Consumer companies must take leaps, not steps
strategy+business|Winter 2020
As shoppers show how quickly they can adapt to external shocks, retailers will need to radically reconfigure their business models.
Oz Ozturk and Ian Kahn

Not long ago, most people went to work at a workplace — not in their basements or bedrooms. Homeschooling was a rarity. And buying groceries online was something relatively few shoppers were comfortable doing.

What a difference a few months can make. It turns out that people are much more open to change than businesses expected. They’ve rushed online to shop. They are experimenting freely to find what works best for them. And they are proving remarkably adept with technology. “During the pandemic, we’ve seen an unprecedented acceleration of trends that emerged over the past five years,” says Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation. “Innovations are taking place in a matter of just months that would normally take years, in areas like acceleration of e-commerce offerings, blending of digital and in-store experiences, curbside pickup and quicker delivery options, and contactless delivery and payments.”

Consumers are not going back. “Post-pandemic, many of these changes may be here to stay,” Shay says. One data point: Almost 90 percent of online grocery shoppers plan to continue buying online when social distancing is no longer required, according to PwC’s 2020 Global Consumer Insights Survey.

If you’re a consumer and retail business leader, you should be hearing an urgent signal in all of this: You must change at least as rapidly and profoundly as the shoppers you serve. You no longer have the luxury of applying tried-and-true transformation techniques. And simply setting up social distancing in the workplace or making tentative digitization moves won’t be enough. It’s time to radically rethink and reconfigure your business model for a perpetually uncertain future — or risk becoming obsolete.

Rethink your business

If you’re part of a consumer-facing company, you’re fortunate to be exposed to a constant stream of fresh insights into shoppers’ behaviors because the sales cycle is so short. But to transform quickly, you must identify and rapidly implement the changes that will provide the best chance of long-term growth. Making systemic change will help companies develop the resilience they’ll need to deal with the exogenous shocks that lie ahead, and will build the management muscles that promote agility and nonstop innovation.

Our research points to five ways in which you can begin to do this.

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