COVID-19 sent shock waves through most retail and ecommerce based businesses. Between store closures, upended supply chains and consumers turning increasingly to online shopping, both traditional and digital-first retailers have had to remain nimble, throwing out old playbooks and pivoting to face the challenges brought forth by this pandemic.
Everything has been disrupted, but at the same time, demand for ecommerce is at an all-time high. Some retailers I’ve talked with have said that they are seeing Cyber Monday-levels of online activity, every single day. I’m hearing stories of ecommerce businesses that have been accelerated three, five and even ten years ahead of where they expected to be. Despite all of the challenges and uncertainty over the last four months, the latest CommerceNext report, sponsored by Exponea, demonstrates that there is optimism about how ecommerce will be the benefactor of the pandemic disruption and capture huge rewards during this holiday season (Disclosure: I co-founded CommerceNext, the company that conducted the research).
This has required some big pivots by marketers. Just how drastic were these changes? Here are five of the most notable pivots:
Retailers Feel Ready for the Holidays
What is particularly impressive about retailers as we navigate through these challenging times: they are making these remarkable pivots in strategy and spending while experiencing a massive spike in online transactions. With Cyber Monday-levels of ecommerce happening every day in the month of May, it’s amazing that retailers even had a moment to think ahead. But 58% of retailers say they feel either “much more” or “slightly more” prepared for the 2020 holiday season as a result of pandemic-spurred demand. If there is any upside to the crisis we’ve been living through, it’s that retailers are now battle-tested and ready to respond to increased customer demand this holiday shopping season.
This improved preparedness came out of necessity, suggested Mary Lou Kelley, a veteran digital retail executive and Best Buy’s former president of ecommerce, in a recent conversation. Major digital retail projects that once required layers of approvals are being executed at warp speed. Previous obstacles such as internal silos, digital investment as lip service and territorialism have been temporarily torn down in many organizations, allowing the retailers to execute digital transformation more quickly.
Kelley also noted, “A clear ‘reason for being’ will be critical to staying relevant in the long run.
Brand [marketing] answers the question and reminds customers of why a retailer is needed and what a retailer provides that others can’t. Most importantly, brand answers the question, if that retailer went away, would customers have an easy substitute?”
Ultimately, time will tell what the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be on retail and ecommerce, but the one thing I think most can agree on is that the industry will be forever changed as a result of this crisis.