On Wednesday, March 25th, 2020, BVA hosted our first-ever digital conference, Virtual Commerce, a digital alternate (not a replacement) to ShopTalk, done entirely online and at no cost to participants.

The Why

Hosted by BVA and sponsored by leading partners, our goal was to bring the commerce industry together to talk about the COVID-19 crisis and what it means for customers, companies, employees, and more. 

Travel is banned, conferences are being canceled or postponed, brands are changing strategies, and the news is constantly bombarding us with scary updates about the virus and the economy. On a quest to make the best of the situation, BVA sought to bring life back to commerce for direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands and our partners through this fully digital gathering.

Our speakers and panelists addressed some of the issues that are most top-of-mind during the current crisis, including the impact coronavirus is having on DTC businesses and how brands can take action to withstand it.

The How

First, a special thank you to BVA’s sponsors for helping bring this event together in record-breaking time: Shopify Plus, Avalara, Contentful, Dynamic Yield, Findify, Gorgias, Justuno, KlarnaLoop Returns, Nosto, Omnisend, ReCharge, Yotpo, Yotta, and Zaius.

Based on the initial feedback (a.k.a. an inundated Slack inbox and flood of email responses) received by our Director of Marketing, we have to admit that this event was an enormous success. We cannot thank our partners and our team enough for making this event such a huge success.

The What

Yeah, let's get to the good stuff. As in: 7 sessions, 5 Panels, 28 commerce experts, 2,100 bright-minded participants.

We honed in on some of today's most relevant and pressing topics for anyone in the DTC space, including:

Welcome & Keynote: State of the Current Crisis with McKinsey & Company

Panel 1: How is Coronavirus Impacting the Back-End of DTC Businesses?

Panel 2: Marketing in Times of Crisis

Panel 3: How to Encourage Successful Virtual Collaboration

Panel 4: Headless Commerce... Is it Right for Your Business?

Panel 5: The Impact of Raising Money in Today’s Environment

Closing Remarks

Here’s a look at some of the session highlights:

Welcome & Keynote: State of the Current Crisis

We heard a Welcome & Keynote from Michael Cassidy, CEO of BVA, and McKinsey & Company (one of the largest and most prevalent global management consulting firms).

What is the state of the economy in this current crisis?

COVID-19 is moving quickly and progressing in different countries at different speeds. Along with inconsistent acceleration rates, different regions have vastly different responses, and this can have varying impacts on national economies.

Because of the variation in government reactions, there is uncertainty about how soon markets will recover. In the U.S., it is especially hard to predict because the response is on a state-by-state basis.

One thing is for certain: this crisis will have economic impacts through the remainder of the year, with longer-lasting impacts in future years still unknown.

What strategies should retailers use during this economic crisis?

Some retailers and businesses may be tempted to resort to a broadly promotional approach, and slash prices across the board to encourage sales. However, our experts argued that this may not be the best plan for the long-term.

McKinsey & Company expressed that more selective and nuanced promotional pricing strategies will ultimately fare better in the long run, because they will not be as sticky to get out of later down the line. When the economy starts to return to normal, those who chose to be more surgical about their pricing strategy will be set up to continue to scale and grow.

Overall Takeaway: Organizations need to get on top of planning and resiliency now in order to be prepared; the COVID-19 outbreak is likely going to have a long-term impact on business.

Panel 1: How is Coronavirus Impacting the Back-End of DTC Businesses?

Our first brand panel featured speakers from Draper James, Black Rifle Coffee Co, Native, and Mars Edge, moderated by BVA’s VP of Strategy, Doug Hollinger.

How should retailers be planning during COVID-19?

Our panelists gave some fresh insight into their brand mindsets as they tackle the challenges presented during the pandemic. Their first recommendation: Ask yourself how you (as a brand) can be a bright spot in your customers’ days.

They noted it’s important to adjust your product strategy to be relevant to the customer’s current situation. For example, as a fashion retailer- don’t advertise dresses for church on Easter when that will not be an option for most of your customers.

How should merchants be prioritizing supply chain challenges during COVID-19?

Our panelists suggested triaging outreach to supply vendors by the ones that are most likely to fail. Find your brand’s weak points. For example, is there a potential border closure that will limit your manufacturer’s ability to ship to you? Do your raw materials come from a country that is being heavily impacted by the virus?

Find the weak points (if you haven’t already) and prioritize problem-solving those areas first.

Another consideration our panelists noted was that if you have the cash to order extra materials now, this might be a good call. If your best seller requires materials from a heavily impacted country, your brand may want to consider stocking up now before you encounter challenges.

Note that this is dependent on your brand's industry and how much your sales have been impacted because you also don't want to be sitting on inventory that is going out of style. 

A couple of our panelists were also advocates of PACE planning: having Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency plans. That means four plans for how your business can continue to operate if worst comes to worst.

What’s the most important thing DTC brands should be focused on right now?

