The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the commerce landscape across the globe. From the local café to the global investment firm, the ways in which businesses interact with customers, staff, employees, competitors and their peers has been transformed forever.
As the Co-Chief Executive at one of Australia’s most prestigious digital consultancy firms - DB Results, Andrew Dean discusses the key areas of transformation that have already impacted businesses and what areas to look out for.
“Companies are now rapidly adjusting to the concept of being a ‘digital-first’ business,” according to Dean.
“Face-to-face interaction has already been replaced with digital interaction - whether that is working from home, or customers making purchases online, for example. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about change that will lead to a new avenue of business operations for many; and going digital is at the forefront.”
While the majority of modern businesses have incorporated a digital presence into their models, a digital presence has become expected, rather than a value-add, says Dean.
“Previously the provision of digital services was considered the value add that experience and successful companies provided – now it is de rigueur that you will have a digital twin to any physical business that you operate.”
While younger generations would assume that all businesses would have a digital presence, a study in 2019 revealed that 59 per cent of Australian small businesses did not even have a website – a figure which ballooned to 65 per cent for regional businesses.
Understandably, it was these businesses without any digital presence that were impacted most by the state-wide lockdowns and needed to enact the most rapid changes to alter their business models.
Having a ‘digital presence’ in 2020, however, extends beyond a website – it means having a social media presence, ability for staff to communicate through digital channels, an e-commerce platform and online engagement. While some small businesses won’t need all of these functions, they have become a ‘must’ for medium and large businesses.
“The non-essential organisations that remained open [during the pandemic lockdowns] were only able to do so because of their ability to operate online.”
A new way of working
As millions of people were confined to their homes during 2020, countless workers and businesses discovered an unintended benefit of lockdown.
“Employees are reveling the flexibility of working from home, too. No longer bound by their physical office, they have found that the digital workplace can be just as intimate and efficient. Businesses have reason to encourage this and have embraced digital productivity tools that support collaboration, flexible hours and working from home.”
As many workers find the new working from home arrangement a blessing to maintain a work-life balance, businesses are finding that through digital platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft 360, JIRA or Trello, the speed and collaboration power of workers has exploded.
The digital revolution has permanently changed the relationship between employees and their employers, who are no longer bound by their geography. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), more than 30 per cent of workers hope to continue working from home into the future.
In the same report, the ABS found that 33 per cent of Australians prefer to do more shopping online than before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only confirms the importance of having a digital presence, but demonstrates the value of having ecommerce capabilities to broaden a business’ market out of their local precinct.
No time for delay
Any meaningful change to a society has historically taken time – whether it be an economic shift, a political change or a social movement.
The biggest challenge the COVID-19 pandemic brought for businesses was ‘time’. Businesses had mere weeks or days, in some cases, to shift their business models and ways of working before being restricted by lockdown.
“Almost overnight, restaurants, cafés and bars changed their services to incorporate digital menus and partner with various delivery apps. Retailers have ramped up their online presence and increasingly are offering free delivery and returns to encourage wary shoppers.”
Though the change was swift, and many businesses were able to adapt, the sheer speed which was needed has led to some imperfect practices – on which business now can improve and build upon.
While the seismic shift has meant tremendous change for businesses, customers and consumers have also had to adjust their approach to dealing with businesses, and they’re not complaining.
“The shift has been embraced by customers reveling in the convenience, and who now expect businesses to provide a digital shop front.”
The Telstra Business Intelligence Study in 2019 found that one in five consumers wouldn’t consider a new small business if they didn’t have a website.
“The digital shop front is now the first interaction people have with a business, and there are battles raging over who can provide the most compelling digital experience.”
Size doesn’t matter
Even though, statistically, small businesses are the least-prepared for a digital revolution, it is the small businesses who will benefit the most from the evolution.
While the medium and large-sized companies may have the financial resources to invest heavily in social media campaigns, infrastructure and technologies, the smaller players are now competing in the same landscape and have the potential to acquire customers from the larger institutions.
Businesses of all sizes are making the most of the level playing field that digital provides. A small investment in social media campaigns linking through to a quirky, engaging digital presence (and supported by devoted staff) is proving to be more effective than traditional marketing.”
“A well-planned, personalised experience doesn’t need to be expensive, and can scale with your business. Your customers and employees are online almost all the time, and smart businesses are encouraging them to mingle.”
Even though the playing field may have been levelled, some of Australia’s largest businesses are investing heavily to give the best digital experience for their new and existing customers and turning from their old-fashion strategies.
“Banks are constantly enhancing their personal and business banking apps to provide features that attract new customers and maintain loyalty. $50 million spent on an app that can service a million customers is vastly more cost effective than upgrading a thousand traditional shopfronts.”
Traditionally, customers have put their money where their heart is, whether it be trusting that a business offers the best value or showing favouritism to a local supplier. As the digital evolution moves forward, consumers have more power than ever to make or break a business with their powers of accessibility to compare and analyse.
“The shift to digital that COVID-19 hastened has highlighted the need to focus on the service your business provides, and not only your products. When customers evaluate your product online, they have dozens of ways to compare your products with a competitor.”
While reputation and word-of-mouth have been the greatest marketing tools for many businesses, customers are now more than willing to cast their judgement on a business and make those opinions known around the world.
“What [consumers] inevitably fall back to though, are reviews. Whether good or bad, people who feel inclined to leave a review about your product do so because they’ve had a good or bad experience with your business.”
Even though unmoderated and public ‘reviews’ may seem a threat for businesses, the opening of a two-way dialogue between business and consumer can also provide an enormous boost to community engagement, along with identifying potential pitfalls in the business.
At the Victorian Chamber, we deliver more than 800 nationally-recognised short courses, accredited diploma and certificate courses and tailored briefings for businesses to up-skill employees and gain unique insights for their operations.
Visit the Training and Events page of our website to give you and your businesses a competitive edge in 2021 and beyond.