If you’re not in pole position, you’re just playing catch-up

As most of the world goes into lockdown in an attempt to #flattenthecurve, it’s increasingly apparent that nobody really knows when or even how this will all end. Until a cure can be found, and immunity built up, it looks like COVID-19 is here to stay for a while at least. The big question on everyone’s mind now is ‘What’s the new norm?’

I do believe we are in the worst of it now. With the infection still spreading in most countries, many businesses are also having to scale down or shut their doors completely. Rising unemployment and the impending global recession has taken its toll on consumer confidence everywhere. Things will get worse before it gets better.

But one thing’s for certain. Things will definitely get better.

Planning ahead for when the skies clear, is as important as riding the storm itself. Many things that are happening now will shape the way we navigate our lives in the future, and this is the most game-changing period of our lifetime. Be concerned, be cautious even, but know that this is the time to be in the driver’s seat and drive the change.

Don’t give up on retail. We are undoubtedly seeing a spike in ecommerce activity now, but it’s important to note that this is out of necessity and not choice. Many ecommerce businesses have boomed in the past month. A good problem to have. But in many ways, it also shows up how unprepared the e-commerce infrastructure on the whole is right now. Many retailers are hastily switching focus to e-commerce, and the supply chain is struggling to cope with demand. If there’s one thing that will change, it is that the race for technology transformation will intensify. 

Consumers are now spending far less on non-essential purchases, for as long as there is uncertainty in the market. Making an ecommerce purchase has far more ‘checkpoints’ in the purchase journey that makes the consumer think before buying. Browsing or shopping requires affirmative navigation across platforms and going through the ordering and purchasing process is equally stepped. This is even before considering what you pay for now, will take a week or more to get delivered. With consumers in a cautious mindset, it’s very easy to be dissuaded from the purchase journey. In a retail setting, this whole process is far more seamless, and there’s instant gratification at the end. Retail spending helps stimulate domestic economic growth, especially in the coming months.

Loyalty in question. In a period where mobility and supplies are limited, people buy what they can and not always what they want. Brand loyalty takes second stage to urgency. This is especially evident in the F&B and FMCG segments. If a particular brand of soap at your supermarket has run out, you’re likely to just make an alternative choice. If your restaurant is unable to deliver for dinner today, you’ll just pick another. Perhaps inadvertently, this change is forcing consumers of all demographics to go back into a brand discovery phase. Brands can either be prepared to lose loyalty or fight to gain a bigger slice of the pie. Many will be open for business in the coming weeks, if not months, and that plan of attack is more evident now than ever.

Go Local. Each country has its own way of dealing with economic recovery, and cross-border trade will take time. What this means at a micro-level is that supply of imported goods will be slow to recover. For businesses who rely on imported products and services, now’s the time to re-formulate with more locally-sourced content. This ensures a more sustainable and consistent supply base. Export-driven brands should also begin exploring domestic markets for short- and medium-term survival. With consumers now willing to forego brand loyalty to look for more options, brands that take this route are more likely to come out on top.

The first big wave of change took everyone by surprise, but we now have every opportunity to plan for the next. It’s a matter of weeks or a month before the nation re-opens for business. So, make plans, get help, make sure it’s watertight, and get cracking. Because if you’re not in pole position by then, you’re just playing catch-up.

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