Embracing Business Resilience in Challenging Times


One could argue that you can only truly see what a business is made of when it’s forced through times of adversity. It’s relatively simple for an organization to rest on its laurels ad enjoy the fruits of its success when it’s all smooth sailing, but when the waters get choppy its true nature is revealed.

There have been few times in living memory which have proven as challenging for business as the current crisis involving the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus and COVID-19. Since the beginning of 2020 most of the world has been living with the threat posed by this incredibly virulent disease and its people have been suffering through serious restrictions to their previous normal lives.

The retail industry had already been going through trying times as demand for products and convenience had caused a boom in the online space to the detriment of brick and mortar stores. The coronavirus pandemic has only brought the importance of this paradigm shift into clearer focus as retail businesses, online and high street alike, scramble to find their place in the new normal.

To discuss the challenges faced by the retail industry and how their companies are embracing business resilience in these trying times, four representatives of the industry met via Zoom. Moderated by independent digital commerce consultant, Stewart Hunter, the panel consisted of:

  • Pranay Mehra, Vice President, Digital & eCommerce Asia Pacific, Shiseido Group
  • Avis Easteal, Regional Head of Consumer, Luxasia
  • Darren Gunton, GM Marketing, Total Tools
  • Clare Chan, Managing Director & Co-Founder, Her Velvet Vase

The object of the panel was to discuss three phases – how the industry reacted to the initial outbreak of the pandemic, where they found success in this environment, and what they predict for the post-COVID landscape.

Personal Learning

Her Velvet Vase opened the discussion by commenting on how the pandemic has refocused everyone on building and maybe rebuilding those fundamental human relationships which are important to us. Children are a big part of this, and Her Velvet Vase has been focusing on thoughtful shopping, such as celebrating milestones or products which are going to make their experience during this time more fun/comfortable/relaxed/etc.

Beauty brand, Luxasia continued by stating that one of the things it’s found most exciting about this current situation is the pace of change. It’s been an extremely testing time, but to the pace is driving new opportunities and innovations and giving businesses the momentum to make bigger strides in their space. Fellow beauty brand Shiseido agreed with this perspective and said that the key lesson it had learned was the need to be agile and flexible and to embrace and react to change.

Total Tools added that it has learned that the scenarios it had set up for situations such as this were truly tested as nobody was able to predict which way events were going to take them.

Initial Impact

When news of the virus first hit, Total Tools had already begun prepping by briefing its marketing teams in Pakistan and the Philippines to expect a massive downturn. It put staff on holiday and braced itself for the worst. It also cancelled all above the line promotion and TV and radio advertising and focused its efforts on social media communications regarding health and safety. It felt it was important to be sensitive about the products it was promoting and considering carefully what its customers needed to get through this difficult time.

However, Total Tools actually witnessed a massive surge in business as people rushed to buy the things they needed for working from home or carrying out their own projects during lockdown measure. This meant calling staff back in and rapidly onboarding new employees, which clearly demonstrates the need to be agile and flexible in times of uncertainty.

As primarily a B2B brand Shiseido experienced a different set of challenges as it tried to predict which clients would need sock replenishments and to fulfil those orders as quickly and effectively as possible. Coming up with creative interim solutions became the order of the day. It also focused on making sure it was there for its customers and understanding that some may not be comfortable coming into stores right now. The brand is working on launching a social media-based ecommerce and communication platform to fulfil this very need.

Successes and Failures

The needs of customers have changed greatly as the pandemic has ground on, especially in the beauty industry. As mask wearing has become more ubiquitous, people have been desiring better makeup products. They don’t want to remove their mask when leaving a store, only to discover their makeup has smudged or wiped away. Lipstick sales have dropped as it can end up all over the inside of a mask or, even worse, the wearer’s face.

Data is key to these insights and it’s become so important to business resilience to keep on top of this information and use it intelligently to drive product related business decisions. Being able to plan ahead is one of the most difficult elements of a rapidly evolving situation such as this pandemic, but data has the power to inform better decision making. What is the customer doing at any one time? What are they interacting with on social media? What sort of pictures are they posting? All this information can be fed into social media marketing and help reach potential customers with the right information and the appropriate time.

Planning for the Future

One of the biggest concerns for businesses (and people in general) right now is that nobody knows when things will get back to normal. Or even if they will get back to normal. It seems, until an effective vaccine is discovered, we are going to have to live with this virus and its impact on human behavior.

This makes any kind of planning or forecasting for a post-COVID world incredibly difficult, but it seems from the discussion that the focus should be on what lessons can be learned. There should be a far greater emphasis placed of be authentic and genuine. People are tired of companies which only focus on sales and we are now in a world where we want to feel like we are all in this together and, while businesses obviously need to make money, that should only be part of their role in society.

Businesses need to remember that they are consumers as well and should go into every new day remembering to treat their customers how they themselves would wish to be treated during difficult times. Hopefully, this pandemic will have the knock-on effect that we are all a little kinder to one another in the future.

Final Thoughts

The coronavirus pandemic has sent a shockwave through the retail world and it’s only by coming up with new solutions and ways to honestly and authentically communicate with customers that they stand the greatest chance of survival during and beyond this crisis.

Using data to help predict the wants and needs of customers, adjusting communications to be sensitive to the kinds of messages and the products people are looking for right now, and constantly looking for new opportunities to be creative, agile, and flexible, are the key factors to, not only surviving in this new normal, but thriving in it.

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