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After almost 18 months of a global health crisis, there finally appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. In that time, businesses were forced to adapt creative solutions so they could function remotely and keep pace with the consumer shift to digital channels.

Here’s what we can learn from them.

1. Move online – if you haven’t already

Brands that have online stores and can meet the demand for rapid online adoption have the best chances of success as we recover from the crisis.

This is because many consumers recognise there won’t be a quick and easy return to ‘normal’ life. A recent study from Forrester highlighted this, with just 16% of consumers believing they will revert to a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy after the pandemic is over.

So, it’s crucial you transition to online or digital means if you haven’t already. We’ve seen industries that typically require in-person contact thriving after making the move.

Gyms and fitness companies are one example. AARMY closed its fitness classes in New York and Los Angeles due to safety concerns. Fortunately, they had already been planning to launch an online business and within 48 hours, the strategy had shifted online, starting with sessions being livestreamed.

Digital transformation examples“What changed is, we thought we had time to perfect everything,” AARMY trainer Akin Akman told TechCrunch. “[Once the pandemic hit] we didn’t have time to have all these in-depth conversations, we didn’t have time to wait. We wanted to get out there.”

The result of their quick launch? Within the 24 hours, AARMY saw more than 18,000 attend their online classes. This is compared to just 300 attendees per trainer a day who could attend if the classes were in person.

The media and entertainment industry is another. We’re used to movie premiers being held in cinemas with snacks, soft drinks and the smell of popcorn. But the health crisis made this impossible to be done safely, but Chinese media company Huanxi found a solution.

Their movie ‘Lost in Russa’ was due to premiere during the Chinese New Year festivities. As all the cinemas were closed, Huanxi approached IT company Bytedance (owners of TikTok) with a proposal to livestream the film across Bytedance’s platform. A deal was done in less than 24 hours. Not only did the movie gain a massive following and receive overwhelming positive feedback from the people of China, it also racked up an astonishing 600 million views.

Digital transformation examplesBoth of these examples are companies that have found new ways to serve and delight their customers, regardless of when they can reopen their physical doors again. In addition, it highlights the benefits of taking decisive action and remaining agile when faced with what appears to be an overwhelming challenge.

2. Strengthen the bridge between your online and offline stores

If you have both online and offline stores, it’s not enough to only focus on the online aspect. For maximum impact, you need to be strengthening the bridge between your two channels.

Allbirds, a San Francisco-based company that sells eco-friendly footwear, had a seamless operational infrastructure as they’d integrated their online and offline channels before the pandemic. This turned out to be a lifeline during the crisis because they could use staff from their physical stores to help fulfil online orders.

For example, if customers contacted the customer service team and asked questions such as ‘What can I pair these shoes with?’, the service team would ask customers if they’d like to speak to one of the sales assistants via video chat. Customers could then see what the sales assistants were wearing their Allbirds shoes with, plus the different colours and models available.

This meant Allbirds could satisfy their customers and maintain an excellent standard of service and experience while ensuring their in-store employees could support the customer service team as much as possible during this time.

Digital transformation examples

3. Use customer insights to make well-informed, timely changes

The crisis has shown it’s more important than ever for companies to know their customers. If you know what your customers want, you can make quick, informed changes to your business model or offerings and stay afloat during unpredictable times.

This is what floorcare company Bissell did. They saw their Chinese consumers were looking for cleaning solutions and steam cleaners because they were seen as effective disinfecting tools. So, Bissell held online training sessions on how to use these products.

The result? The sales of Bissell’s top-selling steam mop increased by 500% in the first quarter of 2020 – all because they leveraged their customer insights.

4. Expand your digital ordering channels by partnering with tech companies

If you can increase the ways your customers can purchase your products and services, you’re adapting to the crisis, satisfying your customers and boosting commerce sales at the same time. Partnerships with tech companies can help.

For example, US pizza franchise Papa John’s expanded their digital ordering capabilities in 2017 by launching Facebook Instant Ordering and later followed up with a custom-ordering app for Apple TV.

Although neither of these were in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has meant that Papa John’s was well-prepared when the time came. Their digital ordering channels had been invested in for a while so this, in combination with new team member hires and contactless delivery, has allowed the pizza franchise to continue despite the crisis.

Digital transformation examples

5. Join forces and collaborate with other industries to offer unique experiences

The forced closures of events, pubs and bars inevitably resulted in the on-premise sales of alcoholic beverages to crash (for context, on-premise sales account for approximately 45% of total beverage alcohol sales).

To combat this, drinks brands Budweiser, Rémy Martin, Carlsberg and Pernod Ricard joined e-commerce platform JD.com and Taihe Music Group to create an online clubbing experience.

Customers can livestream the events and buy drinks online which can be delivered to their home. The result of these events have been impressive, with imported liquor from a single partner brand increasing by 70% during one of the live shows.

6. Connect with your customers via digital channels

We’ve seen many examples of businesses who have managed to tighten the relationship with their customers by connected with them via digital means.

At the end of April 2020, Michael Kors launched a new customisation service for its handbag range, MK My Way. Debuting first in China before a global rollout later last year, the US fashion label’s pop-up experience allowed users to take a personality quiz and receive a personalised message and product suggestions from the namesake founder.

The experience then offered users the option of adding hand-painted customisations to the Michael Kors bags. In addition to livestream sessions and teaser videos, Michael Kors were able to keep consumers engaged and excited about their new handbag brand despite restrictions.

Digital transformation examples

What all of this means for you

The world was already fast-paced before the events of the past 18 months. Now it’s even faster. Businesses that aren’t taking steps to transform risk falling even further behind the competition.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, businesses that usually rely on in-person contact have made significant strides since adopting digital solutions. So, now is the time to be speeding up your initiatives so they span across a matter of weeks or even days. Look at examples like Papa John’s who are already many steps ahead, or AARMY who accelerated their digitalisation plans on the spot.

And if you’ve already transformed your business, it’s not the end of the road. You need to keep evolving and adapting in response to any changes because if there’s anything this health crisis has taught us, it’s that unprecedented incidents are near-impossible to prepare for. Instead, it’s about being able to adapt on the spot and having the right technology in place can help with that.

Are you ready for the new era of retail?

In the past, retailers saw digital solutions as a helpful tool to engage with customers, allow for some workplace flexibility and a way to introduce automation and faster processes. However, 2020 was the year businesses realised they needed to join the e-commerce landscape right now.

Our report – produced in association with industry publication Retail Gazette – examines the experiences of over 100 UK retailers and how they navigated a rollercoaster year. Retail executives are calling it 'five years of change in five weeks'.

Download it below.

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