The global COVID-19 pandemic has become a major incentive for companies to embrace new ways of doing business. In the spring of 2020, remote work and a shift to digital operations became the name of the game.
Now, as the economy begins the gradual process of recovery, entrepreneurs need an action plan for reopening business after the coronavirus lockdown. Most importantly, business owners and C-level executives need to understand consumer behavior trends after COVID-19 in order to adjust to the post coronavirus reality.
So, after the lockdown, what is the new normal? How has consumer behavior changed, and what are the effects of this transition? In this article, we will explore the current situation and give you some actionable tips on how to restart your business in the new, post-COVID-19 world.
The current situation: Accelerated digital growth
As per recent stats, in just eight weeks we have witnessed unprecedented digital growth. In fact, it would have normally taken the economy five years to get to where we stand now in terms of technological adoption. The financial industry has become a global leader in digital customer services, with grocery stores quickly following suit and offering online shopping and delivery.
E-learning and telemedicine adoption rates have reached peak indicators during the lockdown, and manufacturers have started to deploy the long-delayed plans for complete automation and digital transformation.
Most companies have shifted to remote work and increased their agility in a bid to adapt to the unpredictable and volatile environment. Needless to say, IT teams have been working at a groundbreaking pace, implementing data analytics and AI initiatives.
Most of these changes, however, occurred as a response to changing consumer behavior. Triggered by one of the primal human emotions, fear of uncertainty, consumers are changing their long-established habits.
As of today, top consumer behavior trends after COVID-19 include the following:
Increased consumption of media
People in the US and UK report consuming 80% more media content during the pandemic, with 68% of them, predictably, look for COVID-related updates. All in all, consumers have reported using their phones for 4 additional hours each day. Online press, live streaming music, and video are reportedly the most preferred content formats as people stay at home during the pandemic.
Change in content delivery preferences
The use of texting has considerably increased during the lockdown. A Zipwhip survey also reported a higher preference toward receiving texts from brands, as well as from local health and government officials. This is mainly because of the increased smartphone usage during the lockdown. Furthermore, voice search has become an emerging trend due to the fact that people have become very conscientious of germs, and try to use their phones with minimal physical contact.
Change in consumer spending habits
Because of the complicated economic situation, consumers now tend to spend less on apparel shopping and luxury goods. Instead, they have focused on home entertainment and groceries, stocking up on the essential product supplies. A shift to online shopping, a much-anticipated consumer behavior trend, was mainly a prerogative of millennials, Gen-Z, and high-income shoppers.
Grocery sales have increased by 23%, according to McKinsey, and much of these purchases are being done while at home. It is likely this consumer trend will continue even after the lockdown is over. As for home entertainment, Netflix reports an 18% increase in the number of subscribers, which indicates how consumer priorities have changed.
Change in advertising consumption
53% of consumers prefer TV ads, and 35% report an increased interest in online retail. As for the paid online ads, research by the software company Remesh revealed 64% of people are ignoring them, while 49% choose to block them altogether. At the same time, due to the increased usage of smartphones, people tend to respond faster to texts and favor text messages from brands more than emails. About 97% of people report using social networks at least 1-3 hours a day.
As for the economic recovery expectations, consumers in the US and China report the highest level of optimism, while in the UK, Italy and Spain, consumers are expecting negative lockdown effects. Looking into the future, the trend for increased consumption of the essential goods and entertainment content is likely to persist.
Key strategies to focus on to accelerate digital growth
As per the Digital Sentiment Survey published by McKinsey in April of 2020, 75% of users who have started using digital services during the lockdown will continue to use them after the coronavirus crisis. As we look at the examples of countries currently recovering after the lockdown, such as China, we can see that the offline consumption patterns are uneven and still haven’t returned back to the pre-pandemic levels. Hence, reopening business after coronavirus should take into account the shift to digital, which is rapidly becoming the new normal.
So what is the best way for companies to restart business in the time of a coronavirus crisis? Below is a step by step plan that will help you reinvent your business and accelerate technology solutions integrations.
1. Tailor your digital efforts to changing customer expectations
First, explore how the needs of your key customers have changed, and see how your offerings correspond to these requirements. Next, compare your digital offerings to those of your competitors, and see what you can improve. Thereafter, you should focus on launching new digital channels that will help you meet your customers’ needs better.
Perhaps, the most vivid example of how a business can adapt to the post-COVID-19 reality is a quick shift to e-commerce carried out by brick-and-mortar retail chains. In a matter of three months, retailers with zero online presence managed to integrate their warehousing, marketing, and customer services with their e-commerce platforms, launch online sales, and start driving revenue.
It’s not only about the online presence, though. In the travel industry, for example, companies had to completely reimagine customer journeys in the post-COVID world to include easy access to sanitizers, social distancing, touch-free journeys, and fully digitized hotels with instantly available medical services.
