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Before COVID we said we were in a golden age for digital transformation.
How naive were we?
Now with our post-pandemic perspective, we can see why that was complete and utter nonsense.
Because over the course of just a few days back in March, digital transformation went from being: “That thing businesses should get around to doing soon to function at full efficiency”.
To: “The thing businesses must do immediately if they haven’t already. Or else they won't get through this crisis”.
See the difference? It’s not subtle.
Digital transformation went from being a relative luxury (for those who had the foresight, as well as the resources), to becoming an absolute necessity. That’s a huge shift that many SMEs simply weren’t prepared for.
To help you understand why it was so problematic, let’s go back to basics. What does digital transformation actually mean?
It can look different from one business to the next. It could mean digitising your product or service, or changing the way you take your product or service to market through new digital channels, but broadly it means: “to utilise digital technologies to change how you do business to meet changing consumer needs or market requirements”.
Unfortunately for most SMEs, the worst thing that could possibly happen happened when lockdown came into force. Consumer needs and market requirements changed virtually overnight, plunging brick and mortar businesses into despair, as all but essential retailers were forced to shutter their doors.
Back in spring, pre-COVID, digital transformation was on many business’ to-do lists but was ultimately still considered as a “nice-to-have”. It wasn’t thought of as integral to a wider business continuity strategy, causing many business owners to take what I’d call a “manaña approach”, putting it off and kicking the proverbial can down the road.
But now, in the warm light of summer, SMEs can’t afford to get complacent just because we’re slowly returning to business as usual. As we stare down the barrel of an uncertain winter, where a second wave and second lockdown isn’t off the table, digital transformation simply can’t be ignored. SMEs have to move quickly and prioritise a shift to digital, and there’s no time to waste!
So, how can small businesses compete in an environment where bigger brands can push back with even bigger budgets? To find out more I've been speaking with e-Commerce industry leaders, starting with Geoff Bull, e-Commerce and Marketing Director at Wiggle.
Wiggle is an online sports retailer who bucked the COVID trend and saw an upturn in sales. A combination of being prepared: fully online, could keep trading safely, good systems in place to meet increased client demand; and simply a result of being in the right place at the right time.
Many more people had the time to focus on themselves as a result of lockdown, rekindling a passion for health and fitness with Wiggle proving the perfect destination to buy their equipment. A strong SEO strategy hasn’t done them any harm either!
I asked Geoff what SMEs needing to transform should prioritise in order to compete effectively online, so they can begin recouping months of lost sales from the get-go.
Geoff believes you must be prepared to go fully digital if your business isn’t there already, because digital businesses are in the best position to understand what their customers want and build responsive systems to deliver for them.
“It's about getting back to basics, understanding what problems your customer is facing. Why do they use your products, and why do they choose you? Then you can start to think from a channel perspective about how you can build solutions for them. Maybe it’s research journeys that need to start online rather than the whole online purchase piece, or you might need to build out a new channel or an entirely new way of transacting. By starting out with a problem-first basis you can understand what your customers are trying to do and build solutions around them.”
Talk to anyone and you’ll quickly discover that the prevailing problem to solve right now is safety. How do we go back to our daily lives and routines while remaining safe? Remote working, telecommuting, contactless payments, Click & Collect and next day delivery are just some of the solutions that are helping us to do this, so it comes as no surprise that the businesses who are well positioned to meet this changing consumer behaviour are having the most success.
In Wiggle, consumers get a solid experience. They can access the high quality products they need, safely, so they stick around rather than shop around. And one thing Wiggle does particularly well is manage the customer journey so it’s seamless. Customers can log in from their desktop and start looking at bikes or running gear, get distracted by work or family, then come back days later to find everything exactly as they’d left it.
Yet despite how well 2020’s been going, Wiggle isn't taking anything for granted. Geoff calls their current growth plans “conservative” because there’s still a lot of uncertainty in the future for their business, just like there is for every SME. Now more than ever it’s the smallest things that count the most to consumers. Therefore Wiggle’s biggest focus is on getting the basics right; making sure its customers continue to have a great experience. And where there’s still reluctance to return to more traditional routes and in-person interactions, this experience has to begin and end online.
So, what’s the big secret, the silver bullet for SMEs to Wiggle their way out of COVID? While it’s nuanced for every business, the answer is simple: maximise your online presence.
It’s not a coincidence that digital was central to almost every interaction during lockdown, and it doesn’t look as though this is going to change anytime soon. No matter how little cashflow you have in your business, it’s imperative that you put yourself in a position to compete online. Whether that’s rethinking your end-to-end customer journey or building an e-Commerce website from scratch – you need to make it as easy as possible for people to find you and purchase your products or services.
Investing in digital advertising such as SEO, like Wiggle, and PPC, can help you develop brand awareness in the places where your customers are increasingly spending lots of their time, like search engines and social media.
It goes without saying that there’s a lot of pressure to get it right, and many SMEs simply won’t survive if they don’t adapt. But you don’t have to do it all by yourself and knowing when to bring in the experts, and outsource the help you need is crucial, so you can focus on what you do best: selling, growing and running your business.
Every business should have access to online marketing that works, and by partnering up with 3-commerce, that’s exactly what you’ll have. Give us a call on 0333 772 9369 to find out how this can work for you.