We're about to witness the next boom of online shopping and retailers need to be ready to transform

Speaking at a fundraiser for college students, John F. Kennedy offered his thoughts on how to view a crisis by analysing the Mandarin meaning of the word. He said: “the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity."

There is always a balance between danger and opportunity during times of strife. This is as true for retailers today as it was for students in the 1960s. 

The retail market is shifting rapidly and consumer shopping behaviours are moving alongside it as social distancing measures are widely implemented. 

The impact of these new shopping behaviours means retailers are facing a dreaded one-two punch combo of both the short-term commercial and long-term brand loyalty hit.

Many retailers are faced with unexpectedly high online traffic and demand for products and deliveries that can’t be fulfilled online or in person. Consumer trust is low and some brands are struggling to gain it back.

Having a solution that can scale for unexpected online traffic is now a must. The question consumers are asking is shifting from “what store do I like shopping in?” to “what online brand do I trust to purchase from?”

Consumers trust brands that are always online and have low load times, with products that are always available to be purchased and fulfilled. If this expectation isn’t met it can have a lasting impact on customer loyalty as the once loyal brand advocates turn to competitors to fulfil their needs. 

Typically, retailers are only presented with two extremes from eCommerce solutions - either spend vast amounts of money on an ongoing basis on the offchance a crisis may occur or spend cash to compete in the short term and hope the worst never happens. They will certainly look for a more flexible alternative to either option in the future.

For high-end grocery retailers, the great customer experiences they may have offered historically will unfortunately be overshadowed by faltering when it mattered most. This damage can be exacerbated further when you consider that other grocers - in particular discount or lower-market brands - are undoubtedly looking at ways to enter the online fulfilment space during this turbulent period. 

When you compare the online grocery marketplace to the high street, until now there have been a surprisingly small number of key players. The accelerated growth of eCommerce across the whole retail sector that the current crisis has stimulated is likely to lead to the emergence of a new breed of retailers. Right now 80% of the grocery market is focused on transforming existing online channels to deliver a unique shopping experience. Time is of the essence and these retailers need solutions that can both be online and integrated rapidly. They should also take the learnings of their predecessors and accept that their shop cannot be offline for any reason.

Online grocery was never a truly competitive market - but this is all about to change. Just look at how quickly Aldi sold out of food parcels less than 24 hours after launching a dedicated online service. For discount grocers, the non-transacting site that once would “do for now” will need a commerce engine. 

And the wider data supports the consumer demand for such measures. Research from Ipsos Mori shows that 18% of UK consumers are using online stores more frequently - while in countries currently more severely affected by the outbreak, like China and Italy - these figures have risen to 50% and 31% respectively. 

New entrants to the online grocery market will be learning lessons from companies like Ocado. There is a huge opportunity to take a lucrative share of a booming market - but if you rush to create an online service you’ll get it wrong and if you hesitate, someone else will beat you to it. 

Retailers looking to emerge as a leader in digital commerce need to find the right eCommerce platform to support a reliable service to market quickly and, crucially, iterate this service to match demand without crashing or disrupting customer experience. Nothing damages brand loyalty like messing up orders when they are needed most. 

These are difficult times for people and businesses of all kinds. But it is important to remember that, as the world we knew is shaken up and rearranged, there is a huge opportunity for forward thinking brands to adapt and emerge stronger on the other side. 

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