The Lingering Impact of COVID-19 on Commerce & How Businesses Can Respond

The world changed in 2020. The rapid spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent shutdown and restrictions altered nearly everything about our lives for more than a year. We worked differently, we schooled differently, we interacted differently and we shopped differently.

Retailers and consumer brands were forced to adapt quickly to survive. For many organizations, their digital commerce strategy was forced to advance a decade in a matter of months. Some had the infrastructure in place to handle these changes gracefully and even used the situation to innovate. Others are still struggling to catch up, even as things begin to return to normal.

Of course, “normal” doesn’t look the same now as it did in 2019. It would be a mistake to assume that consumer expectations and shopping habits will return to what they were pre-pandemic. Modernizing commerce platforms is no longer something that can be done as budget and business goals allow. It is now imperative for survival.

The best way to understand how companies need to adapt is to start by looking at some of what changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How Commerce Changed as a Result of COVID-19

COVID-19 impacted every aspect of commerce in 2020, from online shopping to supply chains. Retailers, distributors, direct-to-consumer brands, and everyone else had to adjust — fast — to keep revenue flowing while mandatory lockdowns were in place, preventing consumers from visiting brick and mortar stores. 

In the early days of the pandemic, some retailers saw web traffic that rivaled the volumes of Black Friday. Without a means to scale, digital storefronts suffered and consumers were left frustrated. Importantly, an entirely new set of online shoppers were added to the mix, as those who had not previously used eCommerce were forced into adopting the technology to get even the essentials, like groceries.

At the same time, businesses saw shifts in what consumers wanted and dealt with shortages in stock. While buyers clamored for desks and chairs for their new home offices, suppliers were unable to provide merchandise to keep up with demand. Retailers found the need to pivot to fulfill a new set of consumer needs while simultaneously keeping on top of dwindling inventory.

Even the modes consumers used to interact with restaurants and retailers changed.  As MarketWatch reports, “The four top U.S. food-delivery apps saw revenue rise $3 billion collectively in the second and third quarters (of 2020), as the coronavirus pandemic required shelter-in-place restrictions.”

Retailers saw alterations in the way consumers received goods, too. Brick and mortar stores and eCommerce platforms melded, as buyers refused to wait for overburdened shippers to deliver their goods. Buy Online Pick Up In-Store (BOPIS) and curbside pickups skyrocketed, with nearly 67% of shoppers in the U.S having used BOPIS in the last 6 months.

Adapting to Commerce’s New, Post-Pandemic Normal

Customers are beginning to get out and shop in stores again, but they do so with a new perspective. Experiences influence expectations, and consumers now have an entirely new view of what is possible.

Brands cannot return to doing things the old way, and those that were forced to band-aid solutions together to meet demand will need to take a look at their solutions with fresh eyes. If the pandemic taught organizations anything, it’s that they must be flexible and ready to change and adapt quickly.

Traditionally, the departments supporting eCommerce for businesses were siloed and treated as an independent entity. In a post-pandemic world, organizations no longer have the luxury of that kind of division. Digital commerce must be seen as part of the large business — one that interacts with and works shoulder-to-shoulder with all of the rest.

To achieve this, companies must rethink their commerce platforms, their architectures and how they interact with other business systems. The online storefront is only one entry point into an organization’s commerce engine. Flexibility, scalability and agility all come from compartmentalized but compatible functions across the commerce ecosystem.

A commerce architecture like MACH — short for ‘Microservices, API-First, Cloud Native, and Headless’ — decouples the important elements of a platform and shifts the elements into a composable and responsive solution. 

Leveraging microservices and leading with APIs sets an organization up to both integrate quickly without outside applications as needed and massively accelerates innovation and development of new services. 

Cloud-native answers concerns about scalability and reliability. The infrastructure needed to support the ebbs, flows and spikes that come with online shopping are baked into the cloud.

Headless, or the separation of the underlying commerce functionality and applications from the presentation layer,  provides the ability to create true omnichannel experiences. Consumers will get the same experience, seamlessly, regardless of channel. The organization can add new buying modalities — from mobile and web to IoT, augmented reality and beyond — without needing to recreate the underlying commerce engine.

The key to achieving modernization is to simply get started. With a larger digital consumer market and continued consumer adoption of things like BOPIS, retailers and consumer brands who have not already begun to modernize their commerce platforms can no longer wait to do so. 

Conclusion

The two most important things that organizations need to recognize is that commerce took a massive leap forward in the last year, and staying in the game means finding ways to match or exceed the agility and speed of competitors. That doesn’t mean change must happen all at once. However, it does mean that commerce modernization must be a part of your business’s roadmap.

Leveraging the expertise of a partner can help you realize your commerce goals faster and move forward with confidence. DMI’s team of commerce experts has helped some of the largest brands in the world accelerate their commerce modernization to a new, scalable and agile solution. Our architects are uniquely qualified to work side-by-side with you and your team. Contact DMI to find out how we can advance your commerce solution to where it needs to be.

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