The Most Sold Items Online for 2020 – How to Match Their Marketing Tactics


2020 was a crazy year in many respects. Between the pandemic, an economic recession, and a chaotic election cycle, 2020 is a year that most individuals and businesses would prefer to forget. Many companies saw their sales decline in 2020, hampered in large part by a tough economy due to COVID-19 job losses. However, as is always the case, some businesses thrived during these uncertain times.


Most of the time, businesses that saw strong sales were the ones that could market effectively. They understand their sales funnel well and have the right content to reach customers at each stage.


If you're looking for inspiration for your business, here are the four most sold items online for 2020 and what each one does for marketing. You'll probably be amazed at how easy it is to boost sales for your products.


Cleaning Products

As you might guess, COVID-related products were front-and-center for the most sold items online in 2020. During the first week of March, when people were first learning about the virus, aerosol disinfectants' sales surged by nearly 400% alone. Toilet paper (remember the shortages?) rose by 60%, paper towels by 40%, and multipurpose cleaners by 148%.


When COVID hit, every single business wanted a way to disinfect their store. Households wanted a way to disinfect packages, hands, and anything else that could bring the virus into their home. Many people turned to Amazon and other online stores to avoid getting the virus. Sellers knew this and started price gouging on the platform.


Shady business practices aside, what were the marketing tactics companies used to get their hot in-demand products into people's hands? The answer is simple. They tried to answer the question that everyone had as best as possible: would that company's product kill the COVID-19 virus?


Many companies turned to video to accomplish this. Lysol, for example, did a video on "how and where to use Lysol." At that point, nobody had verified that Lysol did kill COVID (it does, but the EPA approved that two months later), but what Lysol could, legally, say is that it kills "99.9% of bacteria and viruses."


There's no mention of COVID in the ad. However, it demonstrates how to maximize your chances of Lysol killing the virus. It's a subtle message of "hey, you might want to consider getting our product, and, once you do, here's how to use it correctly."


Chlorox did something similar. It boosted its ad spending by $50 million in the second half of 2020. Even though Chlorox sees higher-than-normal demand across all channels, they still increased ad spending. When many companies cut back on their ad spend due to either a lower sales volume or an in-demand product, Chlorox did just the opposite and boosted their ad spend. Executives want to ensure that people try their products during the pandemic. In the past, people may have purchased another cleanser brand, but well-placed ads might convince buyers to try Chlorox now - especially considering that they want a brand that they can trust to fight viruses. Indeed, 2020 was the time for companies to gain new customers, and Chlorox didn't skip on that opportunity!


The lesson for internet marketers is this: even if you have a sold-out, slam-dunk product, keep marketing it. Create videos, posts, and other resources showing how good your product is and why people should buy it. If you have a hit product, invest more marketing dollars in promoting it even further!


Home Fitness Equipment

Some of the first casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic were gyms. Unfortunately, it was too easy to spread the virus while working out, so most governors across the country shuttered gyms.


Of course, that didn't stop people from wanting to work out. But there was another problem - people couldn't go outside to run, walk, bicycle, or jog. During the initial few weeks of COVID, many people preferred to stay indoors as much as possible. To get exercise, people had to build indoor gyms. Additionally, most of them needed to make those gyms with the equipment they could buy online.


Enter the Peloton. This bike has seen an explosive 218% sales growth year-over-year, and the company only sells it online and in custom showrooms (which were closed in many areas throughout the year).


Some of that 218% growth is attributable to the pandemic alone, with people searching for ways to exercise indoors during COVID. Some of that is attributable to Peloton's marketing strategy early on in the pandemic.


Let's first go back in time to the end of 2019. Peloton released an ad - you know the one - with a husband who gifted his wife the bike. She went on a fictional journey, documenting her weight loss in a less than ideal way. Critics called the ad sexist, a horror movie, and dystopian. There were countless memes and jokes made online. Even celebrities like Hugh Jackman and David Beckham weighed in. Ryan Reynolds hired the woman who starred in the ad for an Aviation Gin commercial that mocked the Peloton ad.


The company lost $1.5 billion in market value (15% of its value) because of this ad alone.


Suffice it to say, investors in Peloton were not expecting 2020 to be a year where they would be laughing all the way to the bank.


Peloton learned from their mistake, however. When COVID-19 hit, they didn't release a cringeworthy ad. Instead, they offered a community of exercise enthusiasts to a public anxious about where they would exercise in the future.


On March 16, 2020, Peloton updated their app with a 90-day free trial. This change represented a pivot away from previous ad campaigns. These campaigns focused on studio visits and traditional 30-day home trials.


For the first time, someone could explore Peloton content (and see what the fascination was with this bike) without needing to spend $2,500 (or have a 30-day trial, which could lead to paying $2,500). The app included all sorts of fitness classes, including cycling and running. But it also had education for things that people could do indoors, like yoga, meditation, stretching, and cardio training. The brand did a small Facebook post on March 16, as well, highlighting a "supportive community and a way to clear your mind."


