by David Alves (@TheDavidAlves) “Feel it. It is here.” The last time we used that line, we were celebrating hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup — except now what’s on everyone’s lips and in everyone’s inboxes isn’t about the shared anticipation of festivity. Covid-19 has called a hard stop to almost every industry in society. Remote working will become the new norm and the way we manage each day will be changed for the foreseeable future.

Sowing seeds of positivity

The good news is that measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, from the closing of schools to mandated WFH (work from home) policies enforced by most businesses in South Africa, as well as public and private healthcare communication being more on fleek than a Project Runway finalè.

There’s another upside, too. As germaphobes and introverts revel in this socially distant landscape, one channel may find itself in a very fortuitous position — ecommerce.

Businesses that have been gearing up to service customer demand via an online offering have the most to gain during this time of need for consumers. Despite the cautious tone of this piece, there are huge benefits to an offering that minimises human contact and “flattens the curve”. Yes, there will be consequences for both the consumer and retailer, but here are a few expectations consumers may look forward to retailers addressing:

  • Enjoy the convenience of numerous products and personalised offers from retailers
  • Door-to-door services à la the on-demand economy
  • Shop local and support small- and medium-sized enterprises
  • Increased productivity due to fewer interruptions
  • Collect parcels from your front door in your pajamas (personal win, I confess)

Don’t put all your eggs in one online cart

For business owners, the threat is real. Shrinking consumer confidence and physical traffic, panic-buying, stressed-out patrons and pressure on suppliers will make the retail landscape for SA a rocky trading environment for the next few weeks. Most, if not all, major retailers have woken up to the on-demand industry in the past few years but we’re in unfamiliar waters at present.

Our country has yet to deal with such an event. So, while providing consumers with the option to shop online, retailers will have to go a step further in the fight to flatten the curve.

One of SA’s retailers recently released a plan of action to allow its online shoppers to do just that. Its statement reads as follows:

No contact delivery:
When our drivers arrive at your delivery address, they have been instructed to ring the bell [people, this means clean your doorbell regularly! — ed-at-large], and stand back at a safe distance.
As a precaution, during this time we will package your order in bags so that you don’t need to handle any delivery containers.
The drivers will place the bags at your door and wait for you to answer.
The driver will then record your name, with the date and time of delivery in front of you, so you won’t need to sign any paperwork.
You then collect your items and head back indoors; the driver will take any delivery containers and head off.

One of the biggest drawbacks of leaning on the online side of your business is managing stock levels. It would be wise for retailers to configure their predictive algorithms to manage supply-and-demand rates. Forecasting technology will play a major role in assisting retailers to manage consumer demand.

One consumer posted a photo of a prominent retailer’s empty shelves with the comment:

Reap what you can

The best things in life are free, and we’ve already seen how a retailer has thought and could think about its logistical engagements, right down to the handling of packaging. So, what about those who want to rage against the dying of the light and choose to ignore social distancing protocols and take their chances with the bulk-buyers and the masked, gloved till workers?

How do you win when good customer engagement is… no engagement at all? To improve in-store consumer experience right off the bat, I suggest:

  • Cleanliness: Sanitary wipes and sanitiser stations can go a long way to make consumers feel more comfortable
  • Personal assistance: Consumers concerned about touching trolleys, products, etc could be assisted by “personal shoppers”; despite it rendering social distancing moot, it could help to provide consumers with a sense of reassurance
  • Communication: All channels should be firing, whether email, app or physical acknowledgement in-store. Retailers have the responsibility to communicate what they are doing to curb the spread of the virus and ensure a safe retail experience for consumers who venture out

Solely following the above steps isn’t going to protect your business. Immense fortitude, perseverance, leadership and commitment to the health and safety guidelines put in place by the WHO International will hopefully see everyone through this uncertain period [also take a look at SA government’s official microsite,— ed-at-large].

In times like these, marketing and innovation are seen as cost centres and, unfortunately, fall victim to ring-fencing and budget cuts. What’s often missed is that businesses that invest in innovation in a crisis are likely to see a 3x return on their investment in the long run.

Cast your mind back to 2001. The internet bubble had well and truly burst, and consumer confidence was at its lowest, but that didn’t stop big business from stepping out into the cold and pivoting through hard times. Back then, Apple launched the iPod, while Procter & Gamble introduced Crest WhiteStrips, which quickly became a US$2m product.

Businesses that can move fast in times of crisis will benefit when the tide goes back out, but unfortunately, there’s no map, manual or oracle to show businesses what to do in a situation like the one we find ourselves in.

For now, wash your hands.

Oh, and vive les introverts!

See also


David AlvesDavid Alves (@TheDavidAlves) is a business director and consultant at Acceleration South Africa, a Wunderman Thompson company, and an accomplished digital marketing specialist with over 12 years of entrepreneurial, digital agency and corporate experience, ranging from multinationals to bespoke SMEs. With specialities within the consumer and customer experience, relationship management environment and technical experience across multiple CRM suites, David’s blended experience is bedded in digital strategy, campaign planning and business development.

This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.

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