Innovation is one of the major factors for any business to flourish in the competitive market. Even though the duration of the pandemic is uncertain, every business needs to manage the challenges around its customers today, while setting themselves up for rapid stabilization and customer growth in the future.
While the immediate response to COVID-19 seems all-consuming, there’s still comfort in the fact that companies, all across the world, are facing the challenge in unprecedented ways to address the business and humanitarian aspects of these arduous times. This is especially exceptional and commendable given there is no script for such a situation, and everyone is simply working on the first principle basis to build, sustain and grow.
Considering everything, businesses need to think of this pandemic in phases: now, next and beyond – what they must do “now” to keep business running, what they must do “next” to prepare for the new normal and accelerate digital transformation, and what they must do “beyond” COVID-19 to be in a position to create value in the long run. Only by striking a balance between these three and working in parallel, can any business withstand the competitive waves.
Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. Rethinking your customer strategy is strenuous enough when consumer behavior is stable and predictable; it’s exponentially hard when the way we shop, eat and live, eat is changing radically. So, what’s the solution? What do we do now?
Before we think of the solutions, let’s just get into some figures to have a clear path.
- While global retail sales are expected to dip by 5.7% this year due to the pandemic, global Amazon sales on the other hand went up by 26% in Q1 and 40% in Q2.
- ECommerce spending in the U.S. grew from 11.8% in Q1 to 16.1% in Q2.
- According to EY consumer index:
- 35% of people are in ‘save and stockpile’ mode, worried about their families and despondent about COVID-19’s long-term effects
- 27% have ‘cut deep’ reducing spending across all categories
- 26% are ‘stay calm, carry on’ with largely unchanged spending habits
- 11% are ‘hibernate and spend’, best positioned to cope, optimistic about the future, and spending more
Well, these are the immediate changes – good and bad. But, at the same time, we know the pandemic is also propelling a revaluation of values, habits and consumption patterns, and many of these won’t reverse. While 36% of consumers shop online weekly since the rise of COVID-19 – up from 28% pre-pandemic, more than a third plan to spend less – and 13% of all consumers plan to make deep cuts.
After going through this mix, one thing that’s clear is leaders need to quickly re-think their digital transformation agendas to ensure
- they are positioned correctly,
- they are building foundations for lasting consumer relationships, and
- they are using data as well as technology to discover new levels for continuous and dynamic optimization.
Let’s unveil some of the areas which we think are critical to achieving lasting impact and creating value:
Lean on Your Assets
By assets, we don’t mean land, capital, investments or goods but something more valuable, which is none other than contact assets. Any online marketer worth their salt knows the value of contact assets and their tribe – email lists, online groups, discussions, or social followings.
Now is the time to ramp up your communications with your customers as well as prospects – especially if you’re struggling for sales. Try and adopt diverse ways and means to build trust and keep them engaged. Send out broadcast emails, share helpful content in the form of social media images/videos, offer discount coupons, and everything else to nurture them and keep your brand at the top of their mind.
Times are tough but don’t let your audience realize this. Make sure people know you are still open and ready for business. More than anything, allow your brand to be human — we’re all in this together.
Adopt a Disciplined Approach to Consumer Engagement
An occurrence or experience like COVID-19 has exposed extremes in experiential, socio-economic, and environmental conditions by geography and consumer segments. Considering this, do you understand your customers across these dimensions?
If your answer is a no, it’s critical than ever to segment your customers via relevant first, third-party data and uses specific personas to cater to their requirements and accordingly implement customer engagement strategies and personalization tactics.
Before we tell you what to do, let’s give you some hope.
Yes, there’s still so much that can be done since customers are everywhere, ready to shop – you just have to give them a reason.
Here’s what you can do to boost customer engagement and reap benefits in the present as well as future.
- Conduct prompt social listening to assess sentiment
- Streamline your returns process
- Alter your processes and focus on nurturing for customer acquisition and retention
- Look after your existing customers and their communities
- Develop customer journey maps and optimization recommendations for digital touch-points.
- Use data and AI (where possible) to optimize decision making across customer journeys.
- Build new communication plans and channels to create value
- Refresh loyalty programs to account for new digital means of engagement and new customers.
- Build real-time, dynamic customer segments and personas to drive modeling as well as lead generation via robust automation.
Associate Your Products With High-performing Verticals
Generally speaking: Fashion sales or travel seem to be down at the moment, whereas products like home fitness equipments or laptops are in high demand. But this doesn’t mean you need to simply give up and accept the status quo. Consider this an opportunity to expand and associate associating your products with the high performing verticals. For instance, if you are a fashion brand, consider associating your products with the home gym market or any other vertical that’s performing well at the moment.
- Creating social posts by connecting your products/services with high-performing products.
- Partnering or collaborating with specific businesses to drive mutual sales.
- Tweaking your product descriptions to convey this angle.
- Offering affiliate links to influencers and other stores within high-performing verticals.
Yes, this might not be possible for all types of products or services but you can strive for something or the other to stand out in the market, considering the current circumstances.
Ever since the stay at home advice, some eCommerce stores experienced a drastic upsurge in their sales. Now the question is how? Or what did they do?
First things first, if you do find yourself with an influx of new customers, you need to take action to make sure it isn’t just a one-time thing. And subscriptions could be a great way to do this.
Amazon does this in the best way possible:
- Such subscriptions not just help consumers by saving money but help you as well by ‘locking-in’ customers.
- Let’s consider Shopify now, where users can use different apps to add subscription options to product pages and make recurring payments:
Some product lines work better than others for subscriptions. Anything consumable (like team coffee, food, etc.) could work perfectly – if you provide great delivery experience and after-sales experience for the customer.
Try adding this option and creating a follow-up email sequence convincing one-time buyers towards a subscription to ‘lock-in’ customers even after the dust has settled.
Add Extra Sales Channels
Without any doubt, you might be experiencing a downturn in sales ever since the pandemic. However, this might be the right time to explore different sales channels and add them to your operation.
Let’s make it precise and clear:
- Selling on your website? Try adding eBay to the mix.
- Already selling on eBay? Try Amazon.
- Already selling on Amazon? Try some different Amazon locations.
- Already done that? Try something else, like social media or Etsy.
There’s an enormous variety of marketplaces and channels to choose from. Each channel might be a potential new source of customers for your business that you were previously missing out on. In business-centric terms, try everything you can; customers are everywhere, you just have to reach them.
Extract Value From Existing Innovation to Drive Product Strategy
In such times of distress, you’re unlikely to invest in new product development and innovation in struggling segments. On the contrary, rapid innovation is happening in several sectors like retail delivery, healthcare, food, digital service and communication.
If you are among those who are unable to invest in innovation, COVID-19 is stimulating action around more straightforward and important strategies to extract value from existing portfolios. Now the question is how to pursue innovation?
Here’s what you can do to gain value from existing innovation to drive strategy:
- Find or look for rapid virtualization of products and services (e.g. virtual workout)
- Prioritize products in portfolios as per the crisis (e.g. remote working)
- Integrate enhanced listening dashboards into core workflows of all product management roles and key performance indicators
- Identify opportunities based on analytics on product feedback by building ongoing insights platforms
Times are tough but so is your business. Covid-19 is shaping irreversible changes in consumer habits, patterns and behavior. In order to stay relevant, you need to act and implement growth-focused strategies. There is a dire need to take prompt actions to build meaningful relationships with your customers, failing which might simply be the reason for you being left behind.