From a sales perspective, our merchants recommended focusing on your core products and core customers. That means prioritizing the supply chain of your best sellers, and also focusing on retaining your already loyal customers. If your business has a subscription model, focus on meeting the needs of current subscribers.

On the business side, our panelists also said it’s important to take care of your teams right now. If your teams are working from home, make sure they have what they need in order to be successful in the new working environment.

Check out the recording of this panel session!

Panel 2: Marketing in Times of Crisis

Our second panel featured speakers from Chubbies, Ancient Nutrition, Haus, and JLab Audio, moderated by Yotpo.

How should marketers approach creating content during this time?

Our brand panelists suggested approaching marketing content in this time of crisis with one key question: What are you (as a human) worried about? Ask yourself, what is the messaging the world needs right now?

You can leverage your personal experience and perspective to reach your audience on a more "real level" because right now, that’s what consumers not only want but need to see.

They also noted that it’s important to balance giving your audience reassurance and comfort with helpful content or value offerings.

Going off that, don't forget to ensure that you’re marketing responsibly during these sensitive times. Don’t capitalize on the current state, but rather meet customers where they are right now.

What does the online audience look like right now?

As one of our speakers noted, there is potential to view everyone as a similar persona right now from a digital marketing perspective. Many people are either working from home or staying home, while also feeling anxious and stressed. This is something that all marketers should be taking into account.

As they are more remote than usual, people are looking for online content. Brands should put out a similar amount of content as normal but focus on making it the most relevant and useful as possible for their audience.

Some creative ideas for marketing in times of crisis:

As everyone on our panel (as well as the BVA Agency team) fully endorses, virtual happy hours are an excellent way to engage your audience.

For example, Chubbies shared that they hosted a live online trivia session with their audience. Finding fun and lighthearted ways to connect with your audience, while also providing them with a way to cope with being stuck inside 24/7, can be a great way to engage with them during these new times.

How much should you be spending on ads during the pandemic?

All of our panelists were advocates for closely monitoring spending and paid media ROI’s during this time period. Depending on your product and offering, spending on performance marketing may or may not be beneficial during a crisis like this.

They also encouraged brands to look at how they can do more with organic social and/or leverage current platforms. Rather than spending money on new experimental advertising, it may be better to work with the organic social media presence you currently have.

Check out the recording of this panel session!

Panel 3: How to Encourage Successful Virtual Collaboration

Our third panel was moderated by Author, Hassan Osman, and featured speakers from BVA, Girlfriend Collective, Ampere, and Nosto.

What are the key challenges employees face working remotely?

Our panelists discussed two key challenges that face remote workers:

Firstly, it can be easier to become siloed in your work. Without the break of a commute, employees tend to get sucked into the vortex of working without taking a break and without any opportunity for socialization.

Next, and perhaps the most obvious, is that it can be harder to collaborate without in-person interaction. It can be difficult to stay up-to-date on projects when you can’t quickly tap your co-worker on the shoulder or chat by the coffee machine.

How can companies face virtual collaboration challenges?

Our panelists emphasized the need to over-communicate during times of virtual collaboration. This means being repetitive and more explicit, especially in written correspondence.

Another pro-tip they provided: leverage gifs, images, and emojis in your emails and slack messages. When there is a lack of real face-time, there can be a lot of false assumptions about the tone behind messaging. By incorporating things like emojis to express emotion in messages, it can make collaborating feel a bit easier and allow people to be more authentic and real.

It’s also very important to assume good intentions during this time. It’s easy for hard work to be overlooked when everyone is working under physical separation, so it’s important to see the best in others and assume they’re trying their hardest during this difficult time.

How to be a leader during a time of crisis:

Our panelists shared that when it comes to leading your team, video calling is always important. Again, this is another way to prevent assumptions about tone and intentions.

It’s also critical to highlight ownership of each individual’s role in projects. As a leader, it can be good to highlight the value of each individual’s contribution.

As always, it is essential to lead by example. Showing your own self-discipline during remote work, in addition to being accessible, is a great way to inspire your employees and help encourage them to stay motivated.

Creative ideas to keep team spirits high:

Our panel shared some fun ideas on how to stay connected and keep your team positive during virtual collaboration. Some recommended sharing Spotify playlists that you may have played when working together in the office, while others suggested virtual lunches and coffee dates over video chat as a way to ensure people are not becoming too siloed in their work at home.

Check out the recording of this panel session!

Panel 4: Headless Commerce...Is it Right for Your Business?

Our panelists during this session included BVA, Shopify, and Contentful, moderated by Modern Retail.

What is headless commerce?

In short, headless commerce is when the front-end and the back-end of a commerce platform are decoupled. This separates the content and the business logic layer.

Why is headless so popular now?

As our panelists explained, it’s a buzz word right now, but not a new idea- it’s actually been around for years.

With the dynamic demands of our current digital ecosystem, merchants need to deliver content and data through many different channels (i.e. omnichannel). Headless commerce addresses these growing needs.

What are the challenges with headless?

