Sarah Hofstetter on e-commerce trends and why she left agency life
As newly named president of e-commerce analytics firm Profitero, Sarah Hofstetter has a front-row look at the coronavirus-induced online buying boom—including which products are enjoying a huge boost from stay-at-home orders. There are the obvious ones—hand sanitizer, canned goods and toilet paper—but once panic pantry stocking began easing, Profitero began noticing a surge in searches for anything to help ease cabin fever.
“We saw that trend on trampoline searches jumping,” Hofstetter says, using an unintentional pun to describe one of the products now flying off the digital shelf. “Maybe manufacturers of trampolines weren't necessarily expecting a big chunk of their business to come from e-commerce, but given the new realities, that is changing.”
Hofstetter dissects other coronavirus online shopping trends on the latest episode of the “Ad Lib” podcast. She also talks about her career journey and why she took the Profitero job after previous stints at 360i and Comscore. And she shares insights on how the coronavirus lockdown has affected her personally. “I am learning that I am actually able to be calm. It’s really weird,” she says. “The lack of travel has actually been frankly good for me just from a mindfulness perspective.”
Hofstetter became one of the most recognizable names in the ad agency business during her 13-year stint at 360i, most recently as chairwoman and CEO. She left the agency in 2018 to become president of Comscore, joining her longtime professional colleague Bryan Wiener, who at the time was Comscore’s CEO. Wiener and Hofstetter left Comscore in March 2019 after less than a year, citing differences with the board. Wiener was named CEO at Profitero last month at the same time Hoffstetter joined the firm, whose services aim to help brands optimize their e-commerce sales, inventory and content strategies.
Hofstetter says she and Wiener gel because “there are certain things where he has special superpowers and I have special superpowers—and there are certain things where the other one of us is not nearly as capable, and we are honest with each other about that.”
“I can be very vulnerable and I think that really allows for a healthy working relationship when you can be vulnerable with your business partner, and just be able to say ‘I am having a problem, help me out’—it’s very hard to admit vulnerability on the job, especially the more senior you get.”
After she left Comscore, Hofstetter says she reflected on the things she loved about working for 360i. “It wasn’t agency life,” she says on the podcast. It had more to do with helping brands make the best use of emerging technologies. She took an interest in Profitero because “e-commerce has tremendous adjacencies to my prior experience,” she says.
“Consumer adoption of e-commerce has far exceeded marketer readiness, and unfortunately the pandemic has massively accelerated it—I mean, unfortunately because it was a pandemic,” Hofstetter says.
“We are at this point right now, where all of the sudden, like kindergarten kids on a soccer field, everybody is now paying attention to e-commerce ... because that is the biggest source of growth, given the major shifts in shipping behavior. So that ends up bringing a whole bunch of questions: How do you organize for it? How ready are you? How integrated is your e-commerce data with all the other data points that you are using to make decisions about your company?”
To illustrate e-commerce trends during the pandemic Profitero has published a pyramid-shaped “hierarchy of needs during COVID-19 times” as part of its “Quarantined Consumer” report. It shows how “consumer need states” have evolved during the pandemic, based on Amazon search terms—progressing from “panic pantry” shopping (canned goods) to “cabin fever” (board games) to “power nesting” (wall paint).
Trampoline searches began spiking in April, according to the report. Google, which this week unveiled its own service revealing popular product searches, also reports rising interest in trampolines.
Hofstetter says, “right now we are seeing a major trend in searches for backyard stuff—anything from inflatable pools to hammocks.” With people on lockdown, “you now have to create your own backyard oasis.”
Hofstetter’s personal oasis is the kitchen. “I love cooking ... so it’s not a new habit,” she says. But during the pandemic, “it’s like whatever ingredients I have in the house, I figure out what I can make with—like rainbow chard, chickpeas and chicken wings—because that is what we have right now and the next delivery ain’t coming for a while. That has actually been really fun.”