2. Enhance your operations with digital solutions (AI, big data, cloud, automation, and IoT)
Just like any crisis, the global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated technology innovation, while revealing the weak spots of each business and organization. As they emerge from the lockdown and face the “next normal”, enterprises have to eliminate these weak spots and bottlenecks by improving business-critical operations.
At this point, you have to determine which facets of your organizational ecosystem are critical for enabling your company to maintain business-continuity. These facets could include production, marketing, new business and innovations, or customer service. For example, many companies are leveraging data analytics and are using new data sources to understand their customers better and offer better customer service.
3. Modernize the tech stack to accelerate business development
To successfully complete the previous step, enterprises have to possess all the necessary toolsets and infrastructure capacities. This could be a tricky thing to achieve and may involve reevaluation and reallocation of your current IT budget. You can save on costs by eliminating all the non-critical workloads, extending the refresh cycles of your software and hardware, and renegotiating contracts with your key vendors.
Next, focus on technologies that will help you meet your most pressing challenges. For instance, if you have to run a complex data analytics system to gain insights for customer data, consider renting cloud infrastructure capacities. Fortunately, cloud vendors offer affordable fees and enable you to deploy software solutions fast and easily.
4. Boost your organization agility
We don’t know exactly what the new normal will be. What we do know for sure is that in times of crisis, you have to run twice as fast just to keep up. Your goal at this point should be to increase your organizational agility – especially in the most critical business areas.
Think of the startup environment that favors action over planning and evaluation. This is the mindset you will have to adopt in order to successfully bridge the COVID-19 crisis. As a business, you may already have at least several agile teams in place, and now their experience will have to extend to cover your entire organization.
For example, for many companies, remote work is an actionable means of tapping into the pools of qualified professionals and gaining access to any specific expertise. Encouraging your employees to work remotely could also provide you with the flexibility to instantly respond to any unexpected issues and challenges.
Things to consider when facing the new normal
Apart from the above-mentioned action plan, there are several more things to consider as you return to “normal” after the COVID-19 crisis.
Gather market insights
The post-COVID-19 market will be extremely volatile, and we can no longer rely on the trends outlined in the pre-pandemic forecasts. To bridge this gap, it is crucial to run customer surveys and interviews to understand their new preferences and values.
Consider what means you can use to get customer feedback: request customer support managers to obtain the most frequently asked questions and the most pressing customer issues that they currently face. Use this feedback to create new offerings and solutions tailored to changing customer behavior. Focus on customer-facing initiatives as you relaunch your processes or reinvent your business.
Detect new revenue opportunities
The surveys you run will help you identify new revenue opportunities. Is there an unmet customer demand or a niche you can tap into? For example, a car rental company in China, that had lost nearly 90% of its revenues during the lockdown, has rapidly adapted to the new reality. First, they used data analytics for customers’ micro-segmentation. Secondly, they studied social networks and discovered that many tech companies forbade their staff to use public transportation.
They also contacted clients which canceled their orders and told them about the measures they took in response to the pandemic to reassure them they could safely use their services. In over a short span of time, they have recovered 90% of their previous revenues.
Focus on workforce resilience
Today, as the future of work looks unpredictable and uncertain, it’s highly important to offer employees remote working opportunities. This will not only help your company increase agility and ensure non-disruptive operations but also help employees feel more financially secure and protected from a healthcare perspective.
The health crisis is endangering people with fragile immune systems. As workers return to their offices, make sure that they have free access to sanitizers and reorganize their workplaces to maintain appropriate physical distances.
As you adopt an agile mentality, step aside from the old-fashioned siloed model. Set up cross-functional teams to boost efficiency and enhance communication. Also, make sure you offer ample learning opportunities to employees who are willing to assume new roles and responsibilities. Most importantly, communicate every business decision in a clear and comprehensive way to establish a culture of mutual trust and transparency.
Consider vulnerabilities of your current IT systems
Technologically speaking, do you have all it takes to stand up to the challenges that COVID-19 has inflicted upon us? On the whole, there are three core things to pay close attention to as you relaunch your business after the coronavirus crisis:
- Security and data protection: as your employees work remotely and gain access to sensitive data, this aspect can become highly problematic.
- Scaling-up on-demand: as customers and employees start actively using digital channels, is there enough capacity to handle peak workloads?
- User-experience: digital services need top-notch usability and an attractive interface. Do your digital offerings have all it takes to stand out among competitors?
Forge reliable partnerships
The digital recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge in itself, especially considering the urgency of the situation and the fact that the new emerging economy will be ruthless to laggards. Under these circumstances, partnering with a reliable technology solutions vendor will give you a significant competitive advantage. Not only will it enable you to accelerate digital transformation, but also allow you to share ideas and expertise.
The COVID-19 crisis has acted as a natural incentive to accelerate technology innovation. While previously, such pace of digital transformation would have been impossible because of the high level of employee and customer resistance. In the wake of the crisis, a shift to digital is a highly-welcomed change. Identifying key areas to focus on, finding new revenue streams, reallocating IT budgets, and partnering with a reliable technology vendor will help you gain the upper hand while reopening your business post-COVID-19.