The Road to Retail Recovery: Marketing Campaigns Best Practices

How do you optimize your marketing and communication for 2021? 

Nikole Wintermeier | Jun 30, 2020

retail recovery

How do you optimize your marketing and communication for 2021? 

Your summer lines are shelved. Store closures have redistributed your 2021 budget plans. Your margins are on thin ice. Your supply chain is disrupted. Yikes - you may even have excess seasonal inventory. 

2020 hit retail hard. But before you think this is another article about how bad your situation is - think again.

Following our post about COVID-19 from the insights of 10+ retailers, I want to continue paving the way for your retail recovery in 2021. 

So what’s the good news?

The good news is that your physical stores are opening up (or have already opened). Your consumers are excited to go shopping again, although the “new normal” will change the traditional brick-and-mortar experience. And beyond 2021 shows promise of digital innovation. 

So when prepping your retail marketing strategy for 2021 and beyond, what are takeaways this year has taught us?

First, it's important to track changes to the retail climate in terms of: 

  1. Consumer spending
  2. Product-demand
  3. eCommerce-first

Second, you can being to create marketing that will resonate with the new consumer. 

So with each retail trend, this article provides unique retail recovery tips to get you back on your feet. 


Retail Recovery Tips for Marketing in 2021

Consumer spending has decreased

back to school marketing 2020

In 2019, back to school spending reached a record high of $26.2bn in the U.S.

Black Friday shoppers spent a record of $7.4 billion.  And don't even get me started on Christmas, New Year's, and the like.

With this in mind, I bet you were excitedly preparing your marketing campaigns for the 2020.

And then bang! A global pandemic hit. 

But with a new year looming on the horizon, it's time to look forward. So how do you do this when COVID-19 has changed the face of consumer spending, and your 2021 priorities have shifted? 

marketing campaigns 2020 retail recovery pandemic

According to McKinsey, net consumer optimism has decreased globally. In other words, your customers aren’t optimistic that their spending habits will go back to pre-pandemic levels.

In fact, 64% of Americans say their shopping habits have changed.

And more than half of consumers in most countries believe their finances will be impacted in 2021. 

With unemployment at an all-time high in the U.S. and unstable economic situations around the world, it’s fair to say that your shoppers won’t be the same big-spenders as last year. 

So how do you prepare your future campaigns from Valentines Day, to back to school,  all the way to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holidays we've just put behind us?

Here are some retail recovery tips to pave the way to success. 


Retail Recovery Tip #1: Boost the categories your consumers are spending on


Despite the decrease in consumer spending, shopping for essentials has seen a boost. These “new essential” categories include things like office supplies, health and fitness, home improvement, housewares, toys, and hobbies, which make up nearly 40% of sales among consumers. 

retail recovery tips consumer spending

See Klaviyo for more spending trends and filter by product category. 


For back to school 2021, for example, the focus will be on categories like:

  • Remote learning tools 
  • Electronics (already seeing a surge in purchases to facilitate remote learning) 
  • Health & hygiene 
  • Comfortable apparel (fashion gimmicks like elasticized trousers are also seeing a comeback)
  • Toys/home entertainment for kids 

As a brand, you should look to expand these categories or boost the categories your customers are already spending on. We’ll talk about product-demand later on, but if you do expand into new service verticals, you should always do it in a way that stays true to your brand. 

retail recovery tips marketing campaigns 2020 COS


Take COS, who now has a Books & Toys category, although traditionally an apparel retailer. This shows they are engaging with their target customer while expanding into new, post-pandemic categories to stay relevant.  

Or thegreenlabels, who are offering sustainably sourced masks, in line with their ethos of environmentally-conscious fashion. 

retail recovery tips marketing campaigns 2020


Retail Recovery Tip #2: Provide discounts, offers, and value for money

retail recovery tips marketing campaigns 2020 apple

One obvious way to help your customers during a time of both economic uncertainty and willingness to spend is to provide cheaper options for buying your products. 

For example, Mac’s back to college deal provides free AirPods to students who buy a Mac or iPad. Of course, Apple products aren’t for deal-hungry shoppers to begin with.

But this cleverly appeals to the post-lockdown Gen Z student who are anyway looking for that extra incentive to continue spending. 

Providing good value for money is a sure-fire way to stay relevant to your target customers during COVID-19. 


back to school marketing walmart

Walmart Canada’s whole back to school marketing campaign is based on their low prices. And while discounts and offers are indeed a good way to market to your post-lockdown consumers, be careful of slashing prices dramatically. 


marketing campaigns 2020 retail recovery tips slashing prices is badSports Direct slashing prices dramatically. Along with their product badge "Must Go", this doesn't make the products appealing.


Dramatic price-slashing comes across as desperate and can easily alienate your customers. Instead, focus on steady discounting and delighting your customers with special deals, bundles, and value for money. 


Product-demand has shifted, marketing campaigns need to adapt


Across the board, clothing and accessories sales have slumped 63% from 2019, making it the retail category that took the most hit during the pandemic. 