Headless, if not implemented properly, can cause issues with speed and latency.

When it comes to the implementation, it takes a highly experienced team to implement a headless CMS. It requires a lot of time and resources, including custom integrations, maintaining multiple software installations, and more.

Our panelists noted that some brands want to jump on the headless bandwagon as it becomes a buzzier trend, but that they may be able to solve their current issues without headless. It’s important for brands to consider all their options because diving into headless could be beneficial, but also means a lot of investment in time and resources.

When do agencies recommend headless to merchants?

Our panelists said there are a few key instances when they recommend headless to merchants.

First, if a brand is operating under an omnichannel-heavy strategy, then headless may be the best option because it will allow you to use consistent content across all channels. Headless can help brands better optimize content everywhere that your audience is experiencing it- from Google’s Alexa all the way to your mobile website.

If your development and marketing agencies are fairly siloed, the headless approach can also help to create a better workflow.

As our panelists pointed out, going headless in eCommerce is like building a house. If you have the experience and the team to do it, you can create a beautiful custom house. If not- it can be very challenging.

Misconceptions associated with headless:

Common misconceptions about implementing a headless CMS include "SEO not working properly." However, our experts said that the truth is, if you render the front-end properly, this won’t be an issue and Google will still crawl your pages normally.

Another common misconception our panelists have heard is the “all or nothing” mentality that makes headless seem too daunting to be worth implementing. However, with an experienced agency, you can take a phased approach and receive guidance to transition seamlessly.

Check out the recording of this panel session!

Panel 5: The Impact of Raising Money in Today’s Environment

This session’s panelists included: Rosecliff Ventures, Shopify Plus, Encore Consumer Capital, The Sage Group LLC, and was moderated by Modern Retail.

What is the investor outlook on the COVID-19 situation?

Our investors gave an optimistic look at the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Their advice? Businesses should look at this as a pause for introspection and not a doomsday. This could be the time to focus on certain aspects of your business that you have been neglecting.

Investors see that most brands are heads down, but they also believe that there is always an opportunity to keep investing. The current crisis does not mean a full-stop from investors looking at new deals, but rather a little pause or slow down.

They also expressed that China is starting to see investor deal activity again already, and that the U.S. will follow suit once the worst of the virus blows over.

Overall, it is important to note that risk and opportunity always come hand-in-hand when economic turmoil like this arises.

What are some ways brands can improve cash flow right now?

Our experts said brands should ask themselves how they can be lowering operations expenses. Try looking at cutting back on technology subscriptions and other unnecessary services, or consider more inexpensive platforms or solutions. Additionally, ask how you can minimize supply chain issues.

Another tip was to be efficient with your brand’s time. Ask what products need to be the focus and don’t spend unnecessary time on experimental initiatives.

Finally, there needs to be a continuous re-evaluation of the situation in order to stay on top of decisions that need to be made.

How are early-stage companies being affected in their ability to fundraise? What actions can they take?

Our panelists advised that early-stage companies will definitely be affected, however, that doesn’t mean that there's no hope. It's a good time to focus on improving KPIs you will want to pitch to investors later.

When it comes to raising capital for early-stage companies, reaching out to people within your network is the best move in the current environment; cold pitches will receive more resistance right now.

Another important consideration for early-stage companies is the opportunity to get your products into the hands of as many consumers as possible if you’re in an industry that is facing more demand right now. This can include categories like food and beverage, health and wellness, and even casual clothing and apparel.

Closing Remarks

As our conference came to a close, our CEO, Michael Cassidy, wanted to re-iterate what’s most important for commerce right now: staying safe and making smart business decisions. There are actions all agencies and merchants can take to safeguard their business and create a positive working culture for their employees.

About BVA & Our Approach to COVID-19

BVA is a commerce agency that incubates and grows the direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands that people love. We know many brands are facing declining revenue and/or conversion rates, while others are trying to manage unexpected demand. During the current global crisis, our team is here and ready to help brands in any way that they need.

If you're looking for a fresh perspective or want to make sure your current approach is most effective, please reach out to us and get in touch. We're in this together.

Virtual Commerce Brand Discount Codes

Last but not least, we collected some promotional codes for you from some of our brand speakers. Sharing just in case you’re in the market for any of these products:

  • Haus: use code “VirtualCommercexHaus” for 15% off your order through Fri April 3rd  
  • JLab Audio: use code “BVA20" for 20% off your order
  • Chubbies Shorts: use code “BVA20” for 20% off your order
  • Black Rifle Coffee: matching purchases by donating coffee to medical centers and personnel fighting COVID-19 until April 3rd
  • Cocoavia (Mars): 20 to 30% off sitewide!
  • Native: use code "SOAP" for a free soap with any purchase over $12 

Stay safe and healthy, everyone!!!

Megan Holett Megan Holett is the Sales and Marketing Coordinator at BVA. Her role involves bridging the gap between sales processes and agency marketing through content creation and other initiatives.