2020 burned hot, with global upheaval from every angle, culminating in an ongoing health crisis that halted the world, challenged communities, and strained economies. The economic future looks perilous, with 2020 expecting to set records for the highest number of retail bankruptcies and individual store closures in a single year. Holiday spending, typically a reliable boost for retail businesses, is expected to be down some 22 to 25% and total U.S. retail sales may see a 10.5% decrease.
The forecast is not all bleak, however, with eCommerce sales expected to increase 18% over last year, and eCommerce penetration in the US market growing more quickly in just three months, than in the last ten years combined.
In 2021, digital is expected to expand its market share, as businesses and consumers go online to complete tasks they traditionally completed in person. A strong online platform and an integrated marketing strategy is critical and urgent against today’s pressures.
Though Covid-19 turned “normal” on its head, marketing advice for 2021 remains unchanged: make your business easy to find and buy from. Make it easy to ask questions and get answers with a human touch. Make sure your technology is working, feed those machines data, and make strategic decisions based on that data. Optimise campaigns to understand what works best and listen to your audience to engage them at the right moment and with the right motivator. Don’t chase shiny buzzwords or innovate for innovations sake – take painstaking care to deliver on every customer promise, optimise flawless digital experiences, and rigorously uphold operational excellence.
So, what is a marketing predictions piece if not full of sparkly new trends? In response to Covid-19’s tough lessons and alien sales environment, marketers will push forward or panic, ultimately falling into two pools. Each pool is replete in hazards and opportunities – which pool will your digital transformation fall into?
Strong swimmers: Can they handle the waves?
Our “strong swimmers” have a quality online foundation (e-commerce, integrated marketing, and/or technology-enabled sales reps and customer support) positioning them to better withstand COVID-19’s economic disruption. Like everyone, they took revenue losses in March and April, but were quick to move traditional in-person sales channels online.
Opportunities: The strong swimmers have a huge advantage – a 24/7 platform to capture sales and endless opportunities to engage and respond to customers across online channels.
An established online presence gives our strong swimmers another upper hand: data. They can measure behavioral changes and modify their customer acquisition, retention and maximisation strategy on-the-fly.
With the right digital infrastructure in place, our strong swimmers can focus on what matters most: their people. They can empower employees with tools, information, processes, and strategies to deliver on customer promises.
Moreover, strong swimmers can spot opportunities to open new markets or create new products. Some may break traditional sales models, like adding a B2C channel to previously exclusive B2B distribution.
Ultimately, they can remain focused on customers and withstand stalled supply chains, work-from-home employees, and decreased in-person sales opportunities.
Caution: Reliable online businesses will continue to see an uptick in traffic and transactions in 2021. Though better positioned, every business is only as good as their weakest link, and no business can sit back and ride the revenue waves. More transactions mean more opportunities to disappoint customers, unless you remain focused on superior customer service.
In the fight for customer acquisition and loyalty, any friction in your systems, processes, or people is at best, a missed opportunity. At worst, it’s a bridge delivering customers to competitors.
Use your secret shoppers – your employees – to regularly complete your checkout process, submit a customer service inquiry, or take a walk in your customers’ shoes to ensure their experience is simple, effective, and enjoyable.
Sinking: Can they stay afloat?
In our second digital transformation pool, we have marketers paddling like crazy or sinking like stones. These businesses are facing many challenges, and for some, they’re weighed down by a lackluster or haphazard adoption of digital channels.
Businesses dealing with COVID-19 protocols without a strong website and marketing strategy are scrambling to stand them up overnight. They’re throwing money at their problems with buzzwordy solutions disjointed from their business or customers’ needs.
Opportunities: Luckily, it’s never been so easy to kickstart your digital transformation.
Cloud-based website and marketing solutions can get enterprise, mid-size, or small business off the ground and online fast, and they come at all price points. There are out-of-the-box tools for those with no digital expertise or digital agencies to kickstart your digital transformation.
Search engine optimisation (the science and art of improving webpages for search engine rankings) remains technical but is now much simpler. Google says, create great content and deliver an awesome user experience. (Google is adding UX as a search ranking factor in 2021). Every business can create content that is entertaining or educational and hyper-targeted on their audiences’ needs to gain traction in search rankings over time.
If you prefer instant gratification, pay-per-click advertising is an effective channel to widen your audience reach and acquire new customers.
Years ago, solidifying a digital footprint was complex, time intensive, and required technical resources. Today, there’s a solution for every company size, budget, and skill level, and experienced digital agency partners to guide you.
Caution: If you’re looking for an overnight digital transformation, start slow and set realistic expectations. Don’t get seduced by the new shiny technology. (You know, the middle-aged exec making Tik Tok videos when your target demographic is nowhere on the platform). If you dive headfirst into a large digital investment without a plan, especially when if it’s the “cheaper” option up-front, you’ll pay five-times that amount later fixing unforeseen issues.
Get the basics right is your best path forward. Stay laser focused on your customers and match every step of your digital transformation to their needs. Is contact, FAQ, and important information easy to find and comprehensive? Does your payment process work effectively, are you responsive to customers, and can you quickly issue returns and refunds? Think through all the inconveniences you experience as a consumer and get those right.
2021: Just keep swimming
2020 pushed us straight into the deep end, forcing businesses to make critical changes to their infrastructure, teams, and sales channels. We hope 2021 is boring by comparison, but the agility, flexibility, tempered risk taking, and digital transformation will propel our businesses forward.
By investing in your online presence, you’re securing the ability to drive engagement and revenue, regardless of the health crisis and changing society. 2021, and every year after, will be the year of the customer. We win by getting the customer-first foundation right.
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