The lockdown phase is likely to lead to a permanent boost in ecommerce and contactless payments as well a potential divergence of the supply chain or a reimagined store pick-up” according to Euromonitor International’s April 2020 report on The Retail Ecosystem During COVID-19. “Big consumer shifts have taken place as society evolved from a carefree world to one under lockdown.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created notable shifts in how the world does business; trends that could neither be predicted nor fully prepared for before the emergence of this global crisis. It’s reported that the majority of B2B buyers have reduced budgets by as much as 25% in response to coronavirus, while consumer spending dropped 6% year-on-year at the start of the UK’s lockdown. However, the current global situation doesn’t necessarily mean that businesses should be struggling.
Some organisations are undoubtedly faring better than others under the challenging business landscape, and one thing that many of the high performers seem to have in common is that they all have a strong online presence… or they’ve created one as part of their crisis response.
Moving online is emerging as key to helping companies thrive under the ‘new normal’. If your business has not already done so, now is the time to take measures to fully integrate digital activity into your overall business innovation strategy.
The good news is that many online activities - particularly customer-facing activities - can be moved online quickly and relatively easily. There are numerous tools and digital solutions out there such as ecommerce website templates (Shopify, Woocommerce…) and communication software (Zendesk, Planable…) that can help organisations to overcome some of the most urgent challenges at this time of crisis.
However, while getting set up rapidly is enough to bridge the short term gap, there are further considerations that must be made to ensure that an online presence continues to benefit the business in the long term. This can include everything from reorganising the company to ensuring digital leaders are present in the right places, at the right times, to connecting all vital company functions into a single digitally-unified operation.
The first step is to identify the platforms, channels and tools that will create the foundation for generating an online presence to attract and retain customers. There are three areas to focus on initially: brand awareness, online ordering and building trust.
Just under half of all buyers follow brands on social media, which makes networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter natural starting points for boosting online business visibility. It essential to profile your customers to understand their behaviours, what they like or not, how they shop and what they need. You need to be present where your potential customers are. If they are not on Instagram, then this platform isn’t a priority.
When buyers can’t get to you, you can get to them. Third party ecommerce websites like WooCommerce and Shopify, and digital marketplaces like Amazon, can help. You don’t need to have a big warehouse storing your goods. Fulfilment centers can do this for you. Drop shipping is also a great technique to move products without getting involved in the storing and delivering.
While third party websites are good for sales, it is beneficial to build and manage your own website to build trust. Whilst “9 out of 10 consumers price check a product on Amazon”, most buyers will also check the companies’ website before buying to ensure they can trust the brand. 50% of people follow 1 to 4 brands on social media. Therefore, it is essential to build trust online through insightful, helpful content.
Once the initial factors facilitating a move online have been addressed, businesses can look into opportunities for internationalisation. More and more businesses have been expanding into international markets recently, with former Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox stating that there has been, “…evidence that the high-quality goods and services produced by British businesses are selling all over the world.”
The reason for it is simple. By reaching out to, attracting, engaging with and converting a geographically dispersed audience, businesses can successfully diversify sales to mitigate potential risks such as reduced demand in particular regions or even struggling local economies. However, the prerequisites lined out above are essential. Research shows that most people prefer to buy from brands they know, so having a strong online presence is essential for grabbing opportunities for internationalisation.
Internationalisation opens up doors to new innovation, with opportunities to co-design and develop products and services tailored to new markets, driven by the use of tools and partnerships that enable businesses to fully assess demands in alternative regions. Increased revenue generated by these activities can power new developments and help business to thrive. (Embed link to blog about reinventing business) However, it’s important to remember that there are a number of challenges to cross border sales that must be taken into account to achieve success.
Challenges of Internationalisation
Danny Manu, Founder of CEH Technologies that develop consumer electronics and social, translation App, notes that he had “encountered challenges when starting selling overseas as consumer behaviours and expectations defer from one market to another, the way of engaging in social media is also different. However, with “helpful with advice on website UX/CRO, International SEO, marketplaces”, the Manchester-based business began selling products across the USA, Germany, Spain, Italy and China. Challenges exist, but they can be overcome.
Some possible challenges to be aware of include:
Acceptable business practices in the UK may not always be acceptable amongst other cultures, and cultural differences in behaviours can also introduce complexities such as alternative use of what are typically considered to be standard products. Businesses need to ensure that they are representing themselves, and their products, effectively. Imagery, colours, texts need to be carefully considered in social media for instance.
Languages challenges in international business aren’t limited only to natural languages. It’s also important to consider aspects such as dialect, localisations, and colloquialisms. Within the United Kingdom itself there can be notable differences between regions, so it’s vital to ensure that the ‘language’ you’re speaking in is resonating with audiences.
The buying journey - and what customers expect from brands - may not always be the same in different countries. Variations in local consumer preferences mean that what a UK audience requires from the businesses they buy from may not be the same as international audiences. Individual and collective cultures can impact behaviours. Buyers in some countries may want to know and see all the technical specs of a products, others may be more concerned about the environmental impact or health benefits your products may also have.
Thriving, Not Surviving
"While there are a number of challenges that must be addressed, the benefits of diversifying sales are well worth the obstacles that can be introduced by moving online and reaching out to global audiences” says Rodolphe Soulard, Team Leader at Enterprise Europe Network. ”And the good news is that these obstacles don’t have to be tricky to navigate… international market research can help.”
Our network of international partners can deliver personalised insights into new markets, working to identify the most promising opportunities while simultaneously helping businesses to create strong global innovation strategies through a deeper understanding of cultures, legal systems, customs, and other areas that could affect market entry.