But while consumers may have stopped making hedonic purchases, they are still looking to shop, especially as lockdown eases and the winter holidays come sleighing 'round the corner.

So if you can’t use the same strategies for your marketing campaigns, how does your brand stay relevant during the 2020 retail recovery season?

Retail Recovery Tip #3: Be innovative with your product-offering


Say you're marketing to a back to school 2020 segment. Now’s your chance to disrupt the traditional back to school offers and think of new ways to engage your customers. 

retail recovery tips marketing campaigns 2020 M&S


For example, Marks & Spencer’s recently introduced “antibacterial moisture” lining on select products. Granted, without health and hygiene trending, this would be a little weird. 

But what this shows is that M&S is engaging with current trends and providing solutions to help their customers overcome some of their COVID-19 concerns - without hopping on the typical face-mask and hand sanitizer trend. 

M&S takes this idea to their back to school segment, with their “freshfeet” technology designed for kids trainers.


  retail recovery tips marketing campaigns 2020 freshfeet


This puts M&S in a unique position of capitalizing on the emerging health and hygiene trend for their back to school segment. 

Similarly, Grays school released a home school product line;

back to school marketing 2020 grays

Providing products that cater to at-home education is a good idea. This is a trend that will stay, as schools adopt staggered learning and hybrid models. 

The bottom line?

  • Engage with the COVID-19 climate in your communication and product-offering.
  • Provide products that relieve a pain point, or cater to new, emerging trends. 

Doing both these things will help you stay relevant when parents, teachers, and students are looking for a brand to carry out their back to school 2020 shopping. 

“Entertainment during the day will be your main driver of sales, especially if kids are home-schooling. Things like Google game apps, iPads, TV, Netflix, and Nintendo have seen a spike in usage.” - Rodger Buyvoets, CEO at Crobox  


Retail Recovery Tip #4: Test your new products on your loyal customer base

retail recovery tips marketing campaigns 2020 test products


But there’s a caveat: if you do want to extend your product category, you should first test to see if this works with your active shoppers. 

Selfridges, for example, recently partnered with Kidswear Collective to sell second-hand designer clothing and accessories. Not only is this a good way to provide discounts and be sustainable, but Selfridges is testing these products first in their pop-up store. 

A pop-up can also regulate foot traffic and keep social distancing measures in check. Plus, it’s a good way to provide the brick-and-mortar experience to shoppers who miss it, without having to fully invest in reopening. 

You can then tailor your email marketing campaigns to boost the recognition of your pop-up store. 

retail recovery marketing campaigns


This kind of marketing campaign will appeal to the shopping habits of the new consumer. 


Retail Recovery Tip #5: Refocus your product-marketing campaigns on what your brand stands for


retail recovery tips marketing campaigns 2020 farfetch


2020 has also marked the rise of social awareness. And brands that don't participate in the conversation, or fail to take a stance, will be last-of-mind in the consumer's eyes. 

This means refocusing your brand on what you stand for, and showing it through your marketing in delightful ways (CSR, values, tone-of-voice). 


retail recovery


Take Chanel's 2020 Mother's Day campaign, where they got kids to draw the perfume bottles. 

In an age of social distancing and long-distance relationships, this shows how even a luxury brand can break down their high-fashion barriers to appeal to this new consumer. 

Farfetch, for example, invested in communication that would underline their core values. According to their Chief Customer Officer, Stephanie Pair, 

"Fashion is the product, but it also takes the give the product meaning. The key points are storytelling, meaning, and purpose."


More people are shopping online/digitally than ever before 


With over 14,500 stores closed eCommerce is seeing growth; from January to March 2020 eCommerce traffic rose by 6% (actually, there’s been a 6-13% increase in eCommerce penetration compared to pre-pandemic times). 

marketing campaigns 2020 retail recovery tips


More than this, 24% of consumers say they don’t feel comfortable shopping in a mall. This means that shopping online doesn’t only represent a comfortable alternative, but an emotional necessity. 

More non-digital-first customers are coming online, not only to buy products, but to browse, search, and get information. The online experience will have to replace the mall experience, and the only way to cater to this is by investing in eCommerce optimization, personalization, social media, and digital tools.

Experiential retail has taken off during the pandemic. 

This means (now more than ever) you should:

  • Track which platforms your consumers are engaging with
  • Carry out social listening
  • Optimize your customer segments with real-time data
  • Track behavioral data on-site and optimize continuously 

All this to become the customer-centric brand that provides the right products and information at the right time.  

So where do you start? 


