The global COVID-19 pandemic has had vast implications for business operations and consumer habits. Businesses across various industries have been forced to close the doors to their offices and shops and move into a more remote working situation with technology on hand.
To contain the pandemic, employees have been instructed to work from home where possible and consumers advised to make necessary visits to stores as infrequently as possible, with plenty turning to the relative safety of online shopping. For many businesses without an online presence whilst working from home, this has prompted a total halt in sales. Meanwhile, businesses that actively utilize the online space for coverage, marketing, sales and customer relations have realized the importance of optimizing their online presence.
The arrival of COVID-19 has caused widespread turmoil for businesses that were slow to adapt to digital sales and marketing. Entrepreneurs and CEOs who favor more traditional operations have largely been caught on their heels by the pandemic. But how has the virus forced businesses to display their online adaptability? And is it too late for a company to be competitive by transitioning its presence online?
How have consumer habits changed, and why should businesses rethink their online presence?
Firstly, it's important to acknowledge that the coronavirus pandemic has afforded Western societies the chance to unite in social solidarity. The power of collective action changes the way individuals relate to each other and nurtures a sense of community. The cultural shift from "I" to "we" is likely to carry a long-term effect on consumer behavior, as we now have more reasons than ever to engage in conscious consumerism.
As the motivation behind purchasing becomes more about the products, services, and brands that share a sense of collective betterment and social responsibility, companies should strengthen their online presence. You should use various digital channels – like websites, blogs, social and digital media – to share your social message with a new wave of post-pandemic consumers.
Global lockdowns and the widespread shutdown of physical stores has left shopping centers and main streets desolate in the short term, but they have also driven consumers to rethink the way they spend their money. Shoppers who were once reluctant to shop online have since created their own online shopping accounts and are experiencing highly personalized, convenient, and competitive shopping experiences.
For a long time, e-commerce has been nipping away at the growth potential of offline retail, and the global lockdown has accelerated this movement. Traditional retail has been in decline with job losses and single-digit annual growth – a trend that was taking shape even before the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Could it be time to shut down the brick-and-mortar store? Probably not, but it's certainly an ideal time to open up shop online and focus on optimizing your online store, website, blog and media coverage.
Furthermore, is it time to cut out the middleman? As physical stores are forced to close, brands should be thinking about a direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model. By cutting out retailers and selling directly to consumers through digital channels, an optimized online presence could prove more lucrative than ever for businesses that may otherwise find themselves swept up in the mounting economic hardships.
In the past, brands have relied on the physical availability of retailers and mass distribution. Today, brands have to build more direct digital relations with their customers. This transition may leave challenger brands and startups at a slight advantage, as their knowledge and understanding of their target audience is likely to be more comprehensive and fresh. Websites, blogs, guest posts and social media are the best places to secure strong relationships with consumers.
The optimization of businesses' online presence is not to gainsay the prominence of physical stores, and it's highly unlikely that Main Street will soon disappear forever. In many ways, physical shops are likely to emerge stronger, as consumers will relish the chance to finally touch and feel actual products again.
Consumers have been found to be somewhat reluctant to spend excessively on large purchases. In a GlobalWebIndex survey, only 40% of consumers indicated that they'll make major purchases when the outbreak decreases or ends. This is obviously bad news for businesses – especially prestigious and technologically advanced brands whose products are considered major purchases among the consumer base.
However, it also presents an opportunity for such businesses to release information on their post-pandemic initiatives and why it's a good time to buy. In fact, 56% of consumers are interested in brands' COVID-19 initiatives, meaning it's imperative to present and share yours online for prospective customers.
How can businesses respond to new social interactions?
With various social distancing measures in place, albeit with decreasing levels of stringency, it's unlikely that everyone will feel safe and confident enough to return to normal levels of social interaction before we've seen the very last trace of the virus. This means the increased amount of time people are spending online is likely to continue long into the future, even after lockdown and distancing measures ease up.
People are increasingly turning online not only for their shopping needs, but also for entertainment, fresh content and a way to pass time without leaving the house. More than ever, consumers are searching online and consuming media at home for new information, entertainment and ways to fill their time. It's a prime time for businesses to meet their consumers online and provide them with useful and entertaining content.
From blog posts to virtual quizzes, there are ways for virtually every company across all industries to generate effective content for their consumers. Deep, meaningful and interesting information surrounding your markets, which your customers will likely be interested to read, should be kept fresh and frequent.
The time for engagement is already upon us. As social gatherings and outdoor events remain inaccessible for so many citizens worldwide, more prospective consumers are online and receptive to marketing campaigns launched by adaptive businesses.
While startups may find success in the creation of engaging and SEO-focused content, established companies that have been lacking an online presence could invest in influencer outreach campaigns, where established online figures introduce products and promote them to their massive audiences on a business's behalf.
One of the most effective ways to establish your business online and become a recognizable brand is through social giveaways. By offering products to names drawn at random from audiences who meet certain criteria (such as those who share your post or tag a friend to boost your exposure), you can accelerate your company's reputation and appeal to consumers who are motivated by free items. If the prize is available on your online store, it will likely result in a boost in sales.
For these methods to be effective, you should begin by perfecting your online presence – from optimizing your website and updating your own blog to writing guest posts for other authoritative publications. Your business's online presence is key to getting through the pandemic now and remaining profitable in the long term.