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Now more than ever digital must be a top priority for every CMO

Roger Barr
28th July 2020

Consumers crave brands with true purpose and meaning – now more than ever. With a surge in digital, are you ready for the new normal?

  • 15 years’ worth of people have come online in the past 15 days

  • CMOs can’t afford to watch and wait as consumers migrate online

  • Digital transformation must be prioritised to meet the seismic shift in human behaviour

The news that Primark’s sales have plummeted from £650m a month to zero is sobering.  Covid-19 has forced it to close its European and US stores, and it isn’t set up for ecommerce. Yet the consumer appetite for shopping online has been a long time coming; the pandemic has merely hastened it.


In 2019, e-retail sales accounted for 14.1% of all retail sales worldwide. The growth in online shopping has brought about the demise of multiple high street stores, and Covid-19 has piled yet more pressure onto bricks and mortar retailers.

Digital plays an increasingly important role in our lives, from shopping to working, entertainment to keeping fit. Figures from Ofcom show that adults who use the internet spent, on average, three hours and 15 minutes a day online in September 2018. It will be interesting to see how that stat compares to 2020, given the surge in people going online whilst at home. No doubt, growth will partly be driven by the ‘weekly shop’ being back ‘en vogue’ as shoppers fight to secure the safety of their delivery slot and avoid the slow, socially distant, in-store experience.

With little idea how long quarantine will need to be in place, no CMO can afford to sit and wait. If digital wasn’t front of mind before, it must surely be now.

Some companies are well-positioned to swivel alongside the accelerated shift in behaviour. River Island, for example, tripled the size of its technology team in 2016 and, the following year, it hired a head of customer experience to drive omnichannel consistency. Last year, it overhauled its IT and data infrastructure, investing in cloud technