When the residents of Paris were told to stay at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, French supermarket Carrefour launched a new eCommerce service to help customers get their hands on essential products. On the Carrefour Essentials mini website, customers can order baskets of basic foodstuffs for a maximum of €5 per person per day, and have it delivered to their door. Dietary requirements are catered for by choosing from three main food groups: vegetarian (a selection of vegetables and pulses, including lentils and bulgur wheat etc.), land (cassoulet, sausages, etc.) and sea (tuna, sardines, etc.). These baskets can be supplemented with special kits for babies, pets and household maintenance, all delivered on a weekly basis.
The coming of age of online retail
While eCommerce and cloud technologies are not new, Covid-19 has forced years of digital commerce transformation into just a few months for certain retailers. Big brands have had to quickly overhaul their eCommerce experiences, and some smaller retailers have launched online buying for the very first time. Consumers are adapting fast, too.
In Italy and Spain, where eCommerce usage rates have been some of the lowest in Europe – at 4% and 5% of total retail revenues respectively, according to the Centre for Retail Research – life in quarantine is changing consumer behaviors.
Carrefour reported that online customers have doubled in Italy and sales through a partnership with logistics company Glovo, which allow for speed delivery (30 minutes or less) for select items in some Italian cities, have skyrocketed. In Spain, Cross-Border Magazine reported that online sales grew by 55% in March.
It’s not just food retail that’s performing well online. Luxury department store Harrods overhauled its eCommerce site just one month before it had to close its shop doors. They confirmed that the webstore has been trading well above expectations since launch. Inditex, the parent company of fashion brands including Zara, Massimo Dutti and Pull & Bear, reported a 50% rise in online sales in the first quarter of 2020 and a 95% increase in April alone.
Staying operational with the cloud
During the Covid-19 lockdowns, cloud technologies also proved critical to guaranteeing business continuity. In the past, a crisis of this magnitude would have brought business processes and productivity to a grinding halt. Thanks to cloud technology, many workers are now able to carry out their roles at home, allowing retailers to continue operating almost seamlessly throughout weeks and months of utter disruption.
Employees can attend business meetings online through tools such as Microsoft Teams. They can securely connect to the business network through their home broadband on their own device, and access the business data and information they need. And customer service departments and contact centers have switched seamlessly to remote working.
The ability to scale with the cloud is particularly important with eCommerce. Businesses that had already shifted to a cloud strategy before Covid-19 have been able to react and scale up much faster than the competition to cope with unprecedented demand. And while some companies have had to temporarily shut down their websites because of the sheer volume of customers accessing online shopping, those on the cloud have managed to stay robust, and operational.
“We’ve been told by manufacturers, such as Mars and Nestlé, that we’ve been able to scale up more swiftly than most of our competitors and this has been because of cloud infrastructure,” said Adam Taylor, co-founder and chief executive of PetShop.co.uk, to Raconteur. “We’ve gone from packing and shipping 1,000 orders a day to 4,000 orders a day. We were able to scale up to meet this demand within the space of two days.”
Building for the future
Even as physical stores re-open, eCommerce and cloud technologies will continue to play an important role in retailers’ long-term strategies.
UK research company Kantar found that new consumer habits will continue well beyond the era of social distancing. In a global survey, it found that around a third of households had increased or significantly increased their eCommerce spend in the pandemic period. The same percentage of respondents believe their future online purchases will increase. As consumer comfort with online shopping continues to grow, retailers will be expected to continue stepping up their digital experiences and make their technology more intuitive and ubiquitous. To this end, Inditex plans to accelerate and broaden its forward-looking digital transformation strategy, investing €1 billion in bolstering its online business and a further €1.7 billion in upgrading the integrated store platform.
There were compelling business cases for taking advantage of cloud computing under normal trading conditions, but the coronavirus pandemic has certainly highlighted its benefits to even the most skeptical of retail business owners. Cloud deployments have proven critical in enabling businesses to continue operating and quickly adapt their workloads and processes, as well as support remote workforces.
The Coca-Cola Company is currently shifting its business operations to Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to modernize the way its employees work and engage with customers. Using cloud-based technology, the company plans to enable a 360-degree view of its business, rollout a single hub for employees to connect and collaborate, as well as attend large-scale virtual meetings. The company will also use and real-time dashboards in its call center operations to better serve customers.
“This partnership with Microsoft allows us to really step change our employee experience through replacing previously disparate and fragmented systems,” said Barry Simpson, senior vice president and chief information and integrated services officer of The Coca-Cola Company. “These platforms allow us to deliver relevant, personalized experiences as we network our organization.”
How to make cloud and eCommerce work for your business
This crisis could be the opportunity to change your business for the better, permanently. With this in mind, here are three steps every retailer can take to better serve their customers and make their business more resilient:
1. Bridge the online-offline gap
Until recently, we wouldn’t even think of buying certain items online without seeing them and trying them out first. Take spectacles, a mattress, or even a cake. The average consumer would want to experience these products in person before committing to a purchase. But that no longer needs to be the case as retailers find new ways to bring the shopping experience into consumers’ homes.
Retailers who employ unified commerce platforms, which unite the different channels within a single software solution and database, are better equipped to launch digital experiences with functionality that bridges online and offline, such as click and collect. A unified commerce technology platform also enables you to keep tabs on sales, stock and customer preferences in real time, no matter the sales channel.
2. Be prepared to scale
Many retailers have seen their online sales skyrocket, but some were unable to keep up with demand as they struggled to handle the increase in traffic and sales. How has your online store coped? Would it be able to handle a sudden boost in traffic, or would it crash and leave your customers disappointed?
Today, retailers need to be prepared for unpredictable spikes in online business, at any time – not just on Black Friday and Christmas Eve. An effective strategy involves moving to a modern, flexible, cloud-based commerce platform that can quickly shrink or expand as needed, and handle peaks in traffic with ease.
3. Adapt to consumers’ changing needs
When you are using cloud-based technology, you can also take advantage of all the innovation happening in the cloud. Especially during times of change, this agility can enable you to not only see, but also respond to consumers’ desires. Demand forecasting and modeling tools can help you predict and prepare for significant consumer behavior changes changing your product mix, merchandising, pricing strategies and even messaging. Data analytics and machine learning tools can help you reduce waste and overhead. AI can also help create better customer experiences with tools such as personalized recommendations, and automate customer support with virtual agents who can answer frequently asked questions and direct consumers’ inquiries 24/7.
The coronavirus crisis will pass, but consumer shopping habits may have changed irrevocably. To stay in business, retailers must continue to do what they have always done, which is to listen to their customers’ demands and deliver the products, services and experiences they need. Today, digital transformation can help you to respond effectively – allowing you to shift to online, implement cloud technologies that improve scalability and agility, and give you the insights you need to offer your customers exactly what they want at exactly the right moment in time.