The Sky’s the Limit: Ad Opportunities in a Post-COVID World
How Advertisers Can Meet New Consumer Expectations and Demands
Written by Stephen Graveman
It’s an understatement to say that the global COVID-19 pandemic presented unseen logistical and economical challenges that tested organizations of all sizes and industries. Almost overnight, the business marketplace was forced to improvise, adapt, strategize, and overcome hurdles clouded in uncertainty. While the virus sadly continues to cause struggles internationally, the U.S. market is finally seeing the fog lift.
As vaccinations increase and markets reopen, businesses, advertisers, and consumers are finding a marketplace that has been irreparably transformed from the pandemic. The good news is that consumers are feeling more confident, spending is on the rise, and every industry – from e-commerce to travel – is full of opportunities for advertisers ready to strike while the iron is hot.
E-Commerce is Here to Stay
COVID-19 radically altered the state of almost every industry, but perhaps the one that underwent the biggest transformation was e-commerce. While the pandemic destroyed sales figures and shuttered companies large and small throughout the globe, people still needed to buy goods. Retailers who already had great e-commerce platforms in place – and savvy organizations who were nimble enough to build something practically overnight – weathered the storm and are emerging from the pandemic with powerful new sales platforms.
In the first three months of 2020, Target’s sales rose 10.8% from the previous year, driven by a 141% leap in digital sales. Those digital sales rose 282% in the month of April alone, with more than five million consumers shopping at Target.com for the first time. Target claims that it saw digital-sales levels that it wasn’t planning to experience until 2023, but it was ready for the pandemic thanks to proactive investments it made into its e-commerce platform over the last few years.
While the world is slowly returning to normal, customer behaviors and expectations have changed during this pandemic and show no signs of reversing. The post-COVID consumer expects for brands to reach them where they are, whether it’s through targeted advertising, providing streamlined e-commerce platforms to make purchasing simple, or building customizable experiences. Throughout the pandemic, consumers have been inside their homes watching TV, browsing the internet, and making purchases. With lockdowns lifted, the only thing that’s changed is that consumer confidence is higher than ever – and there is an interest to spend.
Fashion’s Big Unveiling
During COVID-19, lockdowns confined people across the globe to their homes. Office clothes, social wear, weekend attire – none of it mattered it during an age of Zoom calls and quarantines.
Industry analysts have spent time looking back at the last pandemic the U.S. fought, the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu – and the “Roaring Twenties” that followed. After the crisis, fashion was radically changed thanks to a society with a new sense of freedom and economic revival. Many fashion experts believe the same thing is happening now as we head to a “Roaring 2020s.” Rent the Runway, a clothes rental company that has reported a 92% increase in active subscribers since the pandemic low of May 2020, is reporting new trends emerging in women’s wear – bolder, brighter, and with higher hemlines (also known as peacocking). Colorful, optimistic, and evocative is in after a year of being locked down – and people are more excited than ever to dress up and get out.
Restaurants Have Wait Lists Again
The food and restaurant industry’s struggles with COVID-19 have been well-documented. Already operating on razor-thin margins, many small to medium-sized restaurants couldn’t afford the sudden drop in patrons. But with many restaurants opening back up to 100% capacity, there is an incredible opportunity for these establishments to capitalize on the hunger for normalcy. In fact, there is no better time to attract a large group of first-time customers who may be more receptive to new experiences after a year of breaking habits and eating at home.
A strong online ordering system, digital loyalty programs, and mature customer-relationship-management (CRM) systems have helped many establishments weather the pandemic, and consumer expectations are not about to change. In China, consumers remained more digitally engaged after the crisis, with Starbucks seeing an increase of digital transactions by 12 percentage points. Building and highlighting these programs predominantly in advertising efforts are a great way to attract new consumers, bring back old favorites, and prepare restaurants for any future unforeseen crises.
The Return of Travel
After a year of lockdown, it’s no surprise that people are anxious to start traveling beyond their four walls again. While international travel is still a complex option thanks to rising cases in other nations and travel advisories or bans, domestically people are ready for vacations, sightseeing, and visiting loved ones. Trivago is reporting that domestic travel represented 79% of clickouts in February and March, with same-day and next-day travel accounting for 14% of all clickouts in March. Meanwhile, car rental companies who spent the pandemic selling off unused fleet are experiencing massive shortages as customers start to embark on road trips again in massive numbers.
These numbers will only continue to rise as summer vacations are made, fall activities are planned, and holiday getaways are booked. Travel brands have a unique opportunity to beam aspirational messages and ads into the homes of exhausted consumers who are ready to see the world again.
The Future of Sports & Fitness Retailers
While retailers from all industries were hit hard by COVID-19, the sports and fitness retail sector found some protection thanks to at-home workout equipment and outdoor gear. As many gyms closed down across the nation or people felt unsafe working out in enclosed spaces, consumers turned their homes into exercise spaces and found a new appreciation for the safe confines of nature.
Although the world is opening up again, these consumers aren’t likely to turn their backs on their new healthy lifestyles, home gym investments, or favorite hiking trails – and brands are ready to meet them with new ways to shop. Dick’s Sporting Goods has already posted record first-quarter sales for 2021, with a 119% increase from 2020. They’re emerging from the pandemic with a new experiential concept that will include indoor and outdoor play spaces for shopping, climbing, running, and more.
The Home Goods and Décor Boom
A funny thing happened when everyone was stuck at home in quarantine – after staring at the same walls repeatedly, they thought of home repair and renovation projects. While other industries struggled, contractors, home goods, and décor retailers found a steady stream of revenue from bored and desperate homeowners. Spare bedrooms were turned into offices, walls were repainted, new additions were made, and oft-overlooked repairs were finally started.
This movement has created a new wave of customers who either never paid much attention to these projects before, or found they enjoyed decorating. Consumer goods have risen by double-digit percentages from last year thanks to a high demand and low supply, and the homebuying market has become white-hot with listings selling within hours across the country. Like sports and fitness retailers, the home goods and décor market is seeing a large group of people emerging from COVID-19 with a new appreciation or interest in home updates – and they represent an untapped market that could be tomorrow’s loyal customers for brands.
Building Tomorrow’s Brand Advocates
COVID-19 has changed consumer expectations and behaviors, and there is no reason to believe that they’ll return to old behaviors. Today’s customer expects brands to be digitally-savvy, to meet them where they are, and to provide a convenient and streamlined experience. Brands that jump on these new behaviors and needs will find a market of hungry prospective clients – and future brand loyalists.