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In this era of quarantine and self-isolation, as we speak to each other through the protective filter of our screen, we hear a common sentiment of social responsibility. It manifests itself as a rallying cry to “get through this together”.
Assuming the position of mature, caring adults, viewing a situation through the lens of social responsibility, we act in solidarity, shunning those who choose to picnic in the park or hold backyard birthday parties.
The truth is, this is not a familiar lens for most. It is a lens that we never selected, but rather, was imposed upon us, presumably to save us from ourselves. We are social beings, not intended to flourish at a “safe distance” from one another.
Similarly, most businesses rely on social interaction and direct contact. For many of them, this is a crippling period of inactivity, but indeed through every adversity comes the opportunity to learn and grow if we make the choice to recognize it.
Yes, people are frustrated. Yes, people want to do what’s right, but no, things won’t change significantly on the other side of COVID-19 unless we universally apply (un)common-sense best practices for our personal and business health.
So where does this leave us, as a country, as a people, as a retail or e-commerce business driven by service to others and guided by growth and profit?
Stop resisting change and embrace it for growth. This is no time to dig your feet in and double-down on the way things have always been done. Change is constant, perpetually in motion. That said, it tends to happen gradually, sometimes to the point that it is imperceptible. Rarely do we experience the “flicking of the switch” from one way of doing things to another, as dramatically as we have during this pandemic. The unique opportunity this has given us to stop our regular routine can be a blessing if we approach it with the right attitude.
To some businesses, social distancing will serve as a death knell. High priced square footage in prime locations or billable tables that must be re-positioned or sacrificed entirely to keep patrons safe. For each of these circumstances, sacrifices will need to be made that were not planned for.
Many small to medium sized businesses have been caught flat-footed, unprepared for the crater-like dip in revenue associated with an indefinite state of emergency. For them, this has been a busy period – scrambling to hash together planning and execution that has taken years for market leaders to perfect at scale.
We are familiar with this form of rapid change, and have been reflecting on it for some time, working with Canada’s top e-commerce provider since 2015, defining the standard for last mile home delivery.
With the forced closure of gyms, more runners and cyclists are on residential streets, exercising while taking in fresh air and nature. How many of these people will return to the “norm” of heading down a flight of stairs to the gym to work out shoulder to shoulder with strangers breathing in recycled air? Is it profitable for them to do so when a workaround has been identified that doesn’t require a bi-weekly debit on their bank account?
Forward thinking businesses have created a degree of elasticity similar to the principle of altering production based on price and income. In our context, elasticity refers to the ability to expand and contract while maintaining essential form. Coefficients of this elasticity include; supply chain, employment model, service models, and work from home policy. How far can each variable be stretched, while still preserving bottom line profit? After all, that is why we are in business. If it is not profitable, why are we doing it? Now is the time to look abroad to other markets that are adapting. What works? What are the challenges? How beneficial are the new opportunities presented?
Similar lessons can be learned by non-grocery retailers – forced to adapt, but also forced to create new efficiencies. We are at a unique juncture for retail and e-commerce business. Re-positioning the, now barrier-laden chore of going shopping, as a service advance will be an important pivot for your business. Consumers can get their shopping “done for them” by selecting among flexible home delivery options instead of putting themselves and others at risk. For businesses who can see the light at the end of COVID-19, this would seem an important take away to learn from - an opportunity to nurture a new method of purchase.
Based on strong indicators of steady declining footfall over the past decade, now accelerated by COVID-19, those businesses positioned to win the post-pandemic game have been ready to shift gears from brick and mortar to e-commerce for some time. Likewise, your business must be ready to adapt and mutate, assuming a change attitude for longevity.
Meeting the same-day and next-day delivery expectations of your customers, those same customers who place emphasis on fast home delivery, will require careful consideration. Even more careful selection should be put into the last mile delivery partners you work with, those that can internalize your brand and accelerate what you’re doing to capitalize on the current wave of online shopping.
Now that consumers have been herded towards e-commerce, the time to push forward to offer flexible home delivery options is now.
Speaking with experienced delivery service providers about the best way to offload the responsibility of sortation, routing, contact-less delivery, and returns handling, can lighten the burden associated with this necessary change.
Work with a team that has rolled out enabling technology at scale. Partners that are driving business expansion by working smarter as opposed to harder.
The next wave of business growth is online searching for you at this very moment. Your readiness for them will be driven by the degree to which you: Stop, Reflect, Learn, and Adapt. Models for post-pandemic business success will be authored by pioneers who have already envisioned the future of retail and are simply waiting for the countdown clock to reach zero when everyone else catches up. Be that pioneer.