How to be resilient in digital retail

Gin distillers selling hand sanitiser online; restaurants turning to apps to offer takeaways for the first time; retail assistants giving fashion advice over video calls: digital retailers across the globe were forced to pivot their business strategies in order to survive during the most turbulent periods of the pandemic.

But while there have been many challenges over the past two years, the businesses which adapted best and even flourished in many cases, are the ones with which the buzzwords, ‘agility’ and ‘resilience,’ can be associated.  

According to research and intelligence provider IDC, the attributes of resilient commerce can be put into categories including autonomous commerce; sustainable commerce; frictionless transactions; personalisation; excellent experiences; new business models - and trust.

 As we look forward and take on the learnings of the many challenges that lockdowns, chain supply demands and an uncertain workforce and future presented, we have asked our partners and experts what they believe ‘resilience’ means and what brands should be doing to ensure that they are ready for all future eventualities.

What does resilient commerce mean?

Jonty Sutton, SQLI UK CEO

Resilience from a digital retail point of view post-COVID is now more focused on operational considerations.

The investment going into the industry is all set around the customer experience, but now it’s less about the brand story, and more around conversions – from faster delivery times and logistics, to payment methods and subscriptions services. It’s these things that tie in a customer and lead to better conversions.

The supply chain, the logistics, the operational side - these are all core parts of the business now and have to be treated as such.

The resilience in digital commerce today is the enabler for the physical and virtual store front and Covid is the example of how brands have been forced to adapt to ensure all these areas are able to run and change direction as one.

Bethan Williams-James, Adobe Commerce solutions consultant

Resilience in the commerce space is about having the agility to be able to move into a different area when faced with a crisis.

Before I joined Adobe, I was an Adobe Commerce customer at a jewellery brand – I was there until June 2020. As the pandemic took hold, no one was buying jewellery and one of the things we had to do was change our business strategy – and fast. We had multiple business models, like focusing more online; different product ranges; or going after new customers in a new market - something outside our usual customer profile.

We looked at these and weighed up investment over gains. We were lucky enough to have the digital tech that allowed us to be agile and make changes quickly. Be that adding new content to our website or developing a new product. In our case, we made candles with gemstones. But if you look at a brand like Fortnum and Mason, for example, they adapted by placing more emphasis on hampers and subscription models knowing the footfall to their stores would diminish.

Resilience is therefore also about innovation, but innovation in times of strife. It’s about anticipating a future problem and coming-up with creative ways you can circumvent it using the things you have in your arsenal. The pandemic has given people in commerce a reason to be innovative.

Mathias Kossmann, SQLI head of practice e-Commerce and engagement, Germany

We have a lot of clients in the B2B area and they had to quickly adapt during the pandemic. Most of them worked closely with retailers and relied on them to sell their products. But when shops were shutting during lockdown, they quickly understood the importance of not just relying on this strategy.

They needed to open up other avenues, such as B2B2C, which meant they could have a sustainable channel, but also other options to sell their products to help secure their position should any future challenges occur.

It’s not enough to have one sales strategy, you have to think about different directions. Everyone now has to deal with digital platforms and so the change has to come not just with technology, but with the whole way a company is organised and operates.

Resilience is about changing the business model. It’s about keeping as many different channels open digitally and providing the same quality of data and same quality of experience on each. The customer buying experience, whether B2B or B2C, has to be the same.

Jonty Sutton

Why is it so important for a brand to be resilient?

Mathias Kossmann, SQLI head of practice e-Commerce and engagement, Germany

The pandemic has highlighted how infrastructures and business models can be severely disrupted due to unforeseen circumstances.

Brands – whatever size - must adopt different strategies and business models to allow them to switch between them from one day, to another. This is where an omnichannel approach comes in to play allowing brands to set different priorities and switch ‘channels’ in times of crisis from store to online and vice versa.

The message is loud and clear.  Adopt multiple channels and multiple business strategies or the risk could be damaging.

