It likely wasn’t much of a surprise that JC Penney filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy after the recent and sudden shift from physical to solely digital. It may have been a little more of a shock, however, that high profile brands like Neiman Marcus and J.Crew have also succumbed to the pandemic.
Too many stores, too little investment in the digital economy – and a final pandemic blow – will undoubtedly be stated by the pundits. And for those left standing, “reopening the economy” is unlikely to reverse the shift from digital back to physical. The die has been cast, and the pain retailers have been facing for the past several years will only intensify unless they use this time for an extreme digital makeover.
While Covid-19’s lockdown resulted in US clothing sales plunging 78.8% from March to April, consumers had been shifting from physical to digital for years – and Covid-19 just accelerated the exodus.
In two short months, department stores went from omnichannel to only digital. And consumers, who had placated themselves with poor online experiences in order to stick with favored brands with physical locations, suddenly threw allegiances out the window.
Loyaltly is vastly overstated
Turns out loyalty is vastly overstated. According to HBR, loyalty is as much about what is familiar as it is what is convenient. A dearth of choices from stockouts to limited physical outlets broke those steadfast habits. As shoppers turned to survival mode they embraced whatever they could find on digital outlets. And it’s unlikely they will ever return.
According to McKinsey, companies who were weak before Covid-19 will be looking at closure or consolidation. The consulting firm says it is likely that 80% of fashion retailers will be in distress after two months of social-distancing closures. And it’s not just fashion. Every industry has been hit, with the largest retail sector, motor vehicle and auto parts having been decimated.
This contraction doesn’t have to be a death knell. Although to survive this existential threat, ecommerce companies – be they B2C or B2B – need to forget the idea of digital to thinking experiential. The technology is there to help them save themselves, but not if they want to continue toeing into technology or thinking they can do it alone. Both of these habits have been the hallmark of many retailers.
But its long past the time of simply having goods listed online that sold to personas vs people. Ecommerce behemoths like Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and China’s JD.com are but a few who have ratcheted up the expectations of all buyers – be they business or consumers. All of these giants analyze literally petabytes of data to allow predictive search, make recommendations, and hyper-personalize buyers’ journeys. JD.com has incorporated Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) technologies to better immerse shoppers in the experience.
Digital leaders run on data
According to JD.com’s website, it is generating 31 petabytes of data every day, to provide insight into Chinese consumer behavior.
Digital leaders run on data. They incorporate and analyze data that comes from POS, CRM, loyalty systems, ERP, supply chain, social media. The more data you have, the better they can connect with their customer and discern what they really want. The better they predict – the more likely customers will remain loyal.
But here’s the kicker. Digital leaders have been honing their art for almost 20 years now. And many have thousands of software engineers earning hundreds of thousands of dollars constantly tinkering and exploring.
If you want to catch up you need a technology partner who can offer a robust platform that lets you integrate all those data sources, index them so they are findable, and offer machine learning to dynamically recommend product, solutions, and content to customers.
Covid-19 unfortunately exposed all sorts of weaknesses of infrastructure out there – from public health, to grocery buying, to signup for unemployment. Customers are exhausted from battling systems that are non-intuitive, are not dependable, don’t know if merchandise is even available –or when it might ever be again.
They are ready to become loyal to those that invest in finally creating an enjoyable experience.