COVID-19 has accelerated digital adoption — the time to transform is now

Janusz Moneta, Lucy Sinclair / July 2020 / Thought Leadership

The implications of COVID-19 have accelerated digital adoption. The increasing use of technology to work, play, and stay connected have shaped new digital habits. As many countries are currently in various stages of recovery, now is the time to reset, pivot, and think big to transform your business operations to match the new digital expectations that have emerged. Our focus is to help businesses understand evolving consumer needs, so you can prepare for the future and respond to signals of recovery, as and when they surface.

So let’s have a look at the key digital consumer habits we’ve seen shape so far — and how you can adapt to this new normal.

The impact of accelerated digital adoption on consumer behaviour

Search insights on Google Trends show us that consumer behaviours have become increasingly digital. It’s not surprising, given the lockdown measures in many countries and people’s only opportunity to connect with those outside of their own household being through digital channels. What is interesting, however, is the rapid adoption and variety of online services offered and tapped into.

Now is the time to reset, pivot, and think big to transform your business operations to match new digital expectations.

Consumers will continue to shop more online

Online became the default purchasing channel for many consumers during lockdown. Since the beginning of March, search interest in online shopping and how to buy online has grown by 2X worldwide. In the U.K. alone, online shopping soared to become 30% of retail sales in April, up from 22% in March. Footfall to physical retail locations might be slow to return to pre-pandemic levels for quite some time, as Google’s mobility reports show. The reports chart movement trends by geography, across different categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, and transit stations. Overall, the reports highlight that mobility around ‘retail and recreation’ locations is still below January and February levels in many countries. Industry data also confirms footfall remains below 2019 levels, for markets such as the U.K., Italy, and Sweden.

Evolving consumer needs have created new digital habits

While e-commerce has accelerated in adoption, retail isn’t the only area that has become more digitally focused for consumers throughout lockdown. We have seen this behaviour become increasingly prominent as consumers have turned to online for things they may not have used digital channels for before, or to a lesser extent, such as virtual ‘try on’ (‘try on’), ‘online classes’ (‘online classes’), ‘tea delivery’ (‘tea delivery’), ‘virtual pub quiz’ (‘virtual pub quiz’), customer service ‘live chat’ (‘live chat’), and ‘virtual gym’ (‘virtual gym’), all of which have seen increased search interest across the world.

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How accelerated digital adoption is affecting businesses

Whether for transactional, educational, or personal purposes, it is clear that people have turned to digital channels for many aspects of their lives. As a result, consumers are no longer expecting only the experience they were offered before, instead they have developed much higher digital expectations. This is why all businesses, regardless of vertical or size, need to accelerate their digital adoption and transform their operations to meet consumers where they are now — and give them the experience they expect.

Businesses must embrace digital transformation to keep up

A new McKinsey report shows that nearly all organisations, whether traditional companies or startups, are reorienting their business models to be more digital as a direct result of the impact COVID-19 has had on changing consumer behaviours. Last year we reported that having best-in-class digital marketing can return brands as much as 20% extra revenue and 30% lower costs. At the time only 2% of businesses in the BCG research could be classified as ‘multi-moment’ marketers, with the rest fitting in earlier stages of digital maturity.

The research revealed six enablers to achieving digital maturity that are now more relevant than ever, as more businesses have had to accelerate their digital transformation in the last few months. They include:

  1. connecting first-party customer data across multiple touchpoints,
  2. linking marketing objectives for unified brand goals,
  3. automating tasks and tailoring messages for maximum impact,
  4. establishing strategic partnerships with shared marketing objectives,
  5. training and hiring for advanced data science and analytical skills, and
  6. having agile multifunctional teams with an established test-and-learn culture.

The full report deep-dives into each enabler more, and provides actionable guidance for those businesses looking to progress to the next phase in their digital maturity journey.

Remote working is here to stay

While many businesses are exploring a phased return to the office when local government guidance allows and it is safe to do so, more flexible working structures are to be expected in the future, especially as 23% of employees say they want to work from home more often. This means an increased need to digitise internal operations to ensure that your teams can continue their work uninterrupted remotely. This has also led to high demand for home equipment and office technology, such as video calling software. For example, since January, we’ve seen Google Meet, which is free to use, grow its peak daily usage by 30X.

Reset, pivot, and think big – The time to transform is now

With your consumers and workforce spending more time engaging and working through digital channels, transformation across all areas of your businesses has become a stronger need than ever before. It is both key to connect with your customers where they are, providing the experience they expect, and to effectively run your businesses in the long-term. Here are four helpful mindsets worth adopting.

1. Reset by understanding your customer needs

Consumer behaviour is changing rapidly and unpredictably amid impactful changes brought on by the pandemic. This makes it even more important for advertisers to always understand what consumers are searching for and which retail categories are rising fast, so they can adjust their offerings accordingly.

2. Pivot fast and be more agile

COVID-19 saw many companies swiftly tailoring their campaigns to show the right creative at the right time, and some even adapted completely by moving into new areas in response to changing consumer demand. Being fast and agile is not only relevant and useful during a pandemic but it also helps advertisers be more ready for any change in the future.

3. Analyse your first-party data responsibly

First-party data ⁠— information sourced from customers through CRM and other touchpoints — can be a critical step to improving your overall digital marketing capabilities, adapting to this new world, and building firm foundations for the future. This data is unique to your business and gives you clear insights into your customers and the types of products or services they ultimately want. You can leverage first-party data responsibly by establishing a transparent value exchange with your customers. This will help you build better online experiences, strengthen these relationships and, ultimately, result in more conversions and higher return on investment.

4. Think big and reimagine your business model

In a dynamic environment, many advertisers will have focused on implementing short-term solutions to the challenges impacting their business. As we move to a recovery phase, now is the time to think big and use these as building blocks for a reimagined, more agile business model. Automation can be an especially useful tool here to capture fluctuating demand in the most efficient way and derive even more value from your marketing spend.

The pandemic has accelerated our use of technology and technology can also accelerate us out of this crisis. While businesses that are not yet well adapted to the digital world may find it more difficult, it can offer the opportunity to make these necessary and fundamental changes to the way their businesses operate. There is still time to reset, pivot, and think big, but the time to transform is now.

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