Ecommerce is only going to accelerate in the wake of the coronavirus crisis
A view from Alice Fabre

Ecommerce is only going to accelerate in the wake of the coronavirus crisis

When the economy recovers, there is hope for this decade to be the Roaring 20s.

This is a very difficult and unprecedented time for us all. Our priorities are to look after people, rather than look for business opportunities to exploit. One way of looking after people, however, is to make sure that your company stays strong. 

Let’s look at this with some perspective. A hundred years ago, the West was embarking on the Roaring 20s, when rapid industrial and economic growth ushered in a period of prosperity.

Now, as we enter a new decade, do we know how to generate the growth that will make the 2020s roar?  And is growth even a possibility this year, given Covid-19?

Looking back, the past decade has seen the emergence of a new world order in business.

Gone are the days of steady, almost predictable, corporate growth predicated on tried-and-tested management principles.

Technology has facilitated disruption on an unprecedented scale and growth has become more elusive for many more traditional businesses. 

The speed of change, however, means that no sensible business can rest on its laurels.

The Economist has talked of "slowbalisation", whereby globalisation has lost its shine and "given way to a new era of sluggishness". For many businesses, this pain is all too real.

The quest for growth in this challenging environment will need fresh perspectives. Recent research conducted by WPP and the Institute for Real Growth provides hope for businesses.

The findings (from before the coronavirus crisis) show that growth is not gone for good; it’s just harder to come by and requires a shift in focus and mindset.   

Significant growth can be unlocked by redefining your market

Analysis of overperformers versus underperformers helped identify seven factors that influence growth. The factor that had the biggest influence was referred to as "abundant markets". 

This boils down to redefining your market so that you are working in an environment where your share is smaller and you have a greater opportunity for growth. 

Taking this approach opens up new areas for growth and can help to unleash a powerful challenger mentality across a business, in turn motivating and inspiring employees.

Going after a redefined, expanded market will be key in this decade and it no longer comes with a hefty price tag. By unleashing the power of ecommerce, businesses can take a highly targeted, nimble and efficient approach to driving growth, as opposed to the likes of new offices and expensive international rollouts.  

Many companies continue to miss the full potential of ecommerce

Yet, too often, companies have a blinkered view of how ecommerce affects their business. The constant evolution of online retail and the looming "threat" of Amazon presents a challenge for brands.

Frequently, retailers are hesitant to expand their footprint as a result and find themselves caught up in the details of performance monitoring.

While this monitoring plays a vital role in success, it is important to take a step back regularly to review, refresh and reinvigorate strategy – charting a path to growth in new areas.  

And whether a brand is prepared or not, circumstances may dictate the need for a comprehensive ecommerce strategy.

For example, in recent weeks, the coronavirus outbreak has brought this need for nimble strategy development and implementation into sharp focus.

Responding rapidly to the changes in consumer behaviour these events bring – such as increasingly working from home – is an opportunity for those with a strong proposition that caters to people wanting to maintain a brand relationship from their household.   

Looking back, it’s also clear how crises can be mitigated by careful planning and even become the pivot for transformation that can create opportunities.

In 2003, Sars provided some rocket fuel for Alibaba’s growth. Widespread travel bans prompted businesses to seek ways of sourcing Chinese goods online, serving to increase Alibaba’s daily memberships and listings by 3.5 times over the pre-Sars rate. 

Richard Liu was prompted to start selling his wares through internet chat forums following the closure of all but one of his electronics stores due to Sars.

His ecommerce website 360buy was launched the following year and, now renamed JD.com, is an ecommerce powerhouse and Fortune Global 500 company.

Ultimately, any strategy must be forward-looking and take into account the key drivers for ecommerce growth in 2020. These are all areas that businesses should consider when coming up with their ecommerce roadmap. 

Dissatisfied customers should be your greatest opportunity

Of course, consumers lie at the heart of ecommerce growth. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said that a huge advantage of a customer-centric approach is that "customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied". 

He knows that they will always want something different and better, no matter how happy they are in the moment. The research from WPP and the Institute for Real Growth confirms that there is a desire for evolving experiences, highlighting it as one of the seven factors of growth.

For ecommerce, those evolving experiences encompass everything from content to payments to distribution.

Customer experience is more than just the digital experience. It’s the sum of all the customer touchpoints and factors that influence them – the speed of delivery, buyer protection, returns/refunds, contact policies and so on.  

So, yes, expand your market and act like a challenger brand.

But don’t forget the ultimate key to growth lies with the consumer. Get that right and you create the best opportunity to step into your own version of the Roaring 20s, once this crisis is over.

Alice Fabre is head of Theobalds Road Consulting, the consultancy division of MediaCom
Picture: Getty Images