How 3 brands pivoted to meet changing consumer demand and grow online sales

A line drawing illustrates the shift from in-person shopping to online shopping: A Black woman uses a mobile phone. To her left, a yellow arrow points from a brick-and-mortar shop toward a large mobile shopping cart.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how quickly consumers’ interests and purchasing behaviour can shift. To keep up with changing consumer demand for products and services, businesses are adapting their marketing strategies to respond in real time. I talk to brands every day about how they’re adapting their plans and adjusting their investments in digital advertising. The challenges brands face today are complex, particularly as marketers pivot their focus to e-commerce. Here are three lessons learned from brands who have made that pivot and grown sales.

Drive discovery and sales with rich, engaging visuals

Today’s abundant choices and limitless information make the buyer decision process anything but linear. Instead, a complicated web of touchpoints span the gap between trigger and purchase. For your ads to succeed in this “messy middle,” they need to first win — and then defend — consumer preference throughout the shopping journey. One way to achieve these goals is to pair relevant ads with visually rich and engaging content.

Our Google product teams have been hard at work on new formats and solutions to help you keep up with changing consumer preferences, such as the image extensions beta.

With many of its retail outlets closed due to the pandemic, apparel retailer Hugo Boss was looking to drive new customer sales and improve customer retention. To visually inspire people, the brand used image extensions to supplement its responsive search ads. By adding visuals to its text ads, Hugo Boss achieved a 2.5X return and improved its click-through rate on search campaigns by 5%.

“Using image extensions with responsive search ads helped us not only improve customer retention, but also reach and inspire new customers,” said Hugo Boss VP of e-Commerce Timothy Hartmann. “Combined with automated bidding to maximize return on advertising spend, we've seen a great return on investment, despite the dynamic marketplace we've been working through recently.”

Promote your products with a holistic approach

It’s important for brands to meet potential customers wherever they are online, whether that’s watching videos on YouTube, checking email, or browsing the web. But in a dynamic market, managing multiple ad formats across different channels and geographies can be extra challenging.

That’s why in 2018, we launched Smart Shopping campaigns. The campaigns react quickly to real-time signals to make sure you show the right product to the right customer, at the right time.1

A yellow magnifying glass hovers over a line drawing of a two-tiered birthday cake. Text reads: 500% increase in Google searches for “cake delivery near” year over year.

Even as the pandemic forced New York-based bakery Milk Bar to close all but five of its 18 stores, Google searches for “cake delivery near” increased 500% year over year as people looked for ways to celebrate friends and family from afar.2 To adapt, Milk Bar pivoted its marketing strategy by investing in e-commerce to capture the increased demand.

“[Digital and e-Commerce] has allowed us, over the pandemic, to reach people where they are absolutely unequivocally spending the most of their time, which is online,” said Christina Tosi, founder of Milk Bar.

Optimize for the right customer in real time

Communities worldwide are in various stages of responding to COVID-19, and the things people want and need can differ significantly. A user’s location, time of day, search query, device, and browser are just some of the signals that indicate their likelihood to purchase. It’s nearly impossible to take all of these signals into account for each and every shopper in real time when optimizing bids manually.

Signals that indicate likelihood to purchase include everything from a user’s location to the time, day, search query, device, and browser.

That’s where automated bidding can help. It takes combinations of many signals into consideration in real time, and this can make a significant difference in your bottom line. Automated solutions like Smart Bidding help you meet your revenue or conversion goals more efficiently, especially in dynamic markets when demand shifts and conversion rates change frequently.

Online furniture retailer Overstock has seen increased demand for home decor and furniture due to stay-at-home orders during the pandemic.

VP of Marketing Nate Jeo said the retailer needed to adapt its site experience and automate its marketing strategy, in order to show potential customers the products they were looking for quickly.

To keep pace with the ever-changing demand and hit its performance goals, even as query and sales volume fluctuated, Overstock shifted to a fully automated Smart Bidding strategy. The retailer also improved landing pages and increased site speed to provide better customer shopping experiences online. As a result, Overstock saw a 120% lift in retail sales and 250% customer growth in April year over year.

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