Jonty Sutton, SQLI UK CEO

Marketing is very much being driven by social today, the use of email, for instance, is decreasing among most brands. Understanding how to deal with this and a new generation is the key. Resilience is important because we are seeing different engagement models so brands have to adapt to stay relevant.

Whereas older generations look to buy from a trusted source or brand, younger generations will look for a recommendation, or go with an option because they can pay on Klarna or get loyalty points. These aren’t traditional buying habits. Resilience in this respect is about attracting different types of customers who expect a different type of experience.

The other component is when you look at the traditional brand exposure and spend in marketing, brands have to be up their game to get their share of the market place. It’s about covering different bases and not relying on one avenue.

Bethan Williams-James, Adobe Commerce solutions consultant

As the pandemic has taught us, you cannot predict the future.  But it doesn’t have to be a big global event, it could be an issue with a supplier who has gone out of business, for example. It’s about putting in safety measures for your business and being open to innovation and change. Businesses that haven’t innovated or future-proofed their operations are the ones who inevitably have struggled.

When you want to implement any type of digital strategy, you need to think about the underlying factors that might impact it. Having been involved in website builds on different platforms, you tend to be focused on today, tomorrow and the year ahead – not necessarily the future.

But I’d encourage all businesses, especially SMBs, to consider it more. It’s important to be prepared for what could be.

You do this by choosing agile, flexible solutions to achieve your goals and hiring people who have experience or are eager to learn and focused on innovate ideas and problem solving.

Bethan Williams-James

What should brands be focusing on to ensure they are more resilient in the future?

Jonty Sutton, SQLI UK CEO

If you go back to what I was saying earlier about using different marketing spheres there’s a lot more to think about. If you had Ronaldo put something out as a branded message on Instagram to his 350 million followers at one click of the button, you might get 100 million views. It has to be very targeted to pay for itself.

But what’s more important is having the infrastructure, the capability, the services, the experience, in place and being ready for when the customers visit the site or app.

I’m giving marketing as an example, but it is interchangeable with other areas of the business. During Covid, when people couldn’t get to the store, retailers were sometimes having five times more people going to their site than the previous day.

So, the resilience is how do you get ready for these abnormal traffic rushes. Are the warehouses ready? Can the platform take it? Around Christmas time in 2019, the worry was would there be the couriers to cope. They did. When it came to Christmas during Covid, the same worries arose. But actually, in the end consumers adjusted the way they shopped and did most of their Christmas shopping early.

Today, the cost of living has increased, and there are issues that are only just beginning to present themselves due to the Russia – Ukraine conflict. But it’s a little bit wait and see. But the question remains, is your business ready for any supply-chain issues or fuel crisis problems? What have you put in place?

Mathias Kossmann, SQLI Head of practice e-Commerce and engagement, Germany

All commerce brands should be thinking ‘what does omnichannel mean to me?’ You can’t rely on one channel and the business has to function as an integrated approach. The brand experience has to be fluent on all channels and work with all channels. This is really important.

This means from a unique technology platform with a single point of truth regarding data and processes, to the business strategy and internal processes.

Play it through. Omnichannel is a buzzword, but what does it mean to you and what are the consequences for your company if certain bases aren’t covered or challenges present themselves.

Make sure you have opened-up as many different channels as possible but ensure the customer experience stays the same - and give your customers what they now expect.

Mathias Kossmann

Bethan Williams-James, Adobe Commerce solutions consultant

I’d recommend concentrating on three areas:

  1. Brands should choose solutions that serve their purpose today, but also that have the flexibility and agility to grow with them. Often, when we talk growth, we mean a solution that will grow with us as the business expands. In this case, I’m talking about how do these solutions allow you to create something that is agile enough for you to innovate around. 
  2. Hire people that are adept at problem solving – this may mean bringing someone in that is an unexpected fit.
  3. Cross-team collaboration - getting together with people for a few hours and come-up with some ideas. Listen, learn, collaborate. Have a dream list – and start with the least risky.  You never know, it could open up options now and in the future.