There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on our lives. Between the necessity to keep a safe distance and rethinking our approach to the things we took for granted, such as heading to the store, our world is very different. The business landscape has also shifted, with companies forced to assess operations and weather the worst effects of economic hardship.  

One of the key industries that has been affected by the pandemic is eCommerce. In a world that requires us to stay indoors, consumers have leaned into online shopping. But that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy ride for everyone. Cart abandonment rates in the insurance sector went up by 11% in March. Like many industries, eCommerce businesses have sometimes struggled to make themselves seen in a crowded industry, with some needing additional support to market themselves effectively.  

So how has eCommerce marketing been affected by COVID-19? What has changed in the way in which companies present themselves to the public, and what challenges remain? Are there specific tools that appear to have been successful during this challenging period?

1. Shifting priorities

Our world isn’t quite the same as it was before the pandemic, and as such, both consumers and business owners’ priorities have shifted accordingly. More consumers are buying their essential goods from online retailers, and their expenditure on luxury items has appeared to dwindle due to economic uncertainty. As a result, eCommerce marketing has needed to both reflect and capitalize upon these changes in priority. 

Content marketing has been an essential tool here, demonstrating how eCommerce businesses are catering to the growing health concerns of consumers. As with most content marketing, value has been significant here. According to one study, 48% of those polled stated they had intended to continue health and wellness habits picked up during the pandemic. Coupling product recommendations with practical, honest advice about how to keep safe and maintain health during the crisis has been effective in drawing consumers’ attention. One of the reasons consumers may have avoided online sales previously is due to security concerns. The new emphasis on online spending has highlighted consumer priority for safe, secure transactions. Financial eCommerce platforms can improve trust by demonstrating how additional digital signatures can support electronic signatures. By helping consumers to understand that the former includes encryption that protects their data, businesses can positively affect ongoing consumer confidence and improve engagement with additional services. Similarly, retailers that show how they’ve implemented technology such as blockchain or 2-factor authentication demonstrate a priority for consumer safety.   

2. Changing budgets

The full economic effect of COVID-19 is yet to be determined. But the reduction of consumer spending — down by 12.6% in April — has contributed to the need for businesses to cut back. Many companies, eCommerce retailers among them, have been considering how they can continue to market effectively, without putting too much pressure on already strained resources.    

The expert advice has generally been not to scale back too far on investments into marketing — after all, you can’t continue to function if people don’t know you exist. However, there has been additional focus on methods that give good returns on minimal investment, including: 

    • Search Engine Optimization. SEO is one of the most economically viable approaches to marketing, as it doesn’t necessarily rely on placing large amounts of capital into advertising. It uses web content to improve the quality and quantity of traffic to the business’ website. This is not only a cost-effective approach, it also works well with eCommerce assets already in place, such as blogs and the website itself. 
    • Relationships. Retailers have been finding new ways to enhance their partnerships with vendors, other retailers, and influencers to emerge successfully from the pandemic. These partnerships can include expanding their visibility by sharing information and discussions across social media channels or producing content such as podcasts and vlogs that provide exposure for all parties.  
    • Geographical Focus. At a time in which many businesses are heading to online spaces, it is not always practical for eCommerce businesses to achieve global success. Therefore drawing data from insights such as Google Trends helps to provide retailers with geographical areas in which to place their marketing focus. This also improves opportunities for more localized SEO and advertising.

3. Altered landscape

We can’t deny that how we behave as both consumers and business owners has changed as a result of COVID-19. Over the past couple of decades, eCommerce has steadily grown in popularity, with predictions before the pandemic suggesting that revenues in the sector would increase to $4.88 trillion in 2021. According to one report, the drop in brick and mortar sales due to COVID-19 was met by record numbers of online purchases.   

This means that eCommerce marketers must also deal with a fundamental change in how people are shopping. New consumers who relied upon their local stores for a range of products are sourcing them in online spaces for the first time. As a result, there’s been a need to communicate that the service that customers receive online will meet or exceed the expectations of what they’d receive in-store.  

Retention of these customers has also been an important factor in marketing as of late. It isn’t in the best interest of eCommerce businesses that they are simply a solution during a difficult time. Many online retailers have developed new customer rewards programs or emphasized existing loyalty schemes. Referral programs also continue to play an essential part in drawing new eyes to eCommerce spaces at a time in which more businesses are shifting their operations online. 


COVID-19 may well continue to affect our business and consumer landscape for the foreseeable future. Retailers in eCommerce sectors have had to adjust their marketing efforts to reflect the changes the pandemic has brought, from a shift in buying priorities, to leaner budgets. By also focusing marketing on customer retention, eCommerce retailers are ensuring they do more than weather the storm, they improve their ability to grow their business in the future.  

About the author

Adrian Johansen is a writer in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She loves sharing information with others and learning along the way! You can find more of her writing on Twitter and Contently.