Brands that haven’t invested in digital are struggling. Those that made the right strategic moves in the past are in the best position to compete today.

Audelia Boker, global vice president of marketing at Glassbox

Someday–hopefully, sooner than most models predict–the coronavirus crisis will pass. But the drastic changes this global pandemic has wrought virtually overnight, with legions of businesses shifting online and others shuttering entirely, will last well after we have vanquished the virus. 

Make no mistake: COVID-19 marks a historic pivot point for the global economy. This is perhaps most evident in the sudden rush to digitize almost all aspects of work and customer interaction that can be digitized as retailers face a multitude of challenges. These include closed office spaces and the majority of people hastily working from home, many of which are to find a remote-work routine that is as efficient and productive as they are used to. Moreover, the drastic shift online has even top global brands contending with growing pains and glitches as their sites see soaring traffic in such high quantities that customer experience and engagement suffers.

There is also the reality that while social distancing and shelter-in-place orders may be temporary, once customers and employees taste the benefits of a digital experience, the expectation of operating an effective digital business will be lasting. Enterprises must prioritize their digital channels internally to ensure employees can be productive and externally to deliver quality experiences to their customers. 

The stakes could hardly be higher. When no business can afford to lose precious revenue, offering a seamless digital experience is a matter of survival. According to data compiled by Glassbox before the coronavirus crisis, even a one-second delay in page load time translates to a seven% loss in conversions, 11% fewer page views, and a 16% decline in customer satisfaction. Every dollar counts and so does every second.

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Caught unprepared

If even Amazon is experiencing technical glitches amid widespread panic buying, it’s hardly surprising that companies that lack the eCommerce behemoth’s technical capabilities are buckling under pressure.

new survey conducted by Kantar and Profitero helps illuminate why. Only 17% of brand leaders at consumer products companies reported that their organizations were “ahead of the curve” in their ecommerce operations, and 61% said their brands weren’t investing in shopper panel and digital shelf data capabilities. 

Brands that haven’t invested in digital are feeling the squeeze most–but those that made the right strategic moves in the past are best positioned to compete today. 

Consider the case of Walmart, which has won plaudits for its investments in digital channels. The retailer has been particularly smart about building out its distribution infrastructure and its omnichannel capabilities, solidifying its second-place ranking in U.S. ecommerce sales after Amazon. Credit Suisse forecasts Walmart’s digital advantage over its key competitors that its same-store sales will increase by 3% this year, up from an earlier forecast for 0.5% growth.

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How brands can improve the digital experience 

Now companies face the existential challenge in which digitization will play an outsized role in determining which retailers survive. The digital experience brands provide their customers will have a massive impact on their ability to win new customers and retain existing ones after the crisis has passed. 

Of course, few retailers boast the resources of an Amazon or a Walmart–but that doesn’t mean they can’t use this moment to grow their digital capabilities. 

To deliver the quality digital experience customers crave, brands must first ensure that they are up-to-date and set up each employee for success as an agent of the transformation. 

Internally, that encompasses everything spanning the purchase of new hardware, like transitioning employees from desktops to laptops so they can work from any location, to video conferencing tools such as Zoom, WebEx, or even enabling contact center agents to work from home. 

Externally, companies must invest and lean into digital optimization tools designed to enhance the customer experience and powering sales growth. This will ensure customer loyalty that will keep them coming back posts-crisis.

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For example, Queue-it helps companies manage high-traffic scenarios by placing visitors in a first-in, first-out online queue. This approach prevents website crashes and loss of customers. Combined with advanced analytics tools, such solutions can help brands deliver optimized digital journeys in a matter of weeks–extending a much-needed lifeline to grocers and retailers experiencing a surge in online traffic.

Moreover, enterprises will need to maximize consumer ease on the site and communicate with customers in real-time to provide an optimized consumer experience. This means website accessibility for all types of audiences (especially older users), instant alerts about online visitor struggles, system failures, and personalized content. It will also require clear information about potential product shortages in the current climate with time-guidelines for any virtual queues and finding solutions to give priority to older and vulnerable buyers. Moreover, having instant visibility into how people are engaging with the different channels available to them along their journey with brands (websites, live chats, mobile apps, etc.) will become crucial for acting on their needs and expectations, in context. 

There’s no denying it: As thousands of businesses see firsthand, adjusting to a new world order at warp-speed is no mean feat. For all companies, not just those who have traditionally lagged behind now is the time to double down on digital at every level of the company. How retailers meet this moment will influence their trajectory for years to come.

Glassbox is an analytics platform that analyzes digital customer interactions. 

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