The pandemic has been one of the most defining events of 2020 – 2021 and the impression of devastation in many ways will last for decades. There is no rocket science in the fact that the pandemic has shaken the entire world and has upended the retail industry. It has led to a dramatic shift in the consumer behaviour, making it essential for the retailers to burn the candle at both ends to meet the ever-evolving customer experience requirements.

As lockdowns have become a new normal, businesses are forced to close down their physical stores and go digital. Consumers have to quickly adapt to online shopping for basic essentials. People have started looking at alternatives to source even local products in the virtual world. Physical shops have been replaced by mobile shops. This has led to technological disruption in the overall business models to make it sustainable as well as transformation in the logistics and last mile hyper local delivery space. The digital-first, direct to consumer (D2C) and organisations that can quickly reimagine their omni-channel have pivoted more easily and are expected to recover faster from the pandemic.

The Global Review on COVID-19 and E-commerce by UNCTAD and trades, have reflected the powerful global and regional transformations of industries recorded throughout the year. The e-commerce’s shares on the Global retail trade have increased to 17% in 2020 from 14% in 2019. It is imperative to understand and adopt new strategies to sustain and help survive the e-retail businesses in not only the third wave of COVID but in the aftermath of it all. We need to search for substitutes or suitable options for business continuity and specifically towards supply chain to minimise the effect of pandemic induced restrictions on the whole delivery system. The bottlenecks in supply chain should be reduced by sourcing products directly from suppliers such as the flowers for daily subscription customers which are included in the pooja samagri are sourced from the farms through our own logistics minimizing the effect on supply chain due to pandemic induced restrictions.

It’s critical to make work easier and safer for the delivery executives by opting for the mid-mile delivery system. Logistics should be streamlined through such mid-mile delivery system by providing the consignments closest to the place of delivery. In these difficult times, it is important to have strict adherence of COVID protocols at work place which includes disposable mask, gloves and sanitization along with individual vapouriser for each of the employees to ensure the teams are encouraged towards uninterrupted work so that customers do not suffer due to unexpected delays. Protection of jobs is utmost priority.

For the success of any business, the most important factor to keep in mind is customer satisfaction. Customers trust and loyalty is the biggest support to business hence e-retail should focus on providing 100% sanitised products which are hygienic and safe with appropriate packing and of course through contactless delivery.

Key advice to protect against the third wave
The e-retailers need to learn from the past dips and downturns to strategically prepare themselves for the 3rd wave of the pandemic. It’s crucial to focus on the following key stakeholders to ensure business sustenance.

Employees – are the main resources of any organisation. Keeping them motivated and guiding them in work from home plays an important role. Providing fringe benefits and monetary benefits for the extra efforts put in by the workers can keep them engaged and focused. Companies should utilise this time in training and upskilling of the workforce to energise them to be more productive. The companies should offer free vaccinations to their staff and families to ensure protection and avoid any contingencies. Taking care of the mental health is equally important.

Vendors – E-retail companies should prioritise protecting the local vendors as they are the most impacted by the pandemic. Ensure committed orders and prompt payment terms so that the transactions are smooth and seamless. It is essential to work out ways and methods of convenience to manage the supply chain. Create adequate back-ups to mitigate risks. Retailers can try out the ‘three-times delivery’ a week instead of the daily delivery which reduces costs and optimises resources.

Customers – It has become essential for e-retailers to constantly communicate with their customers using digital platforms to create the right impact. Deepening engagement with the key stakeholder will bear good results in the long term. Uniqueness in customer experience will drive loyalty. E-retailer should be seen as socially responsible organisations and introduce social welfare services towards society at large. The lockdown can be utilized by the e-retailers to develop tools and strategies to call or contact the customers for feedback. It is one of the effective ways to get close to the customers and innovate products and services basis customer requirements. Special offerings to entice customers to buy multiple products at once to save on delivery time and charges and making it more convenient for them.

E-retail companies must focus on cost improvisation without hindering the main business. Collaborative approach will help in building the efficiencies. Many companies have come forward to find creative ways to meet the customer needs rather than simply dropping the prices. Providing temporary offers, improving the terms and conditions as well as adjusting products or services to meet the changing demand and preferences could help many retailers to gain the trust of the customers. Looking at ways and means to eliminate unnecessary costs from the business will add and strengthen the bottom line.

The need of the hour is to work on a long-term sustainable plan, especially during the pandemic era, where many companies are struggling to survive. E-retailers have a lot to cover. They must establish the North Star to guide them with clear objectives. Cross-functional teams must take the lead to develop the path forward as the next normal is still taking shape. The customers’ expectations will continue to shift along with the way the future is shaping up. The retailers need to continually focus on customer experiences and response time along with strengthening of their omnichannels to not only strive but thrive in this phase as they will be better prepared. As the saying goes, “We can’t stop the waves but we can learn to surf and ride the waves.”

– By Manishpal Singh, Founder and CEO, Prabhuji Online, India’s fastest growing technology enabled subscription e-commerce company.