How digital can help get the economy back on its feet

Jo Wren

Website and Apps

In the future, it is likely to be referred to as “The Great Pause of 2020”, a time when across the world many countries came to pretty much a complete stand still – some temporarily putting everyone on lock down whilst others had varying levels of restriction to daily life.

Or it could be seen as the biggest acceleration within our civilisation in the Western world – a decade that happened in a year. And in some instances, even faster. The CEO of Microsoft talks about seeing two years of digital transformation in two months. 

Retail is already changing at pace; with high streets already struggling to be relevant for today’s consumer pre pandemic, the shift online has become even swifter. We spent an additional £5 per hour 24/7 throughout May compared to last year, and 33% of our retail spend was made online – higher than pre COVID19 which averaged at 19% and ahead of the traditional Nov/Dec peaks of 22%. Food companies (one example) have upped their game to improve supply chains and direct to consumer operations seeing growth levels reaching what they predicted by 2030 rather than this year – much of this has been driven and achievable through technology. Remember this is how AliBaba developed post SARS in China.  

Many smaller enterprises have found ways to get virtualised through offering their services online, for example personal trainers and health practitioners – a first step to building their business in new and exciting ways, even if driven by necessity to begin with.

So far, the Corona virus has pushed us into the biggest social experiment we have known in our lifetime, huge shifts in the way we live our lives through work, rest, and play. We have literally been thrown in, no time for testing in many cases. Learnings have been swift as many worked tirelessly to keep business continuity, working remotely to stay in touch with work teams and customers, ensuring their children were keeping up with their education too. Whilst many have experienced dark times, our eyes have started to adjust and see. And as chinks of light appear, we are using them to move into a new reality.

The one thing that has remained at the centre throughout are people, life has been about keeping humanity safe and well. A constant enabling thread for people to live better lives is digital, a world of technology which helps us to make things happen more effectively and more efficiently. And this is only the beginning, the transformation is just getting going and will continue to help us spearhead not only the recovery, but beyond into growth.

What comes next?

Whilst so many things have been happening already, we all knew that as much as the crisis hit us quickly and hit us hard, we also have high hopes that we can make good progress and come out of this safely and fast.

As we continue to lift off from the lock down imposed upon us all by the Covid19 pandemic and officials putting in place measures to help protect us all, we are experiencing a “layering” effect of liberation to help get us back on track - to a “new normal” world as it has become known.

The announcements this week are the most significant since mid March to help get the economy back on its feet, as social distancing rules look set to change from 2metres to 1metre on July 4th – coincidentally Independence Day for our American friends.

It does feel to many as though we are getting back to our own form of independence with the ability to get a haircut, stay in a hotel, go on holiday to a campsite, get exercising with outside gym clubs, go to theme parks, and visit libraries once again. But what does this mean in real terms to the businesses and organisations who provide many of these services?

Such is the feeling of helping our own local economies, there seems to be a strong sentiment to support small businesses within our own communities, as well as larger business entities to give a balanced offering, as we begin to return to a new format of our daily lives and a way to help repair the social fabric of our high streets.

But how prepared are some businesses to face into the new reality? One where the physical experiences must change, and a more virtual world enabling low or no touch is gathering pace. And is unlikely to go away, indeed it is set to become the way forward. 

It is still all about a great customer experience

If you fancy a pint down the local pub, you can soon have one (or whatever your favourite tipple is) – but it is likely to look a little different than it did when you last visited given the new government guidelines just published. Expect a whole host of changes to your pub, bar, café or restaurant – and you will likely need an app or website for the whole experience to even begin!

From booking time slots, to being shown to seating and ordering drinks. It also helps to control numbers and collect contact information in case of tracing needs should an infection outbreak be identified.

Many outlets are in the process of getting ready to be able to function in this new world we are entering, here are a few thoughts on the key digital considerations:

How websites and apps can help your business

There are many options open to business these days if they are looking for functional websites or apps to help in the smooth running of your business – whether you go “off the shelf” or to a more custom built solution will depend on what you need, your budget, and your timescales. Many think that going the former route is cheapest, but in fact that is not always the case either short or longer term.

Off the shelf – pros and cons

An “off the shelf” website is relatively easy to get set up through one of the many suppliers of mass market options with plugins and integrations. They are simple (relatively!) and quick to set up, you can do it yourself through pre-designed templates and your own copy and imagery (though optimisation can take some time). SEO can be approached through basic plugins which gets you started, but they are basic and won’t necessarily guarantee your place on the front page of Google.

They do have less flexibility when it comes to design, and due to non-custom templates often you can look the same as many other sites who have selected the same design which can make it hard to set yourself apart from your competition. It also prevents you from becoming an industry leader in what you do in your locality, nationally or even globally. They can also be more prone to security issues as the systems used to generate the sites are well known and understood by the bad guys looking for an easy target and the heavy reliance on community plugins translates to a reliance on 3rd party developers who may or may not be keeping the plugins themselves secure.

