Insights & News

COVID-19: the virus that can propel e-commerce. But how?

By Špela Majcen Marušič, Httpool PR Manager


With practically all media headlines now focussed around the COVID-19 outbreak, people plungering supermarkets and stocking up on toilet paper, and businesses bracing for an economic impact, there are some sectors that are already making the most of the lockdowns. E-commerce is one of them as people switch to online buying from the safety of their homes and are desperate to stay in touch with their loved ones through social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 


The predictions that became reality


Only a couple of days ago, lockdowns still seemed like a remote possibility, but with practically the whole of Europe (and the USA) staying at home for the next weeks or maybe months, the predictions of e-commerce growing as an immediate consequence of these “home arrests” have already proven accurate. According to Forbes, e-commerce was expected to represent 12% of total retail sales in 2020. But with the new reality come also new expectations, especially as consumers become more comfortable with online shopping and technology develops to be more intuitive and omnipresent. In fact, the FMCG sector in China saw spending through e-commerce channels grow almost seven times as fast as the sector overall in 2019, according to The Drum.


No reason to panic: New opportunities for brands 

Obviously, not all sectors of the e-commerce industry enjoy the same luxury in times of economic perturbations. In fact, luxury and travel are those categories that are expected to suffer the most from the upcoming downturn. McKinsey forecasts show that while the tourism and hospitality sector might see a global restart only in late Q3 or Q4, other sectors such as consumer electronics, semiconductors, consumer products or automotive will bounce back already in (late) Q2 of this year.


When it comes to e-commerce, businesses should already have rolled up their sleeves and started focussing their efforts on making the most of the current situation. Some Wall Street analysts believe that people staying at home more could, in the medium term, actually boost e-commerce growth in general. This should apply in particular to consumer packaged goods (CPGs), grocery deliveries and food ordering. Also, new areas of e-commerce might be opening up, such as real estate. In China, some real estate companies have been offering discounts on selected apartments if bought online and managed to sell thousands in a week’s time.


Be authentic, be rational, be a winner

After the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia, the biggest winners that emerged from the crisis were Chinese e-commerce companies such as and Alibaba. Other key lessons learned for businesses from that time can also be used to fight the COVID-19 outbreak:


  • Be a consumer-first business and keep a sense of optimism. Recovery will come around and brands need to be ready to thrive. People expect brands to deliver real value, act responsibly and do the right thing by the community, including their employees.
  • Adapt your customer communications, be authentic, communicate the situation and timelines clearly and realistically.
  • Look out for the change in consumer behaviour and respond to market needs. New opportunities might arise just because people are getting used to shop online.
  • Re-imagine your marketing strategies. Work on winning a share of voice online at this time to support a long-term recovery plan. Choose the right balance between performance and branding, diversify your messages and leverage strengths of key online platforms such (all Facebook products, Twitter Ads, LinkedIN Ads…).


As we all switch our daily lives to online, try to get a sense of sentiment of what’s going on by following the developments in real time on Twitter (#coronavirus, #COVID-19). Think of what is appropriate for your brand to communicate at this point in time. Listen to what people are saying and respond. Facebook suggests to organise online events for your consumers and provide them with lists of FAQs. Also, do not neglect the element of mobile as the next decade is expected to be marked by mobile transformation.

Finally, focus on spreading positivity and offering solutions. Don’t forget that the way you deal with crisis today may influence consumers in the future. So, plan your path to recovery, explaining to customers that you care and demonstrate the reliable and positive brand image. The future belongs to the bold. And in this case, e-commerce might have just gotten the opportunity to prove that it’s the boldest sector of them all.