Ecommerce in the time of coronavirus

 What a start to 2020.

I remember reading articles and blog posts at the end of 2019 that the best was yet to come in 2020, and the stock market seemed to agree. While we always knew that such a pandemic could arise, we pushed it away as an inconvenient truth, much like overall climate change.

Though we are in the midst of a pandemic with infection numbers rising incredibly quickly, it is worthwhile to look forward at how to best weather this storm, because two things are clear.

One, life goes on and our overall social and economic system won't be upended. But secondly, this thing is going to be around for a while and it may change certain aspects of our lives - as well as economic actions - more quickly than we would've thought

Nowhere can this be observed more drastically than with travel, tourism, F&B, and most of retail, all of which suffer heavily. In almost every country, governments have committed themselves to support ailing airlines, tourist-dependent industries and many other companies with a "whatever it takes" attitude. 

However - credit or bond commitments aside - there are certain retailers and brands that suffer less than others, either due to products that are currently in demand or due to a digitally native setup that doesn’t depend on face-to-face interactions. As a reference, the relative top performers of the Hang Seng Index are a producer of sanitary napkins, a pharmaceutical company, and a digitally-native company:

Similarly, we have heard various tales of woe from our retail and brand clients, with one of the main indicators of their level of pain being the general preparedness towards a digital ecosystem. One that can support and sustain sales, even while traditional retail, stymied by the lack of foot traffic or mandatory store closures, suffers.

We in APAC seem to be at the tail end of the infection curve for now, with life seemingly returning to normal in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and other locations. And it has become obvious that this situation has only accelerated the trend towards digital commerce ecosystems which win out against competitors only if the online purchasing experience is available and easy to use.

Hence there are a few important lessons that both B2C & B2B eCommerce retailers should take away from this:

There is almost no part of your business that cannot be conducted online

While some products are more commonly bought and sold online than others, there is really no barrier to what products or services can be purchased online. Various advanced eCommerce platforms and appropriate B2B/quotation management tools have made it possible to replicate even some of the most complex purchasing processes online.

The online purchasing experience should not be seen as inferior

It is equal to retail or face-to-face interactions. This applies to all aspects of an eCommerce presence, ranging from the user experience (UX), site speed, product availability, inventory availability, to competitive prices and promotions, ease of use, the flexibility of checkout options, and overall service and support.

This is not a short-term remedy, but a long-term strategic positioning

With the march towards digital, it will only become more difficult to survive and strive in the coming years when more and more experiences move online and are enriched with further 1:1 personalization, AR/VR technologies, and omnichannel integrations. Your businesses' survival depends on the realisation of that fact.

patrick deloy isobar

Patrick Deloy is the managing director at Isobar Commerce, part of Dentsu Aegis Network. Dentsu Aegis Network Hong Kong recently released a report sharing where guidance for marketers to stay vigilant and relevant during this challenging period.


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