COVID-19 thrusts e-commerce into the spotlight

3 stages to becoming a digital business in a novel economy.

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The first mission is to stabilize the shock. Decision-makers are convening in virtual war rooms to triage and plan for real-time and where to concentrate resources in the short-term. Investments are scrutinized to ensure immediate impact need and ultimately on the value chain. Current investments are examined for untapped, relevant capabilities, “What else can I get out of my existing investments?” Everything at this point is aimed at solving problems or responding to needs that can happen in days or weeks.

Speed is the relevant currency.

2. Shift war room into a center of excellence for DCX

Next, brands and retailers have to integrate digital and physical operations. Shift the war room focus into a command center for hybrid digital/physical journey architecture and orchestration.

The second mission is to accelerate and renovate touchpoints defining the digital customer journey.

Anyone can, and everyone will, compete on price. New expertise is needed to think “digital,” not just digital-first, but also in digital and mobile only scenarios. We don’t want to just support digital customer experiences for existing customers, we aim to spark CLV and attract net new customers. Here, timelines are zeroed-in on digitizing and modernizing systems that support online commerce, service and support, and also remote working to support everything else. Omnichannel must be intuitive and native to each platform. The goal is to deliver an intuitive, unified, and adaptive consumer engagement across their touchpoints.

For the foreseeable future, every day can be like Black Friday and Cyber Monday with the right cross-functional approach (journey-wide, recent data sets and real-time AI-powered analytics are critical here).

Infrastructure has to support that level of activity for the near term while building to compete differently as the Novel Economy progresses.

Remember the distinction between the digitization and modernization of operations and building a digital business for the next normal. Investments should be separate, running in parallel, aimed at digitizing operations and also facilitating modern digital customer experiences at internet speed and scale.

3. Expand digital services and create “born digital” products

The Novel Economy is both a mandate to digitize and become digital and a blank canvas to spark innovation in a new world.

The third mission is to build out next-generation business models. Here, you’re challenging legacy conventions, training for new leadership and expertise, and innovating across the journey.

Even though we’ve focused on digital shopping, this isn’t just about digital only or digital first. Instead, we’re building for a total, integrated, and seamless digital and real-world experience that meets the needs and expectations of the evolved customer.

We’re designing for a seamless, intuitive, integrated hybrid model that blends digital and analog experiences. Furthermore, this is about introducing new hybrid experiences that create unprecedented value.

There’s a quote by Dr. Prabhjot Singh that comes to mind right now, “We spend a lot time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.” This is incredibly true in the Novel Economy. This is a chance to get it right from the get-go.

For retailers, boosting digital capacity is not a question. Beyond pricing, those retailers that go the extra mile to enhance digital experiences in each touchpoint throughout the customer journey will stand out against competitors.

Omnichannel takes on new dimensions with each channel and touchpoint uniquely supported by processes, systems, and employee training to deliver native (UX+UI innovation), personalized (humanized) experiences. This includes ecommerce, service and support, and loyalty programs. Also, experiment with new ways to deliver digital-exclusive value and experiences in existing and new channels.

A working list for digital experience innovation:

  • UX and UI design must be specific to each platform. Design has to be on par with or better than the best experiences in each channel. This includes looking outside of retail.
  • Mobile-only and mobile-optimized
  • Social media
  • Phone ordering
    • DTC pet supply company Chewy connects commerce and service to help customers place orders online and over the phone. Representatives also offer expert advice.
  • BOPIS/curbside and online order for delivery (sanitized and contactless must be in place and communicated in the last mile)
  • Conversational commerce
    • Beyond chat bots for basic questions and answers, consider a more robust intelligent system that understands intent and helps guides customers forward.
    • Also ensure a human can step in when needed. B&H offers on-demand chat with human experts to help customers with product insights before they place their order.
    • Contact centers too are being slammed, requiring the exploration of automation and conversational-AI solutions to address the crushing volume.
  • Voice shopping
    • Amazon enables voice ordering via its Alexa platform. And, because it’s a platform, brands and retailers can also develop Alexa Skills for voice-based customer experiences. For example, Domino’s and Pizza Hut (among many others) offer voice-enabled ordering through Alexa. This is a prime example for voice-native UX/UI design. If not done thoughtfully, voice can be a truly awful experience.
  • Experiential
    • Party City developed a “Banish Boredom” program to provide shoppers who are under shelter-in-place orders with ideas on DIY activities, fun in-house party planning (like a rave!), and at-homes games for the family.
    • Fender is offering three months of free guitar lessons for subscribers to its website.
    • Ethan Allen is offering video-based design consultations via FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangout.
    • Brands, this is a chance to get to know your customers directly, in authentic ways, to deliver special services online that aren’t possible in-store. Plus, it’s an opportunity to capture data, surface insights, and learn new ways to continue to deliver value.

The time is now to digitize, become digital, and innovate.

The key to every step is empathy and human-centered innovation. And in a digital sense, this means data-driven empathy, the ability to see new and evolving data sets, contextually, by intention and aspiration, that are defining the next normal, in each interim and evolving state.

Global disruption serves as a great equalizer. Our response though, is what will define us moving forward. We can effectively manage the response and we can use it as a catalyst to align, transform, and even innovate.

CIOs, CDOs, CTOs and CMOs are the architects who must co-develop a post-Covid-19 blueprint to survive and thrive in the Novel Economy. There really isn’t anything in the books that says we have to go back to the way things where. In fact, there is no playbook for these times.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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