Written by Niranjan Gidwani – Consultant Director, Member of UAE Superbrands Council and the Former CEO of Eros Group Dubai
If we have learned one thing from the last fifteen months of the Covid, it is that things can change in an instant. This is true of the way we live, the way we work, and the way we shop and buy as consumers. One of the most significant effects of Covid-19 is the realization that, for many of us, geographical location has become less relevant — so long as there is internet connectivity.
We have seen that, almost overnight, e-commerce strategies have shifted from a perpetual top priority on every retailer’s three-to-five-year plan, to a desperately needed lifeline that could enable them to survive a global pandemic. Investments have been made in logistics capabilities to enable last-mile, new business models like ghost kitchens (restaurants with a space for kitchen equipment and facilities, but without any dining area for walk-in customers), cloud kitchens, dark stores (retail distribution centers that cater exclusively to online shopping), and investments geared toward digital capabilities in AI and blockchain.
However, to have good medium to long term success, organizations would need to address the issue of what consumer experience they need to offer. The consumer experience is rapidly evolving from one that’s built upon the transactional process of in-store shopping to one that’s rooted in deep, ongoing and enriching relationships.
With initial indicators of what is happening as some countries and cities are slowly experimenting opening up procedures, retailers must understand the future of experience-led capabilities.
E-commerce is a key piece of that future. But it’s not just about being online — it’s about doing it right and continuing to consider how in-person shopping fits into the customer’s overall journey. With start-ups rapidly gaining ground and growing, they too need to understand the same concept of consumer experience through the apps created for various services. As more and more start-ups succeed, they would need to be prepared for similar competition to arrive faster than normal.
Organisations need to check if their structure is free of silos — which isolate e-commerce, merchandising, store operations, supply chain, credit control and marketing — and if they are interrupting or hindering the experience. Organisations also need to keep reviewing how they can be price-competitive and still maintain margins. And how they can orchestrate the consumer journey seamlessly from digital to physical and back again.
The new buzzword is that stores should be used as experience zones and fulfillment centres. While this can be a truly effective strategy, it requires systems and business units that communicate with each other to deliver on the promise. As scale up happens, so must retailers’ ability to deliver a consistent experience.
Even before the Coronavirus, rapid mutational changes in business were already disrupting all sectors. Whether it be distribution, supply chain, healthcare, energy, real estate, telecom or transportation, a lot more has changed in the last five years than in the three decades that came prior. The way forward call to action would require to be on two fronts.
A significant amount of focus would need to shift away from strategy. With the Coronavirus experience, the world is beginning to realise more and more that strategy relies on a model where various key parameters and assumptions are predicted and simulated. And yet, with all intelligent minds putting together all possible assumptions and predictions, some unknowns could be completely missed out. Which explains why, globally, the best, most advanced nations have been caught grossly underprepared for this pandemic.
A better approach would be to, along with strategy, put more emphasis on identifying and building financial, structural and people capabilities as well as competencies suitable to any particular industry segment. Building upon right and rapidly scalable capabilities would make organisations more robust, agile, and ready for any future situations.
Like the Coronavirus pandemic, businesses and economies will also face more frequent upheavals and pandemics. Those countries who have a strong, clear vision, and have spent time building upon their capabilities are managing to do a better job of handling the pandemic. The same would hold true for businesses and organisations in the future.
The employees who are closest to the market, or understanding the pulse of the customer, should be empowered to make better decisions. Which in turn makes for a faster response time. However, for this approach to work successfully, higher calibre and better trained people would need to be positioned from bottom to top. More and more, rapidly scalable digitization would be needed to handle repetitive activities.
Yet again, using the Coronavirus experience as a case study, those countries who have more empowered, better trained ground personnel, better understanding and implementation of systems and operating procedures, and better digitization, have been better equipped to handle the pandemic.
In the final analysis, the commitment, ethics and hands-on approach of any leadership team would decide how the end consumer views his or her repeated consumer journeys. For those of us who live in the city of dubai, the best measurement is to see how the government has evolved its systems and procedures over the last two decades, and how satisfied majority of its residents are with their daily consumer journeys while interacting with the government bodies. Organisations only need to emulate them.
A very strong, clear vision, an absolute hands-on approach of the leadership team, and a sustained, continuous, massive build-up of capabilities and competencies. In the consumer experience journey, it pays greatly to stay consumer-focused. Many organisations, while trying to stay consumer-focused actually become competitor-focused.