COVID-19 is a global pandemic, evolving at unprecedented speed and scale. It is creating a universal imperative for governments and organisations to take immediate action to protect their people.

Self-quarantine. Social distancing. Community spread. These formerly obscure terms are now everyday words. New habits and behaviors are forming that in many cases are not likely to go away after the crisis passes.

For customers, the most immediate impact is fear, not just for their personal health but also for the economic impact.

And while the impact to the economy is not fully known, both Direct-to-Consumer and B2B organisations are scrambling to meet the immediate needs of their marketplaces.

In particular, those who have viewed digital commerce as a secondary channel now need to reorient every aspect of their business towards a digital commerce mindset. There exists an opportunity to double-down on digital commerce, augmenting existing offerings and creating new lines of service.

While this represents an opportunity to grow revenue, attract new customers and drive channel shift, it depends on digital channels and capabilities having appropriate scale and stability to handle the crush.

Businesses must flex quickly to capture the opportunity; systems must be prepared to withstand the increased loads and actions must be implemented with pace. Below are immediate actions that they can take:

Within 24 hours

Rapid Customer & Channel Immersion

Rapid cross-functional style assessment of current issues, shifting consumer patterns, value chain breakage/pain points.

Identify critical individuals to give missing details on the major issues across the value chain.

Within 72 hours

Product Strategy & Prioritisation

Triage and group the issues, pain points, and opportunities into a prioritised product backlog. Customer research identifies new patterns, marketplace strategy established to align with shifts in demand, supply chain audit completed, technology ecosystem partnerships identified.​

Within 5 days

Product Teams Deployed

Initial pilot plan established at the conclusion of Week 1 sprint. Deployment of MVP in Initial Channel(s) (i.e. ”Hub”) with minimum required features to test strain on systems.

Identify marketing needs to drive awareness and demand.

Within 14 days

Optimisation
 

Analyse data from MVP based on initial consumer response and strain on existing supply chain or systems.

Dependencies outlined and optimised. Prepare for full launch at the conclusion of Sprint 2.

Next

Scale & Sprint
 

Scale the launch of the successful pilot product/channels.

Begin the next sprint based on the prioritised backlog.

Three imperatives to take on the Now and the Next

The COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly accelerating the digital commerce pivot globally, forcing business to revisit and even reimagine their strategy in the interest of capturing new marketplace opportunities and their fair share of new digital customer segments.

Reassure

How do I REASSURE my customers and employees during this uncertain time?

Stabilise

How do I STABILISE digital operations with frictionless transactions and the capacity to handle increased demand?

Reconfigure

How do I RECONFIGURE my products, services, and markets and establish new partnerships and ecosystems to retain new and existing customers?


Reassure your customers and employees

There is unprecedented confusion on what, where and how to buy things—customers are concerned about who to buy from, if they’re paying a fair price or even if they’ll be able to find the essentials they need.

As a result, they are gravitating towards companies that are truthful, transparent and driven by a clear purpose.

These principles extend through customer channels and their engagement with retailers, as well as into Business-to-Business relationships and how companies work with their distributors, wholesalers, or manufacturing direct suppliers.

Companies who can demonstrate these attributes will deliver a differentiated level of customer service and make themselves more relevant and connected to their customers—old and new—on an ongoing basis.

What’s going on
  • New consumers digitally engaging with your brand will bring about a different set of expectations and new opportunities to build trust and relevance.
  • Beyond unpredictable sales through unpredictable channels, direct-to-consumer companies must contend with other unknowns, like new buyers in a household.
  • In B2B, with the unpredictability in the product supply chain and distribution channels, manufacturers are looking to expand their strategy to move closer to end consumers.
  • Many organisations have offered crisis-related accommodations to their customers that show true empathy about the hardships faced by so many.
  • And companies are also looking at how they can help broader communities.
  • Some companies are straying outside of their core business models and repurposing their assets to assist the greater human cause.
How to action Now, what to consider Next

01. Reassess your employee and customer policies in line with your brand purpose and values

Define your role on how you can help people in this time of crisis. This could be as simple as rethinking your corporate policies to make them more relevant in today’s world. Suspending refund exchange windows, for example, when customers are having a harder time keeping up with daily life. Perhaps allow inventory priority to the vulnerable or locations more directly impacted by COVID-19.
Establish strong communication governance, guiding principles and tone. Leaders throughout the organisation need to be in sync. Create the feedback loop so you can pivot and progress with pace.
Every channel, touchpoint and piece of content matters. Brands need to do an experience audit to make sure that they are sending a consistent and reassuring message, building on customer confidence and deepening trust. For example, parents with infants will have different questions and concerns than those with high-schoolers or grandparents who are empty-nesters. Be helpful and let them know the precautions that you have undertaken to protect peoples’ safety and be sure to rework your service content to ensure it continues to be relevant. An example of a company learning from previous epidemics is Alibaba, which launched a special senior-friendly version of its Taobao shopping app in 2018 with large print and a function that allows children to pay for their parents’ shopping.

Realizing that commerce has become your primary channel in which to do business, you must ensure that the commerce experience is more than a transaction engine for goods and services: It needs to appropriately represent your brand position and what you stand for as a business.
Businesses that are keeping up with their customers are scaling rapid response capabilities properly, by asking the right questions, analyzing the data, and then meeting customers where they are by acting on real-time predictive insights. And by putting this listening infrastructure in place now, businesses will be able to adapt practices over time, making them more relevant and connected to their customers on an ongoing basis.

