The following is an excerpt from a new whitepaper from FullStory and leading experimentation consultancy, Conversion.com. Get the full whitepaper here.

It’s the middle of 2020 and the business world is trying to understand the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic—and plan ahead.

Earlier this year, government-mandated restrictions, worldwide lockdowns, and a sweeping crisis mentality triggered dramatic shifts in shopper behaviour that no one could’ve predicted. Many companies were wholly unprepared, while others were able to pivot quickly and deliver unexpected value to their customers.

Because of the nature of this crisis, uncertainty is likely to be the status quo for the foreseeable future. The ability to shift seamlessly and continually deliver what customers want will be critical as businesses work to thrive in the new normal. This is where experimentation-driven organizations will continue to lead the way.

These organizations are focused on iteration. On testing and learning in a cycle of continuous improvement. This allows them to stay close to their customers and encourages organizational humility and flexibility: If an experience isn’t resonating with customers, the response is to test and validate a new evidence-based idea and change that experience. Quickly.

Digital experimentation mechanizes innovation and business growth by adhering to agile product development best practices, drawing customer insights from data, and measuring success by the ability to affect and understand customer behavior.” — "International trends in digital experimentation best practice" via GO Group Digital

Effective experimentation, however, requires an intentional strategy. Running a few ad hoc A/B tests will not get you the results you’re looking for. And—just as iteration is crucial when it comes to your digital experience—iteration is also crucial when it comes to your experimentation strategy.

Whether you are just getting started with experimentation or are a sophisticated testing organization, you should stop and evaluate your approach to testing in the midst of this crisis moment. Ask...

  • Do we understand the shifts that have occurred in shopper behaviour to this point?
  • Do we have a way to monitor future shifts in shopper behaviour?
  • Are our experimentation efforts focused on the right areas for this moment?
  • Are our teams able to share insights efficiently and stay aligned when urgency is key?
  • Are we able to quickly ship new experiences or are internal processes sluggish?

In this whitepaper, we team up with our partners at leading experimentation consultancy, Conversion.com, to explore five ways your experimentation strategy should change right now.

But first: how has shopper behaviour changed to this point?

You know that “digital transformation” buzzword everyone’s been talking about? Well, over the past few months “digital transformation” has gone from an aspirational ideal for many companies to a necessary reality for pretty much everyone.

The COVID-19 outbreak has rapidly accelerated ecommerce adoption ... triggering an amount of growth comparable to that of the past 10 years in just 10 weeks. Many consumers have shifted to shopping online, and if they continue to do so at the same level once the pandemic has passed, it could translate into $158 billion in ecommerce sales that would otherwise have been made in brick-and-mortar shops.” — “The great reopening: Tracking digital’s quantum leap” via PYMNTS.com

People are taking to their screens and keyboards to do both non-essential and essential shopping, rather than venturing to physical locations. They are grocery shopping online, they are purchasing healthcare and hygiene products online, they are ordering dinner to go online, they are buying clothes and furniture online.

This shift is not just impacting retail. According to the same report, 42% of consumers are using digital channels to engage in activities more often than they did before the pandemic. People are going digital to:

  • Do their jobs and collaborate with their teammates
  • Stay on top of their fitness routines
  • Consume media
  • Learn and gain new skills
  • And much more...

And the majority of those who have brought their pre-pandemic routines online plan to keep them there once the crisis has ended, PYMNTS.com reports.

Understanding the ‘why’ behind this shift and future shifts in shopper behaviour

It’s important to note that the behaviours detailed above are driven by external circumstances—e.g. people can’t leave their homes, stores aren’t open—but also by shoppers’ emotional states and contexts.

Understanding the behavioural science behind why your shoppers do what they do will help you stay proactive when it comes to anticipating changes in behaviour; emotion is a key determinant in how your shoppers’ current behaviours will continue to evolve.

For example, in a crisis moment, people are less rational and cognitive biases are often amplified.

"Stress triggers our survival instinct. This activates a fear response, which is governed by the limbic system. The limbic system is powerful and when we’re really stressed out, it can shut off our more rational cerebral cortex entirely. In times of crisis, our rational brains get hijacked and we slide down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. …

In a fear state, we are more reactive, more emotional, and more focused on trying to reclaim control over the future. Because our logical brains have taken a backseat, we need extra guidance even in simple situations. We need more reassurance that our choices will benefit us, that we won’t regret them. And we need more guarantees that if we do make a choice, we can unmake it in the future." (Excerpt from “Pivoting in Crisis: How to Deliver Value to Your Customers Right Now and Drive Long-Term Loyalty” via the FullStory blog)

Experimentation thought leader, Chris Goward, wrote recently that in a crisis moment, people are also more willing to change their habits. “One of the most difficult things to do in a business is to change buyers’ habits. It’s suddenly become much, much easier,” he writes. “What we know now is that after a major life change event, people are more likely to make changes to their habits. This is a newly discovered cognitive bias called the Habit Discontinuity Hypothesis.”

Goward explains, “What that means for [brands] is that everyone on the planet right now is more open to considering new information and behavior options than ever before. In the current emotional context, people are primed to hear your messages and consider whether they should change their previous habits and defaults.”

Businesses need to have a deep understanding of what motivates their shoppers to design and launch the most impactful experiments. Which leads right into our first recommendation for adjusting your experimentation strategy: Update your customer research.


Get the whitepaper for a full analysis and recommendations for the five actions you can take right now to adjust your experimentation strategy in response to the COVID-19 crisis. At a high-level, these actions are:

  1. Refresh your customer research now and at regular documented intervals in the future, using both quantitative and qualitative methods to make sure you are prioritising your customers’ most pressing needs.
  2. Track current product demand—and test ways to ensure what your customers want right now is readily available—and identify and validate emerging product opportunities.
  3. Dial up or dial down your experimentation program risk tolerance depending on how this crisis and its aftermath is impacting your sales.
  4. Make calculated investments where you can: Hire the best talent, acquire traffic, invest in technology to power your digitization.
  5. Benchmark your digital tech maturity, audit your existing toolset, evaluate alternatives and then consider negotiating better rates or changing to a provider that allows you to modernize.

Editor's note: The global crisis caused by COVID-19 is first and foremost a human crisis with human impact. Tune into your reliable government resources for updates, stay safe, #wearamask, and–if possible–support at-risk members of your community.