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COVID-19 Business Research UK US

Antidote to Unprecedented Disruption: Digital, Agility

LIVEAREA RESEARCH

While the far-reaching effects of the Coronavirus pandemic continue to shock – even as businesses around the world take baby steps toward normalcy – what’s not surprising is the advantage enjoyed by companies that have fully embraced digital technology. It’s also unsurprising that many companies have accelerated their plans to invest in digital. This is one of many takeaways from our recent research on the impact the pandemic has had on businesses and operations.

Seeking to understand concerns and priorities moving forward, we surveyed 1,000 senior managers in North America and the United Kingdom this month across a wide range of verticals. Results between the two geographies were remarkably similar.

A key takeaway in both geos was this: Digital is a business priority. Half of businesses still operating say they will invest in digital as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations with more than 250 employees are even more likely to invest in digital.

The reason is obvious – digital commerce helped stanch the negative flow of sales and revenue from the bottom line in these anything-but-normal times. Brands with mature digital sales channels have been able to sell through the pandemic. Rebound for these companies will be swifter.

The good news is that investing in digital commerce doesn’t require a rip-and-replace investment strategy. Change can be incremental. For instance, we worked with a long-time client that wanted to quickly implement curbside pickup, functionality not yet surfaced in their Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform. We “switched on” the functionality in a matter of weeks and the retailer was offering curbside pickup across more than 400 stores throughout North America.

This is a fairly simplistic example, but a powerful illustration of agility – the key to survival today and tomorrow.

Tapping into an on-demand pool of highly skilled experts gives you access to knowledge and experience beyond your walls – and enables you to sustain a high-performance commerce environment.

Outsourcing

As companies look to amp up agility, many are considering outsourcing IT and marketing functions post-COVID 19. For those that have furloughed staff, outsourcing allows short-term business continuity, while still ensuring agility and performance. Outsourcing system or application management services, for instance, means you can continuously improve your IT environment and that system performance can remain high. If sales shift from in-store to online, a managed services provider (MSP) can ensure you have the power and resources to support a surge in online sales. An unstable digital commerce environment – for many brands, the sole channel through which to drive sales in this climate – could ruin a business, driving customers away forever after bad experiences. Tapping into an on-demand pool of highly skilled experts gives you access to knowledge and experience beyond your walls – and enables you to sustain a high-performance commerce environment.

If you hire internally and there is a second wave in the fall you are back to layoffs. If you grow with an experienced MSP, they can fluctuate service levels with your needs and save you costs and avoid brand damage.

Decision-makers can apply insights from the pandemic to fully embrace, defend, and fund agility measures. This is the catalyst for change, to make structural business changes, with less friction from others within the business. Now is the time to focus on digital technologies, agile operations, and fulfillment efficiencies. No one will know the exact impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior, so businesses need to build a strategy that can adapt instantly. Fundamentally, that means following a digital-first approach – developing the technology and culture to put online first. Those unable to make the shift are unlikely to see the end of 2020.

An evolving technology ecosystem

Today every part of the customer journey – discovery, research, transaction, customer care, loyalty, and advocacy – should be reconsidered digitally. Brands and retailers with a cohesive technology ecosystem to support every touchpoint, each interaction, whether internally or through outsourced partners, are the most likely to thrive.

What this entails is an analysis of the technology underpinning your commerce enterprise. A commerce platform alone will not suffice. There are multiple components that must be brought together, including data technology, marketing platforms, customer relationship management systems, order management technology, warehouse management, hosting, and more.

Consider the challenge of omni-channel. If more eCommerce demand is anticipated, this will increase the load on processes like ship from store, click and collect, and returns, which requires sophisticated logistics, not just in warehouses, but also in-store. Businesses must focus on the systems behind these operations, to really master inventory management and make sure it’s visible to customers. There are modern OMS and distributed order management tools available that can optimize these areas.

Consider, too, the changing role of physical stores. Rather than housing large quantities of products, stores will transition to experience-focused venues or showrooms, relying on eCommerce to fulfill customer purchases. Large general department stores may die. There will be fewer stores and all of them downsized. Even this model will struggle if shoppers are fearful of interacting with staff or being exposed to merchandise others have touched.

Introducing smart, data-driven tools that can work online and in-store to help with fit, styling and comparison analysis will be critical to aligning with future customer expectations. Online and in-store customer data connections will need to be tight. Returns and exchanges must be seamless and customer service will become more important than ever, requiring new levels of data integration so customer service associates can understand products and customers and how to bring the two together. More data, more systems, more expertise will be required. People will follow brands that give them a genuine sense of confidence.

The impact of COVID-19 on businesses has been extreme and will alter customer experience for a long time to come. What you can’t see or anticipate can and will hurt you. Agility is the antidote to unprecedented disruption.

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