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Businesses are fighting to stay afloat and adopting rapid digital transformation strategies to make existing services more accessible online, but is it enough or do they have to re-think their entire model?

Covid-19 has been catastrophic for many businesses, causing an unwelcome disruption to footfall, consumer confidence and spending habits. Events, leisure, restaurant and travel industries have been the hardest hit, with many businesses facing collapse.  The businesses that are determined to survive are now taking action and investing more into digital transformation and online marketing.

For us, as soon as lockdown was announced and staff were sent home to work, we became deeply concerned about the future. The future of the economy, our client’s futures, our staff’s futures. So, we did what any other ambitious business would do, we planned how to beat it and come out stronger.

We looked at our internal systems, our procedures, our policies, our service offering and quickly put plans in place to revolutionise the way we do business. We made significant changes to our team structure, we hired new staff, we won tenders, we implemented new software and project management tools. We crawled over every single detail of every process for operations and sales. Although Covid-19 was about as welcome as a bull in a china shop, we are actually much better off for it; it drove us to innovate, adapt and change how we approach business so that we can provide a better customer experience with improved internal operations – we have never been stronger.

Which sectors blossomed?

It may be stating the obvious, but the businesses that are doing the best right now are the ones that either operate entirely online or provide services remotely. When lockdown began, the first thing that happened was panic buying. People bought excessive amounts of food, domestic supplies, alcohol, and you guessed it, toilet paper. Once the fear of shelves running dry dropped away, people turned their attention to their home. Many people, who were paid nearly their full salary to take an extended holiday, seized the opportunity to do a bit of DIY. These stay at home holidays led to garden centres sales flourishing, builders staying busy and homeware/DIY sales rocketing.

Businesses that had tools in place for online sales or delivery did the best. The ones who relied on footfall or public gatherings fared the worst.

The risks of riding it out

It was tempting for many businesses to take an optimistic approach, thinking that it would likely pass quickly and the government support packages such as furlough and highly appealing loans would be enough to weather the storm, coming out the other side unscathed. This, however, was the riskiest strategy of all. There is still no clear end in sight, local lockdown could happen at any time and there is no guarantee that further lockdown measures will not be put in place across the country.

For some businesses, the fight will feel (and may very well be) unwinnable. For others, they stand a chance if they step into the arena and do their best. Bold moves may incur risk and require investment, but the risk can be mitigated with meticulous research and planning.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation is a term used to describe the process of taking new or existing business processes and making them digital. In our field, it encapsulates brand strategy, digital strategy, web and marketing. HMV was once the industry leader for music, video and entertainment. But they didn’t think big enough, they did not make any bold moves. It cost them dearly. They were in the prime position to innovate and start offering digital streaming services for film, series and audio. They stuck to what they knew, but the world slowly changed around them.

The world has changed again, this time, the change has been rapid. Even if its temporary, experts warn that this is not likely to go away for the foreseeable future. It has impacted businesses of all types on an unfathomable scale.

The drawbacks of rapid transformation

With such unprecedented rapid change, businesses are finding innovative ways to survive and grow. Restaurants are implementing online takeaway and delivery systems. Large pub chains like Wetherspoons are utilising their app too drive table service. Traditional retailers are looking for ways to get their products online, and there are options for every size of business.

Many of the actions being taken by businesses were probably going to happen at some point anyway. Not much of what needs to be done is entirely new, but businesses are now forced to adopt new technologies sooner than expected. What will be key to operational success, however, is how new systems integrate with current processes. Businesses had to move fast to keep momentum, utilising whatever was available at the time. We suspect many businesses are scrambling to make square pegs fit round holes, which can create additional work for staff, reduce turnaround and threaten profit margins. We are not out of the woods yet, but it’s the ability to adapt and change that will keep ambitious businesses thriving.

Will there be a happy ending?

For some sectors it is hard to see a happy ending, and they don’t have the luxury that HMV had. They don’t all have large cash reserves, massive brand power, or anywhere near as much time to react. Any bold moves are risky, but complacency brings its own risk.

Should bars knock down their buildings to make way for large open spaces. Should restaurants sacrifice their seating areas to make way for a commercial kitchen and focus on deliveries. Should retailers’ close shop and invest significantly in their web presence.

Only time will tell which business strategies will pay off. What is important is that businesses think bigger than digital transformation; they must consider their entire business model in a post covid world.



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