The future of digital business, as shaped by Covid-19

Just one year ago, SMEs were embroiled in an intellectual and economic conversation rooted in the question, Does every business need to embrace digital? Of course, digital was cool.

The future of digital business

Just one year ago, SMEs were embroiled in an intellectual and economic conversation rooted in the question, Does every business need to embrace digital? Of course, digital was cool. Digital was what all the movers and shakers were practicing. But who was exempt? Who could circumvent this contactless way of interacting and stick to real, in-person relationship-building and trade?

As we all know, that conversation came to a screeching halt when Covid-19 took a trip around the globe, making Europe one of its first stops. All of a sudden, handshaking and business luncheons were discontinued and entrepreneurs found themselves fumbling for ways to make connections and keep their businesses alive.

The business owners who had been taking the bypass around digital found themselves faced with a decision. They could head straight for the centre of downtown digital, or they could park on the outskirts, looking in and watching their businesses burn.

For those businesses that were wholly digital before the pandemic, not much changed. In fact, they found themselves instantly leaping ahead of their non-digital or less-digital competitors. The first, and most obvious advantage, was that business didn’t change. They were still communicating, taking orders, shipping, educating, entertaining, informing…digitally, with methods they had already perfected.

Remote employment was no problem for digital entities. Their customers were already comfortable with procedures, security measures were already in place, and any necessary pivots due to coronavirus challenges were not as detrimental as they otherwise would have been. 

Needless to say, digital businesses around the globe were well-prepared for something that no one could have seen coming. 

But where does that put them now? What does their future look like, now that their competitors have gained a level of comfort and proficiency in the digital realm? 

In truth, the playing field still isn’t level. These companies have years of digital experience under their belts, and it shows. 

But that doesn’t mean they won’t have some work to do if they want to remain relevant leaders. They can boost their clout within their respective industries, extend their reach, gain trust and credibility, and stay ahead of the competition by taking advantage of some unique opportunities whilst they still can.

They can educate other business owners as their SMEs work to master the digital realm. This will not only result in an additional revenue stream, it will raise the profile of the digital guru.

Those digital businesses can embrace the idea that the best time to sprint ahead is when their competitors are tying their shoelaces. It’s true that we’re all collectively undergoing a massive dose of change; however, this is still business. Opportunity is fleeting, and this is the time to use your advantages to take the lead. 

This is the perfect time for digital businesses to add eCommerce if they haven’t already done so. In May of this year, eCommerce accounted for one-third of all retail sales in the UK. Compare that to just over 15% three years prior. With the holiday season upon us, it will be interesting to see if those numbers can be attained again. 

Branching out to video and entertainment, from information or retail, is another option for digital business. January through March of 2020 saw 16 million new Netflix accounts. That’s a testimonial for Netflix, but beyond that, it’s evidence that consumers are now seeking entertainment at home at a much higher rate than before the pandemic. In fact, YouTube is on track to log double the number of views in 2020 as it had in 2019. Our own business has almost tripled its viewing figures!

Digital business must not become so caught up in this revolution that it forgets about its most important asset: the customer. No matter how digitally centred businesses become, those relationships will always prove to be central to success. So take the time to listen and grow your digital business around your customer’s needs.

And finally, continual improvement will be necessary for digital businesses to stay ahead of the curve, even after Covid is resolved. The last thing any entrepreneur should do at this time is rest on their laurels, reveling in the silver-lining triumph of Covid for digital business. To the contrary, those digital leaders should be devising strategies for how they can lead out of the pandemic, and into new, unforeseen challenges. The virus has given these organisations a taste of leadership. Now it’s time to keep that ball rolling, into new territory, with innovation, experimentation, calculated risk-taking and continual advancement.

Covid-19 has not only changed the trajectory of digital business, it has increased the impact of digital across all commerce…even those businesses that had no stake in the digital realm prior to the pandemic. For those entities that find themselves a bit ahead of the curve in knowledge and practice, now is the time to sprint ahead and become leaders in their industries and beyond.

Anthony Chadwick
Anthony Chadwick

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