Covid-proof your business. Why the pandemic offers a rare opportunity for ecommerce
One of the unexpected positives of the COVID-19 pandemic has been how social media has seen its reputation rebooted. Long derided for reneging on its promise – disconnecting where it should be connecting, being anti-social where it should be social, dividing where it should be uniting – the best of the digital dream has re-emerged in 2020, stronger and deeper-rooted than ever before.
Today, all of us – from home-schooled children to pensioners – are au fait with Zoom, Teams, FaceTime and countless other video-conferencing technologies. We have set up WhatsApp groups to keep an eye on our elderly neighbours and book online slots for our weekly grocery orders. We never leave home without a facemask and a smartphone – one to protect us, the other to connect us.
The unique challenges that COVID-19 has brought with it have simultaneously presented new opportunities: the lack of cash transactions; the increase in remote and online services; the need for contactless and contact technology… and this has helped to fast-track a number of changes that the industry had been talking about and trialling for a while. But, rather than introducing these to the typical outlier / first adopter groups, we have seen take-up from all audience sectors as each of their specific needs are is met.
Shopping’s shift online and what it means
Take, for instance, the change from offline (or ‘bricks and mortar’) shopping to online. Due to social distancing measures, there has been a rapid shift in emphasis from the physical to the digital space. This might mean rejecting supermarket queues in favour of click-and-collect or home delivery; or doing our clothes shopping online, with an inevitable increase in returns as we can no longer try items on before we buy.
Such a change in shopping habits presents new challenges for retail structures. Even those businesses with a strong physical/digital (or ‘phygital’) mix in place could be wrong-footed by the change of balance in favour of click-and-collect. An omnichannel approach – where communication channels and their supporting services operate in a more joined-up way – can help to streamline processes and minimise inefficiencies.
Fulfilment is everything
Those brands who can fulfil an order efficiently – that is provide a smooth customer-facing website, accept payments seamlessly and guarantee product delivery swiftly and with the minimum of fuss – are naturally going to be favoured by customers as they shift to an online-first way of shopping. This means looking at your systems afresh from top to tail. What can you do better? Where are the hold-ups and sticking points in the customer experience? Could you work with different third parties (from supply to delivery) in order to improve those elements outside of your control?
The cashless society is here
Forget the theorising – now that we are all actively encouraged to make contactless payments, there is no excuse for a business to be unprepared when it comes to online, digital and other transactional services. The rise in open banking also makes it easier for third party apps to offer ways to make your money work better for you. As a company, you need to be on top of current and emerging trends to ensure you are doing the best for your company, your clients and your customers.
One thing is certain: ecommerce is in a position of strength as the changing retail and payment landscape takes shape. But as we have seen in the past year, things can change beyond anyone’s imagination or expectation at a moment’s notice. While it’s impossible to predict how or when this might happen, we can at least anticipate change by putting structures in place to ensure you can be as flexible as possible, adapting to new challenges, wherever they may come from.