In the virtual roundtable “Commerce in A Changing World: Delivering Experiences in the New Normal” from Insight 20, three Oracle Commerce clients described how they juggle changing workplace regimens and interpret various customer signals to deliver a robust experience.
Commerce in A Changing World
COVID-19 continues to accelerate the rate at which businesses undergo digital transformation. More employees are working from home, sometimes indefinitely. Direct-to-consumer sales are increasing, while customers are expecting instant information on how companies interact with them safely.
“Customers – when they’re purchasing something, when they’re waiting for it to be shipped, when they’re interacting with you through certain channels – they’re all delivering these signals of how they want to work with your business, and that is continually changing and shifting.”
-Jeri Kelley, Oracle’s Director of Product Strategy Commerce, CPQ, and Subscriptions
Sales and consumer data flood businesses now, forcing B2B and B2C companies to manage that data more quickly. According to an April 2020 McKinsey report, “The luxury of time now seems to have disappeared completely. Businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one- to three-year phases now have to scale initiatives in a matter of weeks.”
Where before, companies would fulfill an order once for an item with a single list price, now an item features dynamic pricing, and it’s bought on a recurring basis from a custom catalog. Companies are creating account hierarchies, quoting customers on different product configurations, offering subscription models, and marketing buy-online, pickup in-store policies.
All of these changes fall under the experience economy, which requires businesses to stay resilient.
Being resilient means responding quickly to changing demand, handling complex products, services, integrations, and requirements, and seizing opportunities to quickly launch new sites, business models, and regions using the same platform. eCommerce sites must handle huge spikes in traffic. Remote teams must update systems fast without IT, all while the company personalizes experiences for every buyer. Kelley illustrated this dynamic with an anecdote – one business saw a 700 percent increase in site traffic after it closed its retail space to customers.
The key to meeting increased customer expectations means engaging in responsive selling, and different businesses execute on that strategy in different ways to navigate this global crisis.
Commerce Customer Use Cases
Vermont Country Store
Vermont Country Store saw demand for food products, sleepwear, and apparel soar in March 2020, said John Spencer, the store’s director of technology and e-commerce. VCS maintains two retail stores but handles most of its business through its website and call center. “The unexpected demand stressed the company at a time when we were trying to get as many people out of the office as possible to stay safe,” Spencer said.
Vermont Country Store modified operations to match fulfillment capacities and capabilities, shipping some orders from its stores up to five days later than normal. Both its call center and distribution center practice social distancing, with time between shifts devoted to deep-cleaning.
VCS now promotes in-stock items more often, while balancing customer expectations and disruptions in its supply chain. The company created a third option, that an item is temporarily unavailable, on its website for two reasons, Spencer said. The supplier isn’t able to fulfill the item anymore, or they’re scaling back on shipping volume. Customers click a button reading, “Notify Me When It’s Back In Stock,” and VCS will notify them when the item is available for purchase.
VCS pointed to Slack, Skype, and Zoom as integral tools for accurate internal company communication, holding virtual startup meetings daily. Spencer said employees already worked from home once or twice a week, and the company has switched to cloud-friendly applications like Google Docs and SmartSheet.
VCS doesn’t expect increased demand to last forever. Spencer said rural communities meaning long commutes, so employees will continue to work remotely, thereby saving the company money on transportation. eCommerce sales will continue to support the bottom line as physical retail opens slowly.
COVID challenged internal communication at VCS. Where some of the best problem-solving occurred after hours, Spencer said, that doesn’t happen as often.
VCS limits its demand to maintain the health of employees, Spencer said, and the company considers itself fortunate to see strong demand for its products. “It is a huge exercise in overall business resiliency,” he said.
Motorola tried to ensure continuity by fulfilling several emergency orders, performed remote maintenance wherever possible, and sent field workers to customer sites to try to keep mission-critical networks operational, said Susan Andreef, the company’s senior manager of digital commerce.
Andreef said the pandemic has affected Motorola’s professional commercial radio business by delaying engagement and deployment with some state and local customers. While some deals have been put on hold, Andreef said Motorola has seen new orders for video monitoring to be used in contact tracing.
In April, Andreef said, Motorola started offering business radios to sell to end consumers and in August launched a direct-to-consumer site in Canada. New marketing tactics targeted 10 verticals including cross-promotion on msi.com, outbound e-mail, paid social media through Facebook, and organic and paid Google search campaigns. Motorola’s websites now feature COVID-19 messaging and cleaning guidelines for accessories, for example, if first responders share headsets.
Motorola embraced the scaled agile methodology pre-COVID, Andreef said. Its “full-feature” team structure enabled one team to handle new priorities while others focused on unrelated initiatives.
Motorola will explore the evolution it started by offering products to end customers in other parts of the world, with a possible rollout in certain parts of Europe beginning in 2021. To avoid competing with partners, Andreef said the company is finding ways to generate leads on their website so customers can find a partner in their area to buy supplemental services.
Motorola found a way to improve its online sales lead generation strategy, as well as shape demand in its supply chain according to customer preference.
Motorola’s Andreef said its pandemic response proves “we can react and pivot to changing business needs. Being stringent on a long-term roadmap can really hurt you in times like this.”
Carolina Biological used to sell to school districts offering large curriculums that needed instructor support. But the pandemic transformed teacher-student engagement. “Now, we do district support differently,” said Carolyn Collins, software architect at Carolina Biological. Every day, and without classroom support, the company must distribute hands-on science to students and help teachers communicate their instructions virtually to students.
Carolina focused more on home education. Collins said the company has switched its institutionally-oriented B2B content with fresher content as school schedules change. It is sending a product line of packaged science kits, called 3D Flex Kits, for dissection, earth science, etc., to classrooms in classroom specific modules.
Carolina had developed global cooperation with its 24-hour business in eCommerce software development.
Collins said Carolina wants to continue offering relevant educational content. “Certainly, as we add channels, we want to use what we’ve learned to enrich what we’ve always been able to offer,” she said.
Carolina seized the chance to expand its distance-learning business to include students of large universities now studying remotely.
“We see a lot more distribution than before, where different schools are adopting different channels of student learning,” Collins said of Carolina Biological. “I’m proud of how we’ve been able to reuse existing integrations and generate new ones based on everything that we’ve got available.” By absorbing and not transferring volatility, she said, “We’ve created a stable place where creativity and enrichment can still occur.”
Each of the three companies has changed its selling strategies. Each company had already codified business processes that helped them overcome pandemic-related obstacles. Whether these companies will embed these changes long-term is a complex question to answer. One enduring takeaway from the pandemic? Companies saw opportunities for improvement. Despite hurdles, these representatives took pride in new results and learned lessons.