Marketing in times of crisis: 6-step plan for online shops

55 percent of online retailers have seen a drop in sales due to the corona crisis. How online shops can now adapt their marketing in order to arm themselves in a structured manner and to emerge stronger from the crisis.

According to a dealer association survey, 82 percent of online retailers expect the situation to worsen. After the initial paralysis, it is now time to face the crisis courageously. The following six-stage master plan with three strategic stages, followed by three operational stages for marketing in times of crisis, provides a checklist for orientation. No magic formula, but full of food for thought for further action.

Stage 1: Create the basis – without sales there is no marketing

The order of the day is: don’t lapse into actionism. Freezing the budget could otherwise take revenge in the medium term as well as headless corona discount campaigns. First of all, it is important to create a basis for the continued functioning of the online shop.

Ability to deliver

First, online shops should guarantee their ability to deliver internally and externally. Internally, with employees working in multiple shifts and, as far as possible, from the home office. Externally, in that the supply is ensured by suppliers. A close exchange with suppliers helps to be informed about possible delivery delays and bottlenecks at an early stage.


Second, it is important to ensure that it can be shipped. That means to be prepared if DHL suddenly stops picking up the orders. For example, if a DHL employee falls ill in the local distribution center, the location can be temporarily closed.

  • Online retailers should therefore contact their shipping service provider and clarify how the processes will change.
  • An emergency plan could provide for switching to other carriers, for example via a connection to shipping interfaces such as Shipcloud.

Sales potential

Thirdly, opportunities for sales potential should be examined in order to keep the overall slump as low as possible. A few ideas:

  • Price increases: Availability beats price – higher prices can increase sales and margins
  • Presence in shopping portals: sales on,, can be realized in no time via data feed.
  • Platforms as a sales channel: additional sales can be generated via Ebay and Amazon.
  • International marketing: Online orders from Austria are currently increasing in many German shops due to the curfew imposed there – with campaigns via Google Shopping and dynamic search ads, you can participate.

Stage 2: analyze the status quo

Before targeted measures can be taken, online retailers should pay attention to the initial situation.

Situation assessment

Depending on the size of the company and sales development, the status quo varies from person to person. This has consequences for the further room for maneuver.

  • What is your own economic situation, what do the cost structure and reserves say?
  • How long can the ability to act be ensured despite a lack of sales?
  • What do you have control over and what not? The following applies: Concentration on one’s own sphere of activity, on what can be influenced.

Web analysis and inventory management

It is more important than ever to understand exactly what is going on in the online shop. New every day.

  • Which traffic sources are performing well? Can the percentage be increased by increasing budgets?
  • Where are sales missing? Can countermeasures be taken here?
  • What is currently being bought (increasingly) and what is not?
  • Which ranges and products are sold out now or soon?
  • How could the demand develop?
  • And how could customers react if a curfew is imposed?

Social media monitoring

Online retailers should develop a feeling for how their target group is reacting to the current situation. An analysis of the industry-typical hashtags as well as reactions to your own postings and comments from competitors can provide an insight.

  • With what focus does the target group discuss Corona?
  • How is the mood with the customers?
  • What are your questions, worries and needs?

Stage 3: Adjust marketing planning and strategy

The marketing plan for 2020 was ready? Now is the time to question the existing marketing strategy and adapt it to the changed crisis situation. This applies, for example, to promotions, image and seasonal campaigns, the marketing mix and media planning.

  • What was planned when, according to the plan, to what extent does it still make sense?
  • What are the chances of success of the planned measures?
  • Is it enough just to postpone the point in time or should the measure be canceled without replacement?

Campaigns that were planned for the next few weeks or months can be prepared. But then you should wait. There is no telling what will be in two months. If the situation is as chaotic as it is today, the advertising effect could fizzle out. The focus is too much on the daily news. This is especially true for cost-intensive measures that have to be refinanced through sales, for example print mailings to reactivate regular customers or advertisements in print media. Costs and benefits have to be weighed for each measure.

Especially when it comes to confronting the customer with something new – for example with a new logo or a shop relaunch – it is important to consider: At the moment, new impressions and tasks are falling on us every day. Our openness to new things has been exhausted. There is excessive demand and uncertainty. Taking away the familiar from regular customers creates avoidable confusion and could cost valuable sales.

Step 4: Check communication

The marketing messages should also be put to the test. Are the content and imagery appropriate given the current circumstances? Can customers (still) identify with it? One should be particularly sensitive with the choice of words. Those who respond emotionally to the customer’s situation and communicate closely and personally can only win.

In addition, the communication of benefits should be questioned: One chance could be to focus on other advantages because one’s own offer solves current problems.

  • Do all category images and headings fit? They have an impact on the conversion rate.
  • What about advertising materials such as ad texts and display motifs? They influence the click rate and image.
  • What do newsletter content, social media postings and guidelines for community management look like?

Step 5: Implement short-term measures – don’t burn your budget

The first tendency when sales collapse: reduce costs.

But be careful, you need a sure instinct here. The PPC channels in particular are torn between performance and sales. If countermeasures are taken too drastically, sales could completely dry up.

The following applies to PPC marketing in general:

  • Redefine goals: It is important to gain clarity about the maximum scope for costs and margins and, if necessary, to temporarily loosen the requirements for ROAS (return on ad spent) or KUR (cost-sales ratio).
  • Be careful with automatic bid strategies: In order for Smart Bidding and Co. to work reliably, the algorithms need empirical values ​​- there are none for the current situation. Everything is new and unpredictable. That’s why it is now time to look carefully. If in doubt, switch to manual bids and lower your CPC. Or the target for the automatic bid control is adjusted in order to set tighter guard rails for the algorithm.

