Selling consumer products in the time of COVID-19: 3 Digital transformation tips to succeed

By Srini Rajamani, Senior Vice President and Sector Head – Consumer and Life Sciences, Wipro Limited

As the retail sector continues to adapt and evolve to a post-pandemic environment, it cannot be denied that people are living and shopping differently. With the retail sector reopening after the UK’s third lockdown, this will be a critical testing period for the industry – one they will need to get right. One solution that will help businesses combat the challenges brought about by the virus, while transitioning to a new age of retail is by adapting their services and workflows through digitalisation. While some retailers have responded to the dramatic shifts in consumer behaviour exceptionally well, by demonstrating products digitally and developing ‘click and collect’ delivery options as standard, others are still struggling to adapt to the ever-changing “new normal”.

It is already widely agreed that Covid-19 has been the digital accelerant of the decade. With research estimating that the global pandemic has accelerated the UK’s digital transformation trajectory by over five years, what are the differences between agile digital Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) adaptors, and what can others learn in order to catch up?

Here are the three core insights that CPG companies benefitted from:

Embrace the shift

It’s clear that consumer behaviour has shifted dramatically from face-to-face interactions to being almost entirely online. Upon the reopening of the retail sector, it is incredibly likely that this trend will continue. Companies who crack online retail sooner are sure to have a massive advantage as they adapt not only to the retail environment designed by the pandemic, but also in the decades to come.

In the CPG industry itself there was a mass shift to working from home during lockdown. Now, it is likely that hybrid working forms will become more prevalent, and to support this shift, businesses must ensure key practicalities are met including connectivity, set-up, and security. Confirming that these employees can connect to the internet as well as any additional work networks/systems, with the devices they need to do so, such as laptops and adequate WFH set-ups, is a vital step that cannot be overlooked.

Security is also of paramount importance. Employees’ devices must be secure and compliant for remote working conditions. When the pandemic struck, organisations didn’t have the luxury of planning or preparation when it came to enabling their workforce to turn remote overnight. As a result, many businesses have had to ensure they have the right toolset to manage the migration to working from home, not only amid the pandemic, but also to support hybrid working forms in the future. These tools include enhanced security options, increased security training and hiring the right people to lead the security arm of their business; security under these new conditions might be easy to temporarily overlook, but this oversight can result in massive setbacks for those who don’t re-examine their cyber security protocols considering the work from home shift.

Digitise your supply chain

The CPG industry faces the additional challenge of ensuring the safety of their workforce, as many factory employees are not able to work from home. Under lockdown restrictions, firms had to address new restrictions that meant employees could be compelled to work on reduced shifts, or not at all. This meant that supply chains are likely to be in disarray, with components missing or the final product not able to be manufactured, thus leaving orders unfulfilled.

Now, with many workers back onsite, it is of utmost importance that businesses are able to sustain manufacturing and shipping processes for products on time. While customers may have forgiven a slight delay when the crisis first hit, we have quickly moved into a new normal in which customers expect businesses to have adjusted their workflows to adapt to the new environment.

The solution to this is the digitalisation of production and supply chains. Moreover, digitising supply chains can enable faster, more efficient and responsive processes resulting in greater productivity and quality. With working restrictions in place, this is one-way firms can claw back some of the efforts lost by the reduction. Taking advantage of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can greatly benefit businesses who rely on supply chains by integrating smart machines that can learn and react with less human maintenance and monitoring, thus speeding up production and taking pressure off limited workers.

For many firms in the CPG space, the pandemic and its aftermath has seen them turn to new and exciting emerging technologies to continue to operate effectively. There are ways for all CPG businesses to look at transforming their supply chain and manufacturing to benefit from the solutions digitalisation can offer.   

Package goods virtually

With the mass shift to online services appearing to be permanent, businesses must have an engaging digital presence. Being able to offer customers top of the range online access, demonstrate products, or illustrate functionality is essential to ensure businesses do not lose out on market share. In the CPG space, businesses cannot afford to leave customers with questions. In fact, online sales are an opportunity to provide them with even more information. Demo videos, user reviews, virtual or augmented reality that can transport the product directly into a consumer’s home and many more options are available, which can help to package consumer goods in a convincing way which responds and caters to all consumers curiosity.

On the internet, the company doing the selling is just as much as part of the product. Businesses need to ensure that during this constantly shifting climate that customer experience is still top quality. This means customers will expect quick responses to their enquiries, an accessible website for a diverse range of audiences, and the ability to adapt to new manufacturing restrictions, with goods being delivered in a timely manner. A lacklustre option of any one of these factors will create a significant dent in customers’ trust a business has worked hard to build and retain, which is incredibly important as retail reopens. Likewise, a business with a good reputation and the ability to adapt digitally will help to retain those reviews online and that reputation will add to their value.

Conclusion

The takeaway for all companies from this dramatic digital shift should be that increasing your digital presence is no longer a luxury, but rather an imperative for business survival. The global crisis has pushed the need to be digital to the forefront of the business agenda. All companies in the CPG space need to embrace digital transformation wholeheartedly, from hybrid working, to supply chains to sales. In brief, it is essential to take care of the workforce and employees first, reinvent production processes second and, lastly, ensure services to consumers are top notch.

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