Since the start of the pandemic many businesses have literally scrambled to e-commerce to try and make up for the loss of business from more traditional sources. In many cases it was a panicked reaction which at best can be described as a partial shift to digital.
However, to make that shift sustainable, businesses need to carefully examine technology, physical infrastructure, talent recruitment and deployment, and other systems—and this needs to happen at great speed!
To enable speed in e-commerce, companies need to get a bewildering number of things right, however research is indicating that from all things to get right, there are three elements that are particularly important:
(i) A test-and-learn culture
(ii) Operations to support rapid reaction
(iii) A customer-first commitment.
A Testing and Learning Culture
Research shows that during this pandemic more than 50% of companies whose revenue growth outperformed its peers, where more effective than their industry peers at testing ideas, measuring results and executing changes to products, services and ways of working. A prerequisite of successful testing and learning is an acceptance of failure as the cost of uncovering new knowledge.
A culture of learning has to extend to every corner of an organisation, but it starts with leadership. At top-performing companies, senior leaders continuously scan for new tools and practices that can accelerate performance. A cornerstone of digital culture is the ability to continuously improve and innovate. Teams are empowered to test, learn and improve without the need for a cumbersome approval process, allowing them to test new go-to-market approaches, improve the e-commerce platform or even get new products to market first. Incentives need to be in place to support this approach. The best companies approach learning with the same focus and discipline as they do e-commerce. As top-performing companies set goals for new growth strategies or sales channels, they create a deliberate program to anticipate the needed skills and capabilities and a strategy for developing them.
Truly digital players have fully integrated e-commerce and digital sales with the rest of the value chain. This allows them to quickly react to new customer demand, adapt existing offerings, introduce new products and services and deliver them to customers fast. Doing this well starts with being able to spot opportunities quickly. That requires good data and a commitment to using it. Companies then need to have the operational flexibility to move quickly to go after those opportunities. Agility in operations has a cumulative strategic advantage. By the time a competitor shows up with a me-too product, the first mover will have rolled out scores of improved versions and already established a solid go-to-market approach. My experience has been that while many companies were able to make changes to their e-commerce front-end capabilities they then struggled to adapt their operations and logistics to support their e-commerce front-end efforts. Just putting an e-commerce front end upon an “old” operations model, is like pouring new wine into old wine-skins.
A Customer first commitment
One reason that focusing on the customer accelerates a business’s pace is that it helps to provide clarity and focus about what is needed and cuts down on doing things that don’t add value. Any digitilisation effort should always treat customer satisfaction as a primary business goal. The best companies intimately understand their customers’ experience, focus on the details of what their customers really want and layer in data to fill out the picture. To drive this focus, they use data and analytics to synchronize the e-commerce experience with physical stores, social media, inside sales, customer care and other customer-facing channels, making it seamless for the customer to shift among them.
Ultimately, my message to all business owners is simple and direct. You either embrace change or you perish. Becoming fast-moving with regards e-commerce is not optional any more and it requires a lot of things to happen. Mindset is key here. Many business owners, managers and executives face real trouble stepping out of the day-to-day, look outside the organisation and re-imagine the business from an e-commerce perspective. Many need external help to guide such businesses to gain this perspective and take a hard look at what other forward-thinking firms are doing to serve their customers and what actions their company would need to take in order to carry out the internal shift. One other point is that many business owners, managers and executives pay lip service to their companies being customer-centric, but often the reality is that business pressures, stakeholder demands and market forces are top of mind. A proper digitilisation process help the business gain a level of customer-centric perspective that was not possible before, as it makes it possible to analyse individual customer journeys in depth and really question each step of the process and understand what the customer is experiencing.
So what should be your final take on accelerating e-commerce growth?
Any effort to quickly scale e-commerce requires significant resources, from new kinds of talent to data analytics to IT infrastructure. While those resources are critical, I continue to believe that a learning mindset that values speed over perfection, embraces failure as much as success and empowers team members is even more critical. You can (and should!) start the change today. Without the mentioned mindset, all the resources in the world will not result in a truly digital organisation.
At EMCS we can truly help your business get an outside professional view of your operational model and assess how it needs to be changed and adapted to really support your digitalisation efforts. We also specialise in re-training and re-creating mindsets and cultures that are needed for any digitalisation effort to succeed. Feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to have a chat on this matter.