Navigating e-commerce in the new normal

Navigating e-commerce in the new normal
Olivia Mayer

When COVID-19 hit the world, it affected various industries. People were forced to adapt to doing their daily activities indoors, including shopping. In April, KANTAR reported that almost 50 per cent of people in Indonesia avoid superstores, malls and prefer shopping for groceries in supermarkets near their homes. The report also found that 76 per cent of respondents experienced a change in behaviour because of COVID, and now spend most of their time at home.

With this, e-commerce channels have the advantage which offer the convenience of shopping from homes. Nuraini Razak, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Tokopedia, admits that the pandemic has contributed to a rise in their marketplace activities.

The figures were pretty significant, especially in the health, household, food and beverage category, during March 2020 when COVID-19 finally hit almost every nation in the Southeast Asia region. “For example, in the health and personal care category, there was an almost 3-fold increase in transactions. Hand sanitisers, vitamins, and masks are the most sought-after products in the health category. In March, the value of mask sales even increased 197 times compared to the previous months. On the other hand, there was a time when 72,000 hand sanitisers were sold out within only 42 minutes. In addition, the number of new sellers in the health and personal care category increased by almost 2.5 times compared to previous months,” said Nuraini.

The strategy of adapting
With this growth, how do e-commerce platforms plan its comms strategy to stay on top of their games?

Nuraini explained that the keys to good communication are continuity and transparency. It is imperative to keep stakeholders, including the media, updated about how the business is doing in these difficult times. Moreover, she voiced that the overall communications approach should be sensitive, emphatic and has the right tone of voice. This implies that communicators have to be strategic in selecting what stories to put out.

She also suggested pitching stories that have a natural connection to the situation - feel-good pandemic-related news, work from home, post-pandemic, all of which might be of great interest to journalists for the time being. It is also important to actively send out communications on what steps the company has been taking to help and protect its employees and customers. Such communication efforts will give customers confidence in the brand.

Christopher Daguimol, Regional PR Director of Zalora in Singapore also voiced a kindred approach. Ever since COVID-19 blew up, all the face-to-face interviews were replaced by Zoom and Skype, although the comms work remains similar to the pre-COVID era.

“Pitch a story that they will be interested in, work closely with journalists on the angles they would like to pursue and provide them with all the relevant information they need. A lot of back-end work will need to be done here - familiarise yourself with the publication, get to know the journalist and their beat so you know what interests them, and put yourself in their situation and ask yourself: is this story newsworthy? PR work is people work, and that is the fun part of it. There is something fundamentally human in exchanging ideas and in storytelling,” said Christopher.

Digital vs traditional
Even though e-commerce activities are mostly conducted through online platforms, that doesn’t translate to zero engagement with the traditional media. Christopher also explained that effective communications in high-growth regions like Southeast Asia will always need to have a holistic approach combining both traditional and digital media to reach your target audience.

“Over the years we reduced our spending and efforts on traditional media, using it sparingly but more strategically. For example, in the earlier years of Zalora we partnered with fashion-focused TV shows including Asia’s Next Top Model and How Do I Look. This was an effective brand building exercise for us to cement our claim as the region’s leading online fashion player. We later evolved TV partnerships to combine a TV and social experience concept show, Style Me Now, with the content actively pushed via traditional and social media channels,” he shared.

Christopher further elaborated that Zalora also continues to partner with traditional media partners in finding innovative ways to engage and excite audiences. Billboards, radio and TV ads are also deemed valuable every now and then to boost awareness on prime sales seasons.

For Tokopedia and the Indonesian market especially, Nuraini emphasised on the continued relevance of traditional media in telling stories and building brands.

“At Tokopedia, we believe that traditional media plays an essential role in reaching out to markets or people who still make newspapers and radio stations their main source of information. For us, both online and offline media is no less important in helping us to gain massive awareness nationwide while at the same time building local relevance through localised news or media outlets, be it to inspire more small businesses to transform online, or to get people to use our platform to fulfil their daily needs.”

She also believes that the old media remain a credible source of information with its third-party involvement where people could expect factual and balanced information.

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