Each year I sit down and reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities we’ve witnessed over the past twelve months. 2020 has, of course, been dominated by events that have been out of our control and way outside our experience, affecting the health, economy and mood of, not just nations, but of the global population.
COVID-19 has been responsible for driving the business narrative since the beginning of the year, creating fresh routes to market for some and erecting obstacles for others. Here are some of our take-aways:
Rapid transformation and innovation
Throughout lockdown, digital technologies have made our lives easier and, at the same time, enabled businesses to engage with customers at some level. In fact, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for innovation, accelerating digital transformation for many businesses and supercharging progress so that projects that would normally take months to being to fruition are being turned around in a matter of weeks.
Businesses that once relied heavily on bricks-and-mortar trade have been forced to rapidly pivot towards majority remote and digital services in order to continue to serve customers. Supermarkets saw their online business double over the summer, a trend that many believe is now irreversible, with studies showing as many as one in four consumers buying food and essentials at least once a week online, with three-quarters ordering at least some of their regular goods from stores’ websites. Most businesses have developed new road maps to accommodate a shift that’s becoming a way of life for many.
The pandemic has landed unprecedented demand on digital estates at a time when service level expectations are increasing and when influencer trends are causing spikes in demand for everything from pizza ovens to gym equipment.
Companies will need to ensure that their digital channels are equivalent or better than their competitors if they are to succeed in this new environment. China, which has been ahead of the curve in COVID-related economic trends, has shown that there’s little good news for traditional retailers: offline consumption is still being negatively impacted months after lockdown.
While none of us can hope to predict the future, what we can do is to be ready all year round for a quick response to sudden events. At thinkTribe, we work with clients to prepare for planned peaks and to ensure that websites are in the best condition possible at all times – which includes testing when changes are made throughout the year, not just in the run-up to an expected peak. If you can cope robustly with elevated demand, it will result in customer engagement wins further down the line.
Traffic surges can happen for lots of reasons. One client recently told us about the web performance problems they experienced after a social media influencer featured one of the company’s products in a high-profile post. Effective and regular testing will help prepare for the kinds of traffic fluctuations that are increasingly becoming the norm.
All these factors considered, it seems obvious to say that it’s never been more important to put the customer first. It’s an approach that’s no longer the norm, or even the new-norm, of successful businesses, it’s the cornerstone of a make-or-break approach to surviving the pandemic.
Brands that have previously invested time, money and resources in optimising the in-store experience are now having to lavish the same attention on making the online UX as enjoyable as possible. It’s not indulging in hyperbole to say that reputations are at stake.
Collaboration is key
We’ve noticed a new sense of shared endeavour and a greater willingness on behalf of all types of organization to extend the hand of friendship in tough times. Just this week, the UK arm of takeaway giant Burger King announced its support for other independent restaurants by offering to share food stories from other smaller business on its Instagram page. It’s a move no-one would have either predicted or expected this time last year.
These new olive branches have emerged as COVID has compelled businesses to review their strengths and also their weaknesses – and have sought to find partners that help empower their brand. We think it’s a force for good and have also embraced collaboration, embarking on a new partner programme headed up by Tom Challinor. Our ethos is ‘together for better digital journeys’ for both our customers and our partners.
We expect most experts to fight shy of making cast-iron predictions for 2021. Like everyone else, we’re hoping for some light at the end of what’s been a long tunnel of fear and uncertainty. In the meantime, we’re keeping our sights firmly on supporting our customers through thick and thin.