Retail, Travel, & E-commerce: Email Marketing Strategies To Cope With Corona Crisis
Written by
Ritu Poddar
Ritu Poddar

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Retail, Travel, & E-commerce: Email Marketing Strategies To Cope With Corona Crisis

Published : March 20, 2020 | Updated : May 08, 2024

None of us was prepared for such a huge crisis. ­

There are 13,000 new COVID-19 cases reported every day and it’s growing fast.

Everyone is getting impacted, directly or indirectly by the ongoing corona virus spread. Throughout the world, businesses are hit badly. The possibility of global recession looms large.  

Like anyone else, we as marketers are also caught off-guard by the crisis of this scale. But as they say, adversity teaches us something we otherwise don’t learn. The usual marketing strategies and tactics of course aren’t appropriate now. And marketers like us need to cope and act, and do that fast.

Marketing at the Time of Corona?

One might think that at a time like this when the world is fighting a pandemic, who cares about marketing. But in the words of Mark Ritson, a seasoned Marketing Columnist at MarketingWeek, “The wheels of industry need to keep turning so workers are paid and families are fed. Those wheels are best greased by effective marketing.”

We do not have to shy away from talking about customers, business, and marketing in the age of coronavirus, however insensitive and superficial it may seem. Because the practical reality of global economic trade means that we need to market now for the good of all mankind. While the medical fraternity and government officials are doing their job, we got to do ours, as marketers – help in driving the demand, aid the businesses to survive the crisis.

While we all hope that the virus spread will be contained quite soon, the repercussions of the disruptions in the economic activities are going to stay for some time. So, instead of burying our heads in the sand, we must formulate new messaging strategies that help our brand not only in this critical time but also in the long run.

Recalibrating the Marketing Strategy

When businesses face tough times, the first thing most of them do is pull their marketing budget. The slashed marketing fund is one of the major challenges that all brands, big and small alike, are facing now. With sales and revenues dropping, and no sight of respite in the near future, every penny spent counts more than ever.

This calls for devising low-cost, even no-cost ways to keep the business running and to maintain a connection with the customers. Most marketers would have the natural inclination to spend all the available budget on short-term performance marketing and sales promotions. But that would

not be really effective. No amount of hot offers and alluring deals can stimulate customers who are scared and locked inside their homes, uncertain of their future.

So, the two most important aspects that need attention are:

  • Messaging content and tone has to be empathetic, sensitive, yet relevant
  • A communication channel that has a wide reach and yet is inexpensive

Email – Marketer’s 3 am friend

There are good reasons that email marketing is called the evergreen marketing channel.

  • It has an extensive reach. There are around 4 billion people email users globally.
  • 30% of marketers around the globe say that, of all marketing channels, email gives the highest ROI.
  • Most importantly, and most relevant at this point in time, it is one of the most cost-effective marketing channels. Every $1 spent on email marketing returned an average of $44.

Here in this blog, we are focusing on email strategies that Retail, Travel, & Ecommerce sectors can implement to tackle the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Travel: Email Marketing Strategies to Deal with the Coronavirus Impact

The travel & tourism industry is expected to be among the most severely affected business sectors in the world. With countries locking down and travel bans being implemented, all domestic & international travels are coming to a standstill.

While the upcoming months seems uncertain, heavy cancellations have already put the travel brands under a lot of pressure. Airlines, hotels-booking websites, ride-sharing apps, cruise lines, and train operators have been adjusting their business tactics and messaging to cope with the crisis. Here are a few actions and marketing strategies that travel brands can adopt to cushion the blow, and move towards brighter business quarters:

  • Proactively offer rescheduling options to customers through emails. While this move might help in cutting down losses due to cancellations, it can also strengthen your brand’s image. Major airlines in India are already waiving off the rescheduling charges. 
  • Share the measures you are taking to ensure the safety of your employees and customers. Keeping your customers reassured and informed will help them make the best decision about their travel plans with you. 
  • While the current travels are almost frozen, you can share offers and deals for future travels, say 2-3 months from now. However, you need to be extremely careful about the messaging.

Dipanjan Chatterjee, vice-president and principal analyst at Forrester Research says, “Brands have little to gain and a lot to lose by downplaying the potential gravity of the situation … This is not the time to sell. A few destinations are alluding to light tourism as a way of attracting visitors, but travel brands risk being seen as opportunistic and uncaring if they push their wares at a time like this.”

  • Because of the wide travel bans, people are stuck in foreign lands, waiting to come back home. It is the time when travel brands can utilize the customer data to send personalized recommendations for travel options to return home. Such emails would definitely show your support to the customers and the community in general.  Quoting Maya Angelou here, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It may not be essential to stop marketing completely. The point to remember is to not hard sell, or even soft sell. As mentioned earlier, it is the time to build brand equity. 