Google Textads and Google Shopping

In order not to burn up a budget and to recognize potential in good time, SEA campaigns should currently be controlled on a granular (er) level. Specifically, this can mean:

  • Reallocate or reduce budgets at ad group and product group level if no conversions take place.
  • Downgrade non-performing ad and product groups
  • Pause product groups with delivery bottlenecks
  • Pushing product groups that are currently increasingly in demand

Online shops and the SEA agency should therefore be in close contact. Because shop operators know their product range, the delivery situation and their customers exactly, while SEA specialists can read and interpret the transactions in the account. Anyone who works with a love for detail now can take advantage of the situation.

Attention, risk of account blocking: The word ” Corona ” should not be used in the shop. It could result in the domain being blocked for a violation of Google Ads advertising policies due to the health context .

Retargeting and Display Network

Anyone who delivers dynamic product advertisements or general display ads via Google Display Network, Criteo and Co. should watch this very closely. Due to the increased news volume and the more intensive surfing behavior, more inventory is available for the delivery of advertising. At the same time, conversion rates are falling because the focus is on other topics. The algorithms want to take countermeasures and increase impressions. The costs rise, but the sales stay off. It makes sense to intensify the monitoring and then take countermeasures as described above.

Social media advertising

For online shops in particular, social networks are interesting for placing ads and especially as a performance channel. Here, too, more reach and impressions are currently available due to the increased activity of users. The CPM can decrease as a result and more users can be reached at lower costs. However, the conversion rate is often falling and the profitability of the campaigns decreases.

  • Depending on the individual (financial) situation and the range advertised, costs and benefits must now be weighed up.
  • The bottom line can be to pause top funnel and middle funnel campaigns that are designed to acquire new customers.
  • Bottom funnel campaigns such as dynamic product ads can continue to perform well.
  • In any case, it makes sense to increase the control frequency.

Social media (organic)

If you haven’t already done so, you should urgently review your editorial plans and stop automatically scheduled posts. Inappropriate postings like the question about the relaxed weekend could damage the brand and should at least be postponed.

For posts on current topics, sensitivity is required, as well as in dealing with humor, otherwise the shit storm is inevitable.

The dominance of negative topics and news creates a rather brand-damaging environment. At the same time, there is an opportunity in the increased user activity in social media. Everyone craves positive themes and distraction. Those who now purposefully radiate calm and, like Zalando, Aldi or DM, make the community idea tangible on Facebook can strengthen their image and customer loyalty.

Sending newsletters

In general, the same applies to sending newsletters as to social media: it is a tightrope walk between opportunity and risk. Risk because many online shops will feel a drop in performance (opening rates, click rates, conversion rates). Opportunity because it is currently the regular customers who are most likely to buy.

Just carry on normally? Depends on. Performance data should now be evaluated in detail. Instead of automatically scheduling the dispatch in advance, dispatch dates should be selected depending on the current daily news. If there is any new bad news, it is probably better to postpone the newsletter for a day so that the effect does not fizzle out completely.

Step 6: Medium and long-term measures – emerge stronger from the crisis

When the first chaos is over and the new circumstances of multi-shift operation and home office level off, the next steps can be organized.

Freed personnel capacities due to a lower order volume and fewer inquiries in customer service want to be used sensibly. Here are a few ideas for tasks that would otherwise fall by the wayside:

  • Optimize the PIM system (product information management): complete product data, revise product descriptions, create new products …
  • Clean up CRM: correct incorrect customer data, merge duplicates …
  • Content creation: collect FAQs from customer service, write purchase advisors for important product categories, create images, produce videos …
  • Build reporting dashboards: Merge all marketing-relevant data in Google Data Studio, create various reports and levels of detail.
  • Search engine optimization: Whether technical or content-related on-page optimization or off-page measures such as link building – the effect is delayed, but when everything returns to normal, you benefit from the greater upswing.

Customer loyalty

Acquiring new customers is expensive. At the moment, acquiring new customers is likely to be even more expensive, as attention is more restricted and other topics are more relevant. It therefore makes sense to concentrate on your existing customers and the performance channels discussed above in times of crisis.

If you have not dealt with customer loyalty before, you should do so now. Online shops generate three to seven times more sales per visit with repeat buyers and regular customers ( compare Adobe Digital Index ). The conversion rates are also significantly higher.

Brand building

Investing in your own brand also pays off in the long term. Now is a good time to devote yourself to branding strategy while the competition remains in a state of shock or focuses its energies on the struggle for survival.

Positioning is a good entry point. By comparing the target positioning with the actual positioning and then taking measures to correct the deviation. How is the shop perceived from the outside? What does the brand stand for from the customer’s point of view? Versus: How do you want to be perceived and differentiate yourself from the competition?
A distinctive storytelling can be developed based on the findings. What story does the brand tell? What added value does the shop offer customers? Why do you do what you do


Once the initial paralysis has been overcome, online retail is likely to benefit most from the current crisis. When customers spend a lot of time at home due to home office and curfew and cannot shop locally, it shifts to online business. Then it is important to be present.

Those who collect themselves now, roll up their sleeves and do their homework can really take off once the crisis is over.

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