Retailers Aren’t Getting the Benefit of the Doubt Anymore: Why The ‘COVID Grace Period’ is Gone and Never Coming Back
Amid unending supply chain issues, e-commerce still booming as a result of the pandemic, and another COVID-19 variant looming, small to midsize businesses (SMBs) and retailers have had a chaotic 2021. This is a trend that will continue into 2022, but we can’t expect consumers to give retailers a "grace period." Nearly two years after the coronavirus outbreak, there's a renewed expectation that retailers have figured out the main issues causing shipping delays and are able to provide an unmatched customer experience, even in the face of uncertainty. Here are some of my predictions on how consumer trust, e-commerce platform strategy, and the gig economy will play out in 2022:
Consumer Trust Needs a Paradigm Shift
The pandemic has brought about long-term changes across business operations and consumer expectations, and we’ll likely never go back to the old “normal.” Amid these changes, we’ll see a paradigm shift in 2022 related to the foundation and establishment of consumer trust that adheres to new ways of doing business. For example, retailers will need to embrace an increasingly digital-first style of communication, transactions, and more. This will also need to include a focus on transparency, overcommunication, and the ability to be nimble to provide the best customer experience.
For SMBs, an important lesson learned during the pandemic is that they're often unable to do everything themselves. Adopting a “partner imperative” will become key for SMBs to meet the ever-increasing needs of customer expectations, further building customer trust and brand reputation.
SMBs Will Need to Evaluate Their Platform Approaches to Win on Customer Experience
Marketplaces and platforms have been critical for SMBs to keep up with the acceleration of e-commerce and online shopping. As more of both have entered the market, it can be difficult for SMBs to choose the best fit and allows them to maintain brand autonomy and generate loyalty to their brand.
In 2022, SMBs will need to think hard about how platform partnerships reflect their brand and empower greater levels of connectivity to strengthen customer experience. It will be important to prioritize platforms that prioritize digital innovation, enable businesses to maintain direct connection and communication with customers, and allow embedded integrations with existing technology stacks without separating them with their customers.
Gig Economy Will Open a Market Opportunity for SMBs
The gig economy holds an incredible amount of potential for SMBs as they navigate challenges to keep up with big-box retailers and same-day delivery expectations from customers. As SMBs consider gig economy partnerships in 2022, it’s important to carefully evaluate partners as they will become an extension of your brand and a perceived value creator — representing your business at the customer’s doorstep.
As retailers and SMBs look towards 2022 and beyond, they need to deploy an omnichannel experience that's going to drive customer loyalty and earn back any lost revenue from the last two years. Shopping experiences for consumers need to be seamless from start to finish, and that includes future-proofing business to prepare for any and all crises and potential areas for uncertainty. Consumers are more than willing now to take their money to a competitor if they get a whiff of a bad customer experience, so now is the time for SMBs to get to work improving theirs.
As vice president of global marketing and business intelligence, Kiel Harkness connects UPS Capital’s digital insurance solution set with small businesses across the U.S., Europe, and Asia to create positive outcomes for customers.
Related story: The Impact of COVID on the SMB Market: A Deep Dive
As VP of Global Marketing and Business Intelligence, Kiel connects UPS Capital’s digital insurance solution set with small businesses across the U.S., Europe, and Asia to create positive outcomes for customers. Kiel harnesses his experience with insurance, small businesses, and insuretech to offer small businesses solutions they can access, afford, and grow with as they navigate business cycles through domestic and global market trends.
During his tenure at UPS Capital, Kiel launched a suite of digitally connected, self-serve insurance solutions for small businesses including InsureShield™ for Shopify, InsureShield™ OnDemand, and InsureShield™ InstaQuote. Prior to UPS Capital, Kiel was head of Marketing for UPS in the UK, Ireland and Nordics, where he deployed UPS’s small business digital ecosystem, serving an improved online shipping experience to SMBs. Kiel also introduced a program for UK and Irish SMB distillers, providing a suite of logistics and packaging solutions that enabled bespoke and start-up distillers to affordably and compliantly scale their e-commerce business.
Kiel is a regular business speaker, contributor, and advocate for small businesses. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences from Boston University and a Master of Business Administration from Georgia State University Robinson School of Business.