The lockdown’s lifting – at least in some parts of the world. But it’ll be some time yet before the wheels of global commerce begin to turn with any degree of regularity once again.
While it’s easy to assume that the shift to remote working, online shopping, and video-socializing has positively impacted most digital businesses and online marketplaces, that’s not necessarily the case.
However, while many digital services are undoubtedly thriving, this surge in demand continues to highlight different issues for many others – from a security, capacity, and scalability perspective.
In a similar way, companies that use technology to facilitate offline services – such as socializing, dating, or the exchange of services – are having to pivot to find new ways to stay relevant and active.
Let’s take a closer look at how many different digitally-driven companies in different sectors are addressing and overcoming the challenges they face.
Loud & Clear
One area that’s seen huge expansion during the lockdown is videoconferencing. It’s easy to see why.
Prior to the pandemic, one particular platform called Zoom was growing steadily, mostly among business customers. With 10 million active daily users back in December 2019, expectations were moderately ambitious. But fast-forward to April 2020, and user numbers had grown to an astonishing 300 million.
We all know what happened there. But then something else became apparent – Zoom wasn’t as secure as many users first thought. Cue an onslaught of privacy issues, such as ‘Zoom bombers’ and other uninvited video chat guests intent on password and identity theft.
To counter the issues the platform faced, the team has now rolled out end-to-end encryption: for its paid users. But despite these issues, Zoom continues to make massive profits – making $27m between February and April 2020: a sharp increase compared with its $198,000 profit just 12 months ago.
So what’s Zoom’s secret? People need it right now. Not just businesses intent on maintaining contact between usually office-based staff, but everyone else too – from those looking to connect with families and friends, to the global events industry which has literally moved talks, seminars, and other discussion-based happenings to the digital realm (as for instance exemplified with the recent Global Online Classifieds Summit).
But is its success sustainable? While it’s clear that ‘encryption-for-some’ must become ‘encryption-for-all’ in the long-term, right now it seems need outweighs any particular risk.
In short, it’s become an essential utility for many.
Eking Out A Living From eCommerce
In a similar way, the lockdown has sparked a massive upturn for online shopping. Given that over a third of shoppers are apparently unwilling to return to bricks and mortar stores until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, it’s not surprising that many large online retailers, fulfillment services, and manufacturers are reporting demand outstripping anything they could have been prepared for.
Of course, Amazon, the global eCommerce giant, is leading the way, as we’d assume – with Q1 2020 results 26% up year-on-year. In fact, given the increased demand for its services, Amazon has recruited an additional 175,000 people during the COVID-19 crisis.
Pre-financial announcements, the company was reportedly making $11,000 per second back in April. However, it in fact transpires that Amazon’s actually making a loss right now. All of the extra revenues are being used to pay workers and increase capacity.
Looking ahead, the mighty online retailer is unlikely to be toppled anytime soon; though it clearly demonstrates that they too have had to prioritize meeting demand rather than doubling down on profitability.
But, while Amazon’s offline order fulfillment service may be suffering, it’s not hard to believe that losses are being offset by its purely digital services – TV, music, eBooks, cloud computing services. Diversification has presumably been its saving grace.
Beyond The Ban
However, many other businesses who essentially use digital services to enhance the customer experience – and automate backend processes such as data collation, CRM functionality, and order processing – are facing tough times.
Take the travel sector for instance, which has probably taken the hardest hit of all, given the restrictions that were put in place to stop the spread of corona virus.
In the absence of being able to guarantee immediate bookings, many companies are asking customers to book for 2021 already, in an attempt to maintain cash flow and remain operational.
However, companies that would usually generate smaller profits from multiple bookings and casual stays could lose out if things don’t recover quickly. In cases like these, it really is a case of the strongest surviving.
But that said, some well-placed creativity and innovation can go a long way.
Take Airbnb, for example, which has recently rolled out its new Online Experiences initiative to not only boost revenues, but to give customers a taste of what everyone’s missing out on, and to help bring people closer together – in a way that picks up where Airbnb’s popular in-person experiences left off.
Using the service, customers can learn and interact with experts and enthusiasts from all over the world; doing everything from family baking sessions to taking part in history quizzes – both for fun and educational purposes.
Could it be that the service that started life as a couch surfing app becomes a bonafide education platform? Only time will tell. But Airbnb’s well-timed pivot certainly plays to its strengths.
In Sweden, travel company, Apollo Tours, has started focusing on the domestic market rather than far-flung destinations. Anticipating that international travel will take a while to be fully operational, Apollo is offering and organizing local activities and training sessions – for everything from mountain biking to yoga – to give customers something proactive to be able to do during the summer vacation, both alone or in small groups.
Love In A COVID 19 Climate
Interaction is just as important as stimulation. We’re social creatures after all. And while many of us have learned to deal with being distanced from our loved ones, what about those looking for love? The countless singletons and lonely hearts out there unable to meet with prospective partners in person.
Well, dating apps and platforms open doors to new matches. They provide a safe space to interact, message, and meet new people who share the same interests and outlook.
While Tinder’s going all out encouraging users to go on virtual dates – co-watching Netflix shows and movies, ordering takeout from the same place and dining by FaceTime – the stark advice to maintain distance and avoid sneaky visits to your intended’s sleeping quarters remains in place.
Up and comer app, Hinge is attempting to bridge the lockdown divide with its own bespoke ‘date from home’ feature – connecting matched users to those ready to video chat there and then.
While these efforts may be admirable, in their efforts to capture different aspects of spontaneity, meaningful connections, and quality time, in effect they haven’t deviated too far from their original offerings.
These features might actually be kept long-term for those keen to maintain physical distance before meeting someone new in person – or where busy schedules don’t allow – let’s be honest: there’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings where affairs of the heart are concerned.
Focus On Users: Nothing Else
Ultimately, what can you do when the very nature of your business model is under threat? You find ways to give your customers what they want.
As the companies mentioned are realizing, supporting users is what counts – offering real value, in the most authentic, meaningful way possible
It’s about putting them first – not just to keep them engaged and subscribed to your service or platform – but to genuinely offer help and support during a difficult time.
This was a sentiment echoed when we spoke with online marketplace, FINN.no, fraud manager, Geir Petter Gjefsen recently. By focusing on its users, and actively encouraging its users to ask for help or help others during the crisis, not only did the initial dip in traffic recover, but deeper customer bonds were formed.
Similarly, eBayK (eBay Kleinanzeigen), a free online classifieds market that’s committed to sustainable trade, created a ‘Neighborhood Help’ category where customers could offer their service – from dog walking to tuition – as the world faced COVID 19 uncertainty. The result? A peak in traffic and 40 million live ads.
All things considered, to stay afloat, maintain customer loyalty, and to come out the other side of the crisis intact, digital businesses need to be agile. They need to adapt by focusing on their own strengths and tailoring even closer to what their customers need. As teams need to focus on delivering the best possible service, machine learning, AI and outsourced agents can play a part in helping moderate the content itself.
Now is the time for action and innovation. After all, what have you got to lose?