It was John F. Kennedy who noted that when written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is made up of two characters, one representing danger and the other opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated this dichotomy for companies of all sizes as they struggle to remain solvent and competitive during these turbulent times. One of the most visible pivots that companies have implemented as a result of the coronavirus has been their embracing of technological innovations.
While it is true that the internet came on the scene long before the pandemic did, the coronavirus caused consumers and businesses alike to view ecommerce in a whole new way. Concerns about contracting the virus by touching contaminated surfaces or by getting too close to other customers or workers in physical stores (along with local and state mandates) meant that people were staying home most or all of the time. Shopping online gave buyers a way to obtain the goods they needed without putting themselves or their families in danger.
In response to this shift toward ecommerce, a large number of companies who had been on the fence about launching a website finally made the move. Some who had only been displaying their products online as enticement to lure customers into their physical stores decided to add payment processing capabilities so that consumers could also make their purchases from their sites. Implementing this multichannel payments approach gave these businesses additional flexibility, enabling them to meet the changing needs of customers regardless of where they chose to make their purchases.
Expanding with BOPIS.
Buying online and picking up in-store, abbreviated as BOPIS, grew out of the escalating popularity of ecommerce. In effect, it gave shoppers the best of both worlds. At their leisure and in their own time, they could browse a business’s product offerings on their website with the opportunity to research different options and view customer reviews. Once they were sure of exactly what they wanted, customers could use the business’s BOPIS services to order over the internet and set up a pickup time. In a matter of a few hours, they could simply drive to the physical store and retrieve their purchases, often contactlessly with the help of convenient curbside pickup.
The advent of third-party shopping services.
The smartphone has become ubiquitous in recent years, and it could not have happened at a better time. Pre-pandemic, apps already existed that enabled consumers to book rides that picked them up at their door, order food to be delivered from their favorite restaurants, and even complete grocery shopping tasks for home delivery. Although a fair number of consumers had tried one or more of these options on an infrequent basis, it took a pandemic to catapult these third-party services into the realm of necessity instead of luxury.
Speaking of smartphones, one of their best kept secrets, at least until the coronavirus hit, was their built-in digital wallet capabilities. In a matter of just a few minutes, users can enter their credit card and payment information into their digital wallet where it is encrypted for security and stored. When the time comes to make a purchase, all a user has to do is to wave their smartphone near the merchant’s contactless reader. Within a matter of a few seconds, the consumer’s identity is verified and the payment authorized efficiently, securely and, without any physical contact between the consumer and the merchant or their payment processing equipment.
Smartphones also can help customers feel safer when dining out at restaurants. In increasing numbers, eateries are subscribing to software that allows diners to make reservations in advance using an app. Although this represents an investment for restaurants that are already financially strapped, doing so comes with a compelling benefit. Primarily, it enables restaurants to remain compliant with municipal and state capacity and physical distancing rules and regulations. By having the capability of managing traffic flow through an advanced reservations system, owners and patrons alike can rest assured that safety is a top priority.
The pandemic also changed the way many employees did their work. Office buildings that had been crowded with thousands of workers in early January of 2020 became deserted just weeks later. Yet although employees were in many cases confined to their houses and apartments, 21st-century technology made it possible for them to continue producing, collaborating with one another, and submitting projects on time.
Seemingly overnight, video conferencing revolutionized the way small and large enterprises got things done. Much to many executives’ surprise, production and innovation could still occur without face-to-face contact. Cross-country and international business trips were proven to be unnecessary, leading to massive cost savings, without an appreciable sacrifice in quality or quantity of work.
When the seas are calm, a ship can sail smoothly through the tranquil waters without difficulty. Often, the crew can relax and may even have time to enjoy the sunshine. However, a storm that stirs the waves to a frenzy and batters the ship causes all hands on deck to immediately scurry to their posts. Many will be required to take on extra jobs until the storm passes. In some cases, discoveries may be made that lead to greater efficiency and safety under pressure. In many respects, the global pandemic is this type of catastrophic event, bringing a combination of crisis and opportunity that has separated the resilient from the rigid, and forced the reluctant to innovate even beyond their comfort levels. Modern technology has stepped in to fill many gaps as the pandemic wears on. Even after COVID-19 is no longer a significant threat, its ramifications will continue to impact the way companies and customers do business.