Go with the Flow

Even before the war officially started, people began asking, “What effect will this have on e-business?” I mean, you can’t have consumer attention focused so intensely on one event and not expect it to affect buying behavior!

The fabled Martian Wars are just that – fabled. We green folk don’t do conflict. So, for some perspective on this question, I turned to Jim Novo former Vice President for Marketing and Sales at the Home Shopping Network. He got to closely monitor the market during the Gulf War.

And here’s what Jim had to say by way of reply.

“Since I was at Home Shopping Network during the last round of this war, I’m one of very few people who were actually running an interactive business during the last conflict. Sales got soft as people were distracted by the conflict and realized sometimes there are more important issues to pay attention to. But as soon as the outcome of the conflict became clear, sales bounced back.

“At HSN, sales dropped about 25% during this period, due to both fewer units shipped and a fall in average order total. This happened despite the fact TV viewing was up – and when you are selling on TV, increased viewership is usually a good thing! Looks like the same effect is present this time – overall web traffic is up, but traffic to individual retail sites is down.

“There are still things to pay attention to though, if you want to reduce this “war effect” on your store - and I’m not talking about “taking advantage” of the war to sell patriotic items. I’m talking about subtle shifts in buying behavior you may need to acknowledge within your current inventory.

“HSN always sold American Flags back then, starting years before the war. And we failed to predict how much demand would increase, promptly selling completely out of flags during the war. In this decade, I’m seeing clients who have camouflage-styled items – not usually a huge seller – finding demand rising for those products. When the war looks to be coming to a close, I believe demand for flag-styled items will increase. So you might take a look at how you can prepare for – not exploit – changes in demand the war will bring.”

As I consider this question from a marketing perspective, I’ve gotta say that, regardless of your own personal feelings, taking a neutral position is probably best. It’s almost impossible to determine exactly what might be offensive to whom – an action or statement you believe is sincere and caring can seem contrived and manipulative to someone else. You really don’t want to run the risk of being misunderstood or offending folks (perhaps permanently).

Now is not the time to try out bold new directions. Indeed, it’s a very good time to maintain what you are doing with confidence. Patriotism comes in many flavors. Be sensitive and aware, especially if you have a global audience. Do what you can to prepare, plan on subtle changes in the buying behaviors of your visitors. And stay the course. Remember, we’re all in this together.

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