCommerce market is predicted to total 5.7 trillion USD in 2022 - an indicator of growth. 

But 2022 also brought new challenges, such as higher inflation rates, consumers cutting back on spending, and escalating conflicts, causing 2023 to start off as a challenging year. The recession-ridden market, rising user acquisition costs, and shrinking budgets are shaping and will continue to shape the year, business plans, and marketing strategies. 

Difficult times can lead to innovation and growth

Everyone is talking about the recession and how it will impact their businesses. But the truth is though crises often present unexpected challenges and hardships, they also offer opportunities for growth and innovation. There is no doubt that those that can think outside the box and have powerful ideas are always able to weather the storm. This can lead to the development of creative solutions, the discovery of untapped markets, and the cultivation of a more resilient and resourceful mindset. That’s what happened during the past crises - which gave birth to successful startups such as Uber and Airbnb. There is no reason why it should be any different this time. That’s why the optimistic perspectives of our speakers made me feel encouraged and inspired. 

But, of course, challenging times call for a robust game plan. In 2023, marketers will need to get creative with their strategies to build better, stronger, long-lasting customer relationships - which will be vital for survival and growth.

In the first session of our More Than A Circle series, that was what we focused on. Premium nutrition and wellness brand OLLY’s DTC Manager Jennifer Peters and Storyly’s Co-Founder and CRO Soner Şensoy joined our Head of Marketing İrem Işık, to talk about smart strategies that will help eCommerce players navigate a tough economy. 

And here you have my key takeaways… 

The power of personalization

When talking about her projections for the year ahead, Jennifer Peters said harder times created innovations in unexpected ways. Apparently, at OLLY, they are investing in personalization and giving customers options so they can choose their own paths and build a personalized experience when buying its products. “Personalization” has to be at the top of the checklist of any marketer, I guess, especially when 71% of people say they expect personalized experiences and say they’d get frustrated when it does not happen, according to a McKinsey report. For OLLY, the idea of personalization has not been limited to creating customized bundles or regimens. They also enabled their customers to see personalized content on their website, and that is thanks to Storyly. Jennifer suggested that this is about giving “power to the customers.”  

"The more power in decision-making you give your customers, the better long-term investment that is."

Jennifer Peters - DTC Manager, OLLY

Inspiration to trigger action

I know it sounds a bit weird when “inspiration” is listed as a marketing strategy, but it really is. According to Pinterest, inspiration yields a 32% higher return on ad spending. 

Because it is the inspiration that helps people “imagine” - imagine how they would look in that dress, how those shoes would look amazing under their favorite dress, how they could decorate their bedroom, or how they can feel better. Like Jennifer Peters said, you can make people take action only if you can make them feel inspired, and that is only possible if what you are showing is achievable. Obviously, OLLY does that by sharing little bite-sized content through Storyly. 

At this point, what Soner reminded was crucial: He said, “it all comes down to delivering relevant content. By “relevant,” I mean “personalized.” You can inspire a shopper only if you deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time.”

He also suggested that brands could benefit from user-generated content, whether it is from a random consumer or an influencer, to inspire new ones. Not only would this help brands reward and incentivize their loyal customers, but also it would help potential customers explore products through authentic content from real users. As Soner said, adding or amplifying a social layer with in-app communities and integrating user-generated content will have a strong return on investment.

"If we cannot get a customer to feel something, then we cannot get a customer to do something, take action, or achieve the things they want to achieve. It all starts with inspiration. 

Storyly has helped us do that on our website in little bite-sized pieces."

Jennifer Peters - DTC Manager, OLLY

Zero-party data as the future of data

Another important topic of discussion was the ongoing changes in the data landscape. Soner Şensoy underlined one important thing that marketers should focus on besides the macroeconomic conditions: The changes in data privacy. He reminded the fact that ATT gave users more power over how apps track their online behaviors, which means losing the ability to uniquely identify a device for ad targeting and tracking purposes. While Facebook is suffering from these changes, Google is still the best solution around, but as Soner also suggested, one key problem is that Google is a demand capturer - not a demand generator. 

One thing is obvious here: Marketers need to prioritize their owned channels, concentrate on user retention and engagement and find ways like better discovery options, more capable search, personalized product recommendations to increase demand generation. 

"The recession is temporary. We all know that it will generate new opportunities and trigger innovation but privacy changes are here to stay. Marketers need to prioritize two things: their concentration on user retention and engagement and increasing demand generation in their owned channels."

Soner Şensoy - Co-Founder & CRO, Storyly

Though there is a lot of conversation around first-party data, Soner said the savior of the day would be zero-party data as it is provided by the users 100% voluntarily. And because it is directly sourced from the user, it is much more accurate and helps reduce the guesswork. Having seen so many great examples from our customers that gather zero-party data about their users using Storyly’s interactive stickers, I can second that. Our interactive stickers, like quizzes and polls, turn into a fun experience instead of making people feel like they’re being stalked or interrogated. I also think zero-party data has the power to inform marketing and even product strategies. However, as Jennifer said, if you are not going to use it and offer something to your customers, don’t collect it. 

Leveling up engagement with gamification

Interactive stickers are also how brands can create gamified experiences, and that’s another strategy Soner mentioned for the year ahead. Adding gamified elements to the user experience is a solid strategy to increase app stickiness and keep your customers coming back for more. And it does not have to be something complicated. You can design simple but highly engaging experiences. 

This reminded me of two examples from our customers: Last Christmas, a beauty shopping app created an advent calendar with Storyly Stories. They created 24 story groups and numbered each of them. Each day they revealed a new discount on them. As you would expect, this is a great way to give your shoppers to come back to your app every day and boost the app stickiness. Another one was again from a shopping app that collects insights on users’ most preferred products with polls asking, “this or that?” Yes, it’s that simple but very effective. And while it is a fantastic way to inform the content strategies for brands, it is also much fun for the shoppers - who I am sure (like me) do not enjoy answering pop-up surveys. 

Jennifer shared one inspiring example of how they use interactive stickers during the webinar. Apparently, their users were complaining about the taste of soft jellies left in their mouths after chewing.Turns out soft jellies were not supposed to be chewed but instead swallowed with a glass of water. The question for them was whether all customers were doing the same thing or not. Luckily they had the interactive stickers of Storyly: Using the poll feature, they asked their consumers how they took the soft jellies, and the results inspired them to create Story content about how to use the product. What a clever and easy solution!

Less friction, more fun in the shopper’s journey

Eliminating the friction in the shoppers’ journey, which is crucial for providing a seamless and enjoyable experience for customers in eCommerce, was another topic of discussion. Friction can occur at any stage of the shopping journey - from finding the desired product to completing the transaction. By streamlining the process and removing barriers, ecommerce businesses can create memorable experiences, build brand loyalty, improve customer satisfaction, and inevitably increase conversions, and boost sales. 

Soner mentioned Storyly’s latest feature in-Story checkout, as a way of eliminating friction, increasing basket size, and decreasing cart abandonments - all while offering some inspiration to users in the format of shoppable video Stories. It is a solution that focuses on reducing the number of steps between discovery to purchase and adding some entertainment to it.

Increasing demand for purposeful brands

People, especially Gen Z, are increasingly demanding integrity when choosing a brand. As a purpose-led wellness brand of Unilever, Jennifer underlined that they are working towards a purpose that is making the world a healthier and better place and that it feels great to be able to do something other than just selling products and seeing their impact in the community. Without a doubt, having a purpose that serves the planet and the people will matter more and more.  

Final thoughts…

Creativity and simplicity… These were the two keywords that came up the most during the session. Navigating a tough economy is not easy, but it is not impossible with a little creativity and practicality. And there is no need to complicate things for the sake of creativity because there is power in simplicity. Regardless of the direction 2023 takes, you can leverage smart strategies to create customer experiences that drive higher retention rates and position your brand for growth.


Özge Akyel Celikelli

Content & Brand Marketing Strategist at Storyly. Technology and science enthusiast, avid reader of sci-fi and dystopian books. Describes herself as a curious being. Thinks, reads, and writes about strategic communications, branding, and sustainability.

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