Retail Recovery Tip #6: Build your online content for 2020 relevancy 


As more people are shopping online in 2020, one of the things you should be looking to do is to emulate that in-store experience. For example,

1. In-store shopping assistant? Try a shopping wizard online, or optimize your search and filter options.


marketing campaigns 2020 retail recovery tips asicsASICS shopping wizard to recreate their guided in-store experience online


2. Changing rooms in-store? Try product videos or pinch and zoom buttons so that your customers can see every angle of the product. Offer free returns so that your shoppers can try on a product without having to pay if it doesn't fit. 


marketing campaigns 2020 retail recovery tips ikea hardgraftHardgraft: product images to show the bag from every angle

3. In-store product-placement your researchers have said drives behavior? Easy - optimize your digital merchandising by testing your product assortment and product categories. 

And to really optimize your webshop, it comes down to one aspect of retail recovery in particular: Building relevant content.

Take IKEA's approach:

marketing campaigns 2020 retail recovery tips ikea

They cater to the 2020 consumer by providing product-tips on how to build the best home office. 

The more content you have on your website like articles, blogs, interviews, newsletters, ebooks, etc., that respond to the current climate, the more engaged your online shoppers will be. 


Retail Recovery Tip #7: Optimize your social media campaigns 


Every country has a different reopening strategy. Making marketing campaigns so market-specific it's hard to suggest the perfect social media strategy that will work for every brand. 

In the U.S, 86% of students who use Snapchat plan to buy school supplies despite COVID-19 uncertainty. This is important for both your back to school and Black Friday campaigns.

Snapchat, for example, provides many opportunities for back to school marketing like geofilters, stories, polls, and influencer marketing. 

back to school marketing 2020 snapchat

On the other hand, in the UK, France, and Germany, TikTok usage has increased at least 50% since the start of the pandemic. 



Macy’s All Brand New back to school commercial, 2019


In 2019, Macy’s used a TikTok challenge to promote their back to school lines and products. Gen Z is the generation most hit by schools closing. It’s also the target audience who are using TikTok to emotionally navigate the pandemic. 

If you can be the brand that capitalizes on this platform for those relevant markets, you’ll come across as engaging and relevant, especially to your Gen Z segment. 


“Once COVID-19 disappears, schools will still operate on this hybrid learning model of school and home. This is a trend that is here to stay, and retail should already look in order to be relevant with products and campaigns when that time comes.” - Rodger Buyvoets, CEO at Crobox


back to school marketing

Nudie Jeans COVID-19 awareness email. 

While social media is an important channel to keep alive, email has also seen a surge in traffic during the pandemic. Again, this retail recovery tip will differ per country, market, segment, and customer so use GA, Google Trends, and Google Alerts to keep your finger on the pulse! 

The main takeaway?

Your post-pandemic campaigns will see success in different channels than what you’re used to.  It’s an "unprecedented time", which means certain channels will deliver and others will not.


marketing campaigns 2020 retail recovery tips

Nike's running app saw a spike in downloads during lockdown


Be prepared for this by setting aside an experimental budget to test what works and what doesn’t before rolling out. 

Pandemic or not, these tips are key to driving retail growth: 

  • Testing, testing, testing
  • Being flexible to change
  • Adopting a digital-first mindset 


Retail Recovery Tip #8: Invest in your eCommerce platform 


Which brings us to our next retail recovery tip. In June 2020 in the UK, 20% of consumers completed between 76% to 100% of their purchases online. 

These new buying behaviors will continue to evolve. Phygital retail, experiential retail, AI, and VR - all of these trends are showing how closely interlinked eCommerce and brick-and-mortar will become in the future!

product centric vs customer centric converse 1

Converse let you customize their shoes, a function that many retailers are also using on their webshops to optimize the CX. 

Investing in your eCommerce platform means paving the way for a brick-and-mortar-like experience, and cross-promoting your products in both these areas. 


marketing campaigns 2020 retail recovery tipsSephora's virtual makeup try-on, to emulate the in-store experience


Your on-site platform for any of your marketing campaigns should also target geographically.

Make sure you enable automatic item updates with Google so that your product data is up to date when it comes to price and availability per location.


marketing campaigns 2020 retail recovery nike

Nike extended return deadlines to 60 days in the wake of COVID-19. 

Furthermore, I recommend a couple of quick wins on-site that will appeal to your 2020 shoppers, like:

  • Extending return deadlines (see: Nike)
  • Including detailed, fluent product descriptions (leverage images, videos, VR, and anything that helps provide a physical store experience to people who have to stay home, or hesitant to shop in brick-and-mortar) 
  • Making your site mobile-friendly 
  • Providing COVID-19 instructions on-site (see Jansport, below)

marketing campaigns 2020 retail recovery jansport




Your 2021 marketing campaigns will look a whole lot different than last year. But your retail recovery has already begun. 

As long as you understand that:

  • The post-lockdown consumer is fickle in their spending habits, but ready to invest in the right products 
  • Product-demand has shifted from traditional  clothing and accessories 
  • Your consumers are mostly shopping online and on social media 

With these trends and tips in mind, you can start preparing your retail recovery, not just for the coming back to school season, Black Friday, or winter holidays, but for all your marketing campaigns in 2020 and beyond. 


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