The post took off. Peloton saw 5x the usual number of app downloads and 2x the number over the holidays. People looked for quality exercise content, and Peloton delivered a way for people to get it for free for 90-days.


Of course, while they were in the app, people could watch these training videos and explore more about what Peloton had to offer. It became a phenomenal sales platform for a public that had no other outlets to exercise!


Bread Machines and Other Cooking Appliances

Amazon reported a surge in bread machine sales, thanks to a public who wanted to make things at home instead of going out to the store. What better way to spend some time indoors than enjoying freshly-baked bread from a bread machine? These machines are selling so well that Amazon has been unable to keep their most popular model in stock!


Appliance makers noticed this and began targeting their advertising to buyers who stayed at home more and wanted something that would last. This move makes sense considering the financial worries that millions of Americans are facing. For example, Whirlpool had an ad entitled "Appliances You Can Trust: Leaving the House Less." Much like with the Peloton, this ad didn't drive people to buy a product. Instead, it merely reminded customers that Whirlpool makes reliable refrigerators - something that cost-conscious consumers will appreciate! The ad's overall sentiment was positive, and it was an excellent example of a well-done product video.


Similarly, Whirlpool created blog posts and other content covering many of the latest trends in 2020. Specifically, they oriented their content to discuss the rise of vacation homes and what functionalities kitchens need to create restaurant-quality meals at home. Of course, the idea behind this is to show how Whirlpool products produce fantastic food, which is a big deal considering that people will likely be staying more indoors over the next few months.

It's excellent marketing that doesn't necessarily sell any particular product but, instead, this kind of marketing nudges people in the right direction. It's helpful, but at the same time, customers appreciate these blog posts and check out the company's products.


Gaming Consoles

The last most sold item online for 2020 were gaming consoles. Between the Switch selling over 20 million units in 2020 to the launch of the Xbox Series X/S and Playstation 5, gaming was in high demand, thanks to the pandemic shuttering people indoors. Gaming was so in-demand that at the start of the pandemic, Xbox Live suffered two outages.


Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony launched campaigns promoting their platform as the best place to game. At the beginning of the pandemic, Nintendo used video heavily. It accounted for 77% of TV impressions for top gaming brands. The commercials primarily featured the Nintendo Switch Lite, showing its portability and ability to play games anywhere. Later, without mentioning COVID explicitly, these commercials alluded to the Switch's power to help with being at home. For example, one of Nintendo's pre-Thanksgiving ads showed Brie Lawson working out at home using the Switch and playing a Switch game with a friend while video chatting online.


Under normal circumstances, the Series X launch and the PS5 launch would see lineups around the block with people waiting in line. However, these are very different times, and selling consoles online became the norm. Many ads showed how the best way to buy a console this season was to buy one online. Ads showed that Black Friday would be online this year, not in-person. Microsoft even launched a new online Xbox Store aimed at encouraging more digital purchases instead of in-store ones. This visual facelift made it even easier to sell games over the internet, and it also generated some free publicity and buzz!


The Best Marketing Tactics Are Often the Most Straightforward


COVID-19 created a very different 2020 than anyone could have predicted at the beginning of the year. In terms of marketing, 2020 showed the power of video to create compelling, engaging ads that reached audiences who were looking for some sense of normalcy. 2020 showed how powerful, engaging product videos were some of the best at selling to a homebound audience. It also showed how other straightforward marketing tactics, like Peloton's free trial promotion, could work wonders for turning prospects into conversions.


However, while videos are some of the best ways to market online, the even bigger takeaway is perhaps the power of video to showcase scenarios. When things began to shut down earlier in the year, people scrambled to buy cleaning supplies, exercise equipment, food appliances, and entertainment. They wanted everything they could get that would mean they wouldn't have to go outside.


Video is excellent at showcasing subtly why a product is valuable in a specific scenario. For example, the Nintendo ad makes no mention of COVID, but showcasing someone playing, working out, and video chatting in their home is precisely the experience that most people are having right now. Those subtle cues are what make people think, "Hey, this would be perfect for keeping fit while the gyms are closed!"


Lastly, we'll also see a continuing trend where online sales continue to be preferable instead of going to the store. Future articles will probably not say things like "most sold items online," but instead merely "most sold items." This pandemic may tip the scales to where e-commerce is the default purchasing option, and going to a store is secondary. It's not hard to imagine a world where the only reason to go to a store is to buy something you found online. Getting the right content to connect with online shoppers is vital in 2021 and beyond.


As 2021 unfolds, the best marketing tactics will likely continue to be straightforward, powerful explanations for why products are the best for these unique circumstances. And, as was the case with 2020, videos will likely continue to be the best way to promote your products!

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