So here we are, four weeks into an immensely intense lockdown that none of us in this lifetime have experienced. I was planning to write a piece on “How GraysOnline launched two native apps in four months”, but this doesn’t seem overly relevant right about now. I’ll save that content for when this is over. Instead, I will speak of ecommerce and what it means for ecommerce marketplaces like GraysOnline.

Best to wind back to four weeks ago.

It has just been announced that the restrictions were coming and we were all feeling nervous: at Grays, we have 3million customers! And we were nervous. We are fortunate because we are an online ecommerce marketplace, and we are particularly lucky because our sweet spot is helping businesses clear stock when they need cash. Nevertheless, we didn’t know what was coming, and we had to prepare for the worst. We had to prepare for shut-down, and we needed a plan.

We need to be true to our vision of being a marketplace where people from all over the world can source, sell, and buy assets, but in times like these, we are a start-up.

Everywhere we looked, businesses were re-inventing, breweries were making hand wash, event companies making toilet paper, traditional auction houses were trying to transition online.

“Whilst this is a difficult time, we will continue to do what we have always done back in 1922: help vendors clear stock and help customers get bargains albeit it’s a different world now”

20 years of being online (longer than Facebook), let me tell you, it’s quite hard to put your Start-Up hat on. We have been there and done that when it comes to online auctions, but we had to try, see if the hat fits. All well-established businesses right now are a start-up because the market has demonstrably changed. This was a time for us to question every decision we have made in the last 24 months and reinvent ourselves. So we did. Here are some things that we did.

1. We questioned our “only invest in digital” attitude: Previously, we saw such good bang for buck online, and we were able to attribute it so easily to a customer that this was our preference. With Corona, we saw the market changing, and people were relying on print and news media more, so we jumped on this. We did it in a way that we were able to measure a Cost Per Acquisition. The successes we have seen from some offline channels are comparable to digital channels.

2. We expanded our categories: We have a roadmap of categories at Grays, and now was a better time than ever to fast track this. We saw a gap in the market, for Boats and Caravans (for when this is over), and we jumped on this. We pushed through work in our backlog, and got it prioritized.

3. We spent more time with vendors: At Grays, our loyal vendors are the backbone of the business so we spend a lot of time showing them our statistics and customer reach so that the demand didn’t stop. We needed them to know that we can pull the traffic they need to get the highest price for their asset.

4. Did someone say voucher?: We put universal vouchers on our website, on social display and emails. Even if people were already going to purchase, we wanted them to feel a “surprise and delight” when shopping with us. We wanted it to go viral, and it did.

5. We used channels we have never used before: We pushed through channels we have dabbled in but are not part of our core. SMS, Push, Direct Mail, QR codes to name a few. This has been a great time to catch people in different channels they don’t typically communicate with Grays with. There is a research piece called “The Multi-Channel reality” which talks about people not having a channel preference, but in fact, floating between communication channels. Now was the perfect time to accelerate this.

6. We automated our supplier (vendor) acquisition. No one knew if all Australian businesses were going to be shut down, and if an eCommerce marketplace like Grays can’t sell, what do we do? We get vendors! We started automating some of our vendor onboarding processes to build our supply database when demand was low, and lucky for us demand has never been higher!

Grays has been online since 2000, with our first livestock auction in 1922, so telling a business with our experience while the market has changed and you are a start-up is incredibly hard. I am so proud of the team at Grays and their willingness to adapt and hustle, and now this has gone from a short term disruption to a new way of operating.

I am proud to say our traffic is up by almost 40 percent and our registrations are up by 150 percent. Whilst this is a difficult time, we will continue to do what we have always done back in 1922: help vendors clear stock and help customers get bargains albeit it’s a different world now.