Stabilise your digital channels, platforms and infrastructure

Imagine the accelerated demand of Cyber Monday, every day for the foreseeable future. The latest figures from the USDA’s Economic Research Service found that in 2018, food purchased away from home in the US accounted for 54 percent of total food expenditure.

With the closure of cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels and the grounding of airlines, much of this demand will need to be met by the grocery sector, online. That’s the new reality as mass quarantines and unpredictable retail stock availability cause online commerce to skyrocket. While this represents an opportunity to grow revenue, attract new customers and drive channel shift, it depends on digital channels and capabilities having appropriate scale and stability to handle the crush. Businesses must flex quickly to capture the opportunity, and systems must be prepared to withstand the increased loads.

What’s going on
  • New consumers digitally engaging with your brand will bring about a different set of expectations and new opportunities to build trust and relevance.
  • Beyond unpredictable sales through unpredictable channels, direct-to-consumer companies must contend with other unknowns, like new buyers in a household.
  • Many organisations have offered crisis-related accommodations to their customers that show true empathy about the hardships faced by so many.
  • Companies are also looking at how they can help broader communities.
  • Some companies are straying outside of their core business models and repurposing their assets to assist the greater human cause.
  • In B2B, with the unpredictability in the product supply chain and distribution channels, manufacturers are looking to expand their strategy to move closer to end consumers.
How to action Now, what to consider Next

01. Establish a Virtual Control hub

Supported by rapidly putting together a cross-functional team to tackle critical business issues and monitor KPIs, clear ownership of responsibilities established, and members empowered to drive the response end-to-end. This virtual War Room will not only allow you to more aggressively handle the current chaos in the digital commerce marketplace, but it will lay the foundation for a “Commerce Control Tower”.
Optimise the customer’s path to purchase or other task completion. This is a quick and efficient way to improve customer satisfaction and boost online revenue. For example, UK online grocer Ocado introduced a “virtual queuing system” to help manage demand as its site experienced a reported 1000 percent increase in traffic.
Effectively meet shopper lifestyles and take advantage of current dynamics in online ordering, in-store pick up vs. in-store purchase. Where can enhancements be made across segment/audience targeting to reach new and emerging segments?

Bring early visibility to bigger downstream issues. This will allow teams to focus on the more immediate and critical bottlenecks, as well as lay the groundwork for exploring more modern Applied Intelligence and Automation solutions in the long term. This applies not only to B2C, but to B2B’s that are being greatly disrupted by factory slow-down due to workforce furloughing or redeployment.

Reconfigure and extend your products, services, merchandise, partnerships and ecosystems

With the closure of retail establishments, and the disruption of supply chains, the rules for merchandise and inventory have fundamentally shifted. Historical data on what sells online vs. offline is out the window. Companies now have a lot of inventory that they are sitting on in retail outlets that they need to figure out how to get online.

Businesses that have historically invested in digital commerce sales tools will likely have an easier time adjusting to this new, digital first economy, while those that have only made moderate strides will be more greatly disrupted. For example, traditional auto auction houses are shutting down, while on-line auctions are fast becoming the norm—even in a reduced volume business, those that are digital-prepared are seeing increases.

What’s going on
  • Hoarding and low inventory levels.
  • New markets and ecosystems are opening up.
  • Businesses will be forced to revisit their customer engagement strategy.
  • Companies are rebalancing their merchandising.
  • Groceries, restaurants and other food outlets.
  • Workforces are being redeployed.
  • Brands are getting closer to the new demand cycle to rebalance inventory.
  • Manufacturing is also stabilising operations amid big demand shifts.
  • Within B2B, social distancing and travel restrictions that limit traditional high-touch sales processes have accelerated a need for “low or no-touch” purchasing.
How to action Now, what to consider Next

Many organisations – especially B2B companies who have traditionally been less digital sales focused – must now

01. Build your virtual aisle with an assortment assessment

Look for inventory that can be moved quickly and efficiently online from your offline locations. Analyse the delta between what you offer and what the public needs to outline strategic areas to address next. Serve existing customers with their adjusted needs as well as new customers with new products.
Analytics that will help companies understand where they need to move should be deployed now, including call center, triage, and proactive reach-out.
Your digital shelf and product catalogue must be refreshed with all the key product information, including features, ingredients, imagery and more so that it is as good—or better—than the physical shelf. Additionally, you will need to do multivariant testing to optimise for different customer segments.

Understand where discount levels are necessary due to shifts in elasticities, and if pricing needs to be adjusted in the short term to take advantage of changes in consumer shopping dynamics.
In the shortterm extending sales through marketplaces like Amazon, WalMart, or eBay can be a quick way to drive incremental revenue and create new long-term revenue streams. If it’s your first digital marketplace endeavor, be sure to focus on high-impact products that are easily fulfilled.
Assess the distribution methods that are quickly being adopted to ensure you are adapting to remain relevant. Explore new partners and distribution networks for national and local delivery. And look at new partners for local delivery, like Uber, Instacart, Task Rabbit and Shipt.
To identify areas where physical “high-touch” sales is still the norm, and look at ways of digitally automating or replicating the experience. US Apparel retailer Alice and Olivia is now offering personal shopping via facetime.

We do know for certain that business as usual has been disrupted significantly, and in many cases, permanently.

Yet, there is an opportunity to double down on digital commerce as customers rapidly change their shopping patterns and habits. As organisations adapt, their watchwords must be trust, relevance and convenience.

As the situation unfolds, we will continuously update our materials, so please check back regularly.

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