E-commerce: Email Tips for Meaningful Engagement During Corona Crisis

It might seem crude, but global medical emergencies hold great potential for significant growth of e-commerce brands. Alibaba and, China’s two largest e-commerce players, both trace their success back to the SARS crisis in 2002 and 2003.

The reason of this weird reality can be attributed to the limited mobility of people. More and more users turn to e-commerce platforms during these times to avoid stepping outdoors for the risk of infection. Also, panic shopping leads to a potential lack of inventory on the shelves in brick-and mortar stores, hence users move to online shopping.

  • Ecommerce marketing platforms can show concern by sharing curated lists of products that are necessary to keep the customers and their families safe and provided for. Leveraging the data-drawn insights about your customers’ likes and preferences, you can share recommendation emails for products like provisional supplies, grocery, immunity-boosting items, etc.

India’s top e-grocery brands like BigBasket & Grofers are already experiencing spikes in their sales. While certain categories of luxury products might experience a slump in sales, there will be some product lines that will be on high demand. 

  • Currently, when people are required to maintain social distancing and have more free time for themselves, personalized product recommendations can prove to game-changers. For instance, I was amused to find an email from my most favorite e-commerce brand, wherein it had sent a list of latest sci-fi books, and some really cool nail-art kits. Yes, I had checked for these products in the past. The subject line read – “Ritu, here’s what you can do when you can’t go out!”
  • While many users (and new users) are turning to panic shopping, you must pay attention to loyal and old users. Based on their purchase patterns and recent transaction history, you can send reminders about stocking up essentials. For instance, if a user buys certain amounts of food items at regular intervals, you can send an email suggesting an advance purchase. 

Retail: Coping With Corona Emergency Through Email Marketing

One of the biggest mistakes that brick-and-mortar retailers usually make is ignoring online marketing. Digital commerce is growing by leaps and bounds, and businesses, small or large, have to keep pace with change and innovation. Like e-commerce platforms, retailers must now provide a cross-channel shopping experience that brings people in and brings people back.

The need for retailers to focus on digital marketing is more pronounced during times like now when customers can’t/don’t visit the physical stores. Most global companies with vast distribution networks and thousands of retail locations spanning the globe operate retail websites, stands out as the only fully online retailer to make the list.

In India, many retail brands like Big Bazaar, DMart, Hypercity, Shopper’s Stop, etc. have extensive networks of brick-and-mortar stores, but their online presence is not that strong.

Only if the users know that what they could get in the stores, they can also find online, they wouldn’t turn to other options.

To begin with, brands could start with building/updating the customer database (email IDs, mobile number, etc.). With proper customer segments carved on the basis of customers’ behavioral data, the following email marketing campaigns can be beneficial and aid in running the business as usual:

  • Let the customers know that they can shop online from the comfort of their homes. Talk about your delivery facilities, the product catalogs, and the order placement process.
  • The deals, offers, and sales promotions that are generally done in print media and hoardings can be replicated in emails and customers can be encouraged to shop online.
  • Utilizing the power of personalization, brands can also go a step further to share personalized product recommendations. It is important to here to craft the messaging and pick the products in a sensible manner. Your campaigns must not come across as attempts for hard-selling. Avoid promoting high-end luxury products, and rather focus on essentials and regular items.
  • Focus on the ease and comfort of shopping remotely, just like that of e-commerce platforms. The fact that such brands are known for their physical stores, is not be forgotten. Only if customers are assured that they can have the same hassle-free e-commerce shopping experience, will they be willing to come to your website/app for shopping.

After all, online or offline – customer experience matters and customer’s expectations remain the same. While the above strategies are directed towards promoting the online business aspect of the retail brands, these efforts will pay off in terms of increasing the footfall in stores also. Global retail brands follow approaches like Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BOPIS), and online promotional incentives that can be encashed in the store. But these tactics are for normal times.

Some Important Do’s & Don’ts

  • Do not use any campaign that comes across as a cheap marketing ploy to get more customers for your brand. This can harm your brand’s image beyond repair. Remember that you are treading a fine line. Do not exploit
  • Ensure that you share factually correct and accurate information about the crisis. Get it vetted by concerned experts if needed, but be sure that you are not contributing to spreading of incorrect information or rumors.
  • Be sensitive about the creative you use. You might want to avoid using very vibrant & beautiful creatives that are inappropriate for the somber times.

The crisis is a test for us all. We as marketers need to remember the long-term goals of our brand and keep striving towards them. We at Netcore are on our toes to keep our employees safe, and to continue to provide our services to our clients.

Last but not the least, look after yourself, look after your near & dear ones, and look after your brand. This too shall pass.

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Written By: Ritu Poddar