A 7-Point Digital Strategy for Surviving the Pandemic Recession and Thriving in an Online-Only World
In the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers raced to adapt their businesses to the new reality of shuttered stores and shelter-in-place orders. Now, the nature of retail has changed — perhaps permanently — and the focus has shifted.
A recession is looming, and the pressure is on. Does your brand have what it takes to succeed in an online-only world?
Your Current Digital Strategies Won’t Future-Proof Your Business
Stay-at-home orders and economic pressures likely forced you to accelerate your e-commerce strategy. However, if digital sales aren’t at the core of your business, that strategy is unlikely to carry you through a recession and into a digital-first commerce environment.
To strengthen your e-commerce strategy, look to digital-first retailers that continuously innovate their e-commerce experiences. Here are seven things you can do to serve online customers in new ways and future-proof your business:
1. Add or expand marketplace platforms.
A marketplace for third-party sellers on your e-commerce site allows you to offer a wider assortment of products, pricing options and suppliers without additional inventory and distribution costs. With supply chain considerations on sellers’ shoulders, you can spend more time on critical business needs, like sales and marketing.
One of the most well-known examples of marketplace success is Amazon.com. In Q4 of 2019, third-party sellers accounted for more than half of all sales on Amazon’s platform. B-to-B merchants are also successful in marketplaces: B-to-B marketplace sales were $680 billion worldwide in 2018, and are projected to reach $3.6 trillion by 2024. Regardless of your customer base, a marketplace significantly boosts your ability to offer consumers more products and better options — without damaging the bottom line.
2. Build microsites for in-demand products.
While shelter-in-place orders are in effect, consumers have extra demands on their time, like working from home while also caring for children. At the same time, many in-demand products are in short supply. A microsite or a special section on an existing site helps customers buy what they need fast. Retailers that can save customers time have an incredible advantage over those that force shoppers to navigate through their sites to find the products they need.
For example, CVS built a microsite to facilitate free home delivery of prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines. In addition, Target added a home improvement microsite with products and how-tos — perfect for customers stuck indoors with lots of time to work on projects.
3. Convert stores into fulfillment centers.
Fast delivery from the right location has never been more important, especially in areas where brick-and-mortar businesses are closed. Converting stores into fulfillment locations gets products to customers faster.
Retailers with buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) programs are especially well positioned to make this transition, but other retailers can easily adapt as well. For example, Kroger has converted one of its Cincinnati-area stores to pickup-only so employees can focus on fulfillment rather than restocking shelves.
4. Offer product bundles.
Budget-conscious, time-strapped consumers want the best deal, whether they’re shopping for themselves or on behalf of their businesses. Bundling products into kits allows you to sell more, offer lower prices and save customers time. For example, the FSA Store offers certain sunscreen, diabetic care, eye care and pain relief products in bundles for faster shopping.
5. Offer products as a service.
If you sell experiences along with products, you face a special challenge. While gatherings are either restricted or banned in many locations for the foreseeable future, there are still ways to offer experiences to customers at home. For example, a Dallas-area chocolatier whose business model hinges on in-person chocolate-making classes has pivoted to selling the class materials as a delivery kit, with a link to an online class customers can watch at home. Art supply stores, fabric stores and other hands-on retailers can adopt this approach to fit their businesses.
6. Join home delivery services.
Your brick-and-mortar locations may have closed or limited in-person visits from consumers, but getting food and essential supplies to customers is still possible. Numerous delivery startups partner with local businesses to provide doorstep delivery of cleaning supplies, food and medicine. For example, Walgreens has partnered with Postmates for local delivery of over-the-counter medications, personal care items, snacks and other products.
7. Scale up customer service capacity.
It’s critical that your business is accessible when customers need you. Retailers that answer the phone or respond to chats in a timely manner are more likely to win customer loyalty than those that make customers wait hours — or worse, days — for a response. Boost your customer service capacity now to deliver great customer experiences when it's most critical, while also securing future loyalty.
With the sudden shift from record-low unemployment to record-high jobless claims, many workers are looking for jobs, especially those they can perform from the safety of their homes. Today’s technology makes it possible to remotely hire, train and manage customer service representatives, so you can easily take advantage of this opportunity even if your state or city is under a stay-at-home order.
In an online-only world, your brand’s survival hinges on continued e-commerce innovation. Lean on the tactics listed above to grow your digital strategy and strengthen your e-commerce experience. Given the current reality of shifting purchasing habits and an uncertain economy, standing your ground as a digital-first business is now your top priority.
Ana Milevskaja is the North American vice president of marketing at VTEX, the first and only fully integrated marketplace-commerce-oms solution.
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As North American vice president of marketing, Ana drives VTEX brand awareness and growth by leveraging her prior 14 years of experience in B2B marketing for software technology firms spanning security, electronic medical records and e-commerce platforms. Her extensive background in B2B SaaS marketing and global business development includes implementing integrated marketing programs, demand generation, product marketing and thought leadership initiatives.