I’ve been digesting all the articles about COVID-19 and the crisis it has provoked. I’ve seen how companies are coping with it and I’ve seen how everybody went from reading/seeing the news to understanding it and taking measurements, followed by crisis communication and figuring out ways to keep working or going into economical unemployment.
At Baldwin we were pretty fast in deciding to start working from home 100%. We have 2 branches. One in Romania and one in Belgium, so we were already equipped with a good Technology Stack to work remotely. It’s not ideal and I miss having the team around me. But I realise that for now we are lucky. We are in the right business, we can work from home and since e-commerce is the lifeline for our customers at this point the last 2 weeks have been very intense for the Baldwin team. We had a loaded pipeline of projects and were trying to serve our existing customers as good as possible.
I’ve been in e-commerce for 15 years now. That means that I was a witness of the evolution of the business channel. At first it was very hard to convince business leaders to invest in that channel. Feedback like “is the internet here to stay?”, “our products will never be bought online”, “our products are too difficult”, “our current resellers will be upset”, “our market is B2B and we need people to guide our customers” were no exception. In the second wave of webshop projects my sales pitch was adapted. I had become a bit more experienced and “balder” I guess, so it went smoother but still it was hard to convince the industry leaders that internet was here to stay and that anything will eventually be sold online eventually. It’s the complexity of the products or services which is determining the order of the e-commerce waves.
And I wasn’t visionary, I couldn’t imagine the ultimate motivator, I never tried out the phrase “What if a worldwide epidemic will cause your staff to be staying at home and prevent your customers from coming to your shops. And the only way to contact you is through digital channels?” Had I known… No, even if I had known I wouldn’t have dared to use that line.
There is the already discussed link with the Spanish Flu hundred years ago. About how the lack of drastic measures caused that drama and I don’t want to go there. But I remember reading an article on how people looked at World War I in 1914. Young people were convinced to fight for their country and they were told that it wasn’t going to take long. Just a couple of months and your lives will get back to normal. We just need to defeat the enemy and we’re done. A couple of months. And back to normal. Right.
I can’t help but thinking: “What if the Corona crisis is going to take longer than just a couple of weeks for things to go back to normal? Or will there be a new normal?” I’m happy with how things are managed in Belgium. Scientists rang the alarm bell and pretty much stated what we had to do. And for politicians it was easy, they could hide behind the scientists. But now the communication of the scientists is subtly starting to change. First it was “till April fifth”, and day per day you can see how we, the masses are being informed more and more, that this is going to take till summer and then the rest of the year. The masses need time to digest and cope with the reality, so it’s done in steps. I get that.
So back to business. When are we going to go back to normal? Are we really going back to normal? In Asia they have had epidemics before. Looking at pictures, it seems quite normal there to see people wearing mouth masks. And before the epidemic stroke in Europe, everybody had seen tourists running around in our historical cities wearing all kinds of mouth masks.
I believe we need to start accepting that this is not a matter of weeks. This isn’t just going to go away like that. Step by step measures will be undone but this is going to be part of our lives. At least until we have a Vaccine. But for sure new variants of the Virus will be coming back each year. I know, it sounds quite pessimistic. But accepting this will allow Business Leaders to take the right Decisions. Yes, with a big D. And Leaders make Decisions for the Best of their Company.
It’s just a matter of time until the fashion industry will design mouth masks that fit the rest of a Look. And Collect and Go concepts in stores will grow in importance. One of our customers, a bakery for which we built a webshop last year, has a simple baseline: “Order online, collect without waiting.” This “no waiting” spearhead is kind of powerful these days. Products and Services need to be browsable in a safe way. You will want that as a company. Nobody wants to jeopardise the lives of their customers.
More than ever will digital be your ultimate sales channel. You have to accept that. I’ve seen a lot of initiatives of my fellow agencies. People offering free advice, launching plug and play e-commerce concepts. And the phone is ringing constantly, people are calling me using the keywords: “cheap, fast, easy, tomorrow, …”
My advice is very straightforward: Ask yourself the right questions and take time to think them really through.
- How can you ensure a safe and secure sales channel?
- How can you deliver your goods and services?
- How fast and how cheap can you deliver?
- What kind of questions are normally asked to your people regarding your offer?
- What difficulties are there with configuring your products?
I hope they can inspire you to make the best of this crisis. And remember, Didn’t “cheap, fast, easy, now, now, now “ get us to this point in the first place?
Maarten Deboo, CEO Baldwin