The problem is that while demand is skyrocketing, it isn’t doing so uniformly: for instance, e-commerce sales of disposable gloves and bread machines have each risen by more than 650% since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, but sales of luggage, swimwear, and cameras have fallen by between 64% and 77%. Additionally, because nobody knows how long the shift to online purchasing will last, it’s incredibly difficult to allocate resources, capitalize on new opportunities, offset risks, or plan for the future.
To succeed, e-commerce vendors need to use a kind of strategic triage, and set goals and forge strategies that take into account their resources, their vulnerabilities, and their staying power.
That means deciding whether your company should be resilient, with a focus on survival and protecting existing relationships; rational, with an extended game plan and an incrementally adaptive approach; or receptive, with a focus on snapping up new opportunities that emerge during times of chaos.
By figuring out which of these “3 R’s” is right for you, you’ll be able to maximize your chances of weathering the coronavirus storm and making the most of the new opportunities that come your way. Let’s take a closer look at how the three strategies work in practice:
- Resilience means taking a defensive posture, with a focus on developing a short-term plan of action that will allow your company to stay afloat and keep serving existing customers.
- Rationality, by contrast, depends on hatching mid- to long-term plans that are shaped by a clear perspective on the evolution of the e-commerce space in your specific industry or niche. That doesn’t mean making a plan and sticking to it at all costs — but it does mean adapting mindfully to changing conditions, rather than making knee-jerk judgment calls.
- Receptivity is a more proactive, opportunistic approach, with a focus on building for long-term success by latching onto the new opportunities presented by the unprecedented times now affecting the e-commerce space.
Consider the way you’re running your team during the COVID-19 crisis, for instance.
A resilient strategy might lead you to focus on how your people can help you cope with new challenges, and how your HR leaders can help you push employees harder in order to keep the company from going under.
A rational approach, on the other hand, might see you conducting regular surveys to monitor employee engagement, and proactively investing in development and supportive measures such as counseling, helping with childcare, or even hosting virtual happy hours.
Finally, a receptive leader might seek to put new processes in place that will support your team for the long haul. That might mean implementing new shift patterns to reduce the number of workers on-site at any given moment, or building a long-term pool of freelancers to give your team lasting strength in depth.
Which of the 3 R’s is best?
The 3 R’s can be applied to just about any aspect of an e-commerce operation, helping you to forge and execute effective strategies for marketing, supply-chain management, technology, and operations. A resilient approach to operations, for instance, might involve simply monitoring and responding to shifts in demand; a more receptive approach might mean pivoting your whole business into new areas with potential for long-term growth, while using advanced metrics to mitigate risks and distribute resources effectively.
Clearly, resilience-focused strategies are less sophisticated than rational approaches, which in turn are less likely to succeed over time than properly executed receptive strategies. But that doesn’t mean it’s “better” to be receptive. The key is to find the model that works best for your company in any given moment.
A receptive approach to finance might call for you to increase your cash reserves and identify new areas for investment, for instance. That’s a great idea if you have the resources for it — but if you’re holed up below the water line and struggling to pay your vendors, you’d almost certainly be better off with a resilience-focused strategy focused on cost reduction and cash flow management.
Which of the 3 R’s is right for you?
Of course, you don’t have to decide that you’ll apply the same one of the 3 R’s to every problem you encounter. While struggling companies may be forced to spend most of their time deploying resilience-focused strategies, and thriving businesses may have the luxury of focusing on receptive strategies, most companies will be best served with a blended approach. The goal should be to analyze your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in response to each new threat that you encounter.
Thankfully, pandemics aren’t a run-of-the-mill occurrence. But the e-commerce space is always changing, and the one certainty is that we’ll face plenty of unforeseen challenges in the months and years to come.
Whether you’re trying to cope with the coronavirus, natural disasters, social unrest, or any other business disruptions, figuring out a survival strategy that’s grounded in your own ability to execute is the best way to ensure that you’re positioned for lasting success.
Yoav Kutner is the founder and CEO of OroCommerce, the NO.1 opensource B2B eCommerce platform purpose-built for manufacturers, distributors and suppliers.
He is also the co-founder and board member of Akeneo, the leading product experience management (PXM) platform.
Previously, he was the co-founder and CTO of Magento.