Bespoke – pros and cons

As the name suggests these are specifically designed and personalised to your business – the aims you have and the goals you want to achieve. There are no restrictions as everything is unique and built to withstand the test of time, as you can update as your business develops and keep upgrading as you need (rather than when templates or plugins are released). You have competitive advantage from the get-go – no one else will have a site like you and it can deliver the best user experience that you desire. You can offer a seamless browsing experience whatever your business and customer needs are as well as integrating with any existing back office systems to streamline internal processes. You have limitless elements to improve functionality such as responsive or immersive design, secure protocol, optimisation through animation, graphics, videography and so on. It becomes your own IP (Intellectual Property). You can make changes as you wish.

The cost is often the off-putting factor when you first encounter this on enquiry – initially it seems far higher as you are building something to an individual brief. Typically, this turns out to be cost effective in the medium to long term and gives ROI (Return On Investment) with better crafting possible for your target audience and your vision and mission for the business as it evolves. You can layout a road map of what you need, and when you need it. As you design to your specification you rarely need to make costly amends to remain relevant and safe.

Booking systems aiding operations

Without a doubt, the right software to run your business operations smoothly and securely – whether its bespoke or “off the shelf”. It is important, as with building a website, to put solid pre thinking into your system platform needs from the start. Choosing the wrong one will usually entail wasting valuable time trying to work around the inefficient workflow practises.

Typically, you need several key functions – receiving and managing bookings, taking pre payments – ultimately this platform need to be easy to use by both business and customer as any difficulties tend to leave a bad impression and discourage a “sale” leading to them going elsewhere.

Bespoke – pros and cons

Like website builds, going down the bespoke route gives full customisation options so you can incorporate any function you need the software to have to achieve what you and your prospects require. If you own the design you can determine how it operates, including any information you need to collect at the same time (in this case, for contact tracing, for example). Scalability is also a great advantage here, as you can evolve as your business grows and you have additional needs, or some things become redundant in use. And a single platform means there is less room for user error, and less chance that things will be missed or go wrong.

Similarly, this approach may not be for everyone at the start due to costs involved and knowing what it is you need which could take time to ascertain and develop. Working with the right team helps enormously here.

Off the shelf – pros and cons

These tend to be designed with specific markets and mass use in mind, so it is worth doing your homework on what is being used out there already in your sector. Ultimately the most suitable type of system will depend on your situation and business needs.

Inspiration is often drawn from the successful elements of other systems, so are tried and tested as they have had many hours of development and use. This can make them affordable in the short term to get up and running, and you can get this in place quite quickly.

Conversely the functionality can be somewhat limited – for example booking and payments might be two separate systems – although this is not always the case and is worth looking into. Any features that are lacking will need to be supplemented with another system, and when this happens running several applications at the same time might not be ideal as it opens the possibility for errors. Any developments added or deleted by the software vendor can impact your business and not in the right way for your ways of working.

Payment gateways

If you are needing to take payments up front, or even to avoid contact and handling cash, there are several options available so it will be important to consider a few elements when you come to choosing the right one for you.

Security is often top of mind for both you and your customers, look out for PCI-compliance (needed for credit card payments). Also, data portability should you move between options needs consideration so you can move any customer data you need without compromising GDPR.

You will need to decide if you want to have a hosted gateway (redirects your customers to the payment processors platform which can be easily set up and ideal for new businesses), or an integrated gateway (connects to your e-commerce/website via an API, so your customers never leave your website for payment). The customer journey is all about convenience, clarity and security so the simpler you make it the better the experience - and retaining them rather than them abandon the purchase and head off to a competitor.

Mobile optimisation is also key to consider currently, as well as the credit cards that can be used, any fees attributed so you don’t go over budget, and the customer support you received in case of any outages to service or other issues.

Alongside data protection, these options are just a few ways technology can help many small and medium enterprises get themselves set up and ready to adapt and pivot for the ever changing world as it moves forward out of lock down from the pandemic.

Looking towards the future

As life in the UK moves from “stay safe” to “stay alert”. and we anticipate further lifting of restrictions over the remainder of this year, it’s a great time to look at the key learnings from all of this. It seems that whilst there has been some sadness in the last few months, there has also been much to take stock from and use as we move on. The hashtag #weareallinthistogether was widely used, even though we were all being told to stay apart - for our own safety.

What became clear quite quickly was how we were all impacted, and how we all rose to the challenge to collaborate to help stop the spread of the contagion and adopt new temporary measures to try and see our way through – survival to revival and aiming for thrive again. Without doubt, digital was our hero, technology our shining light. And that is set to continue.

The list of “now” is beginning to shape, our post C19 blueprint - how to live and what to value. There seem to be a few things consistently being referred to as vital for a future, including trying to resuscitate the economy and business as we look to get our livelihoods back on a track. And to find ways to go about our daily lives with no or low contact means. Add to this our renewed focus upon people and our society, plus the environment and the planet, it feels as if there are a some areas we can focus upon – and we will look to share our thoughts in the coming weeks and months in these areas. 

Changes in our behaviours as customers are continuing to fuel the accelerated development of digital channels (food and drink being a great example), and online is already being seen by many as the safest way to shop and buy into services. Businesses have had the stark realisation that not only do they need to look at the hypotheses which could continue to unfold and the impact of their business plans and models, but they also need to review their digital strategy in line with this as it is unquestionably the way every organisation needs to be thinking.

If you need to get up and running online – and would like to explore if “off the shelf” or bespoke is the right way for you, or you need to talk more widely and your digital first approach, we are here to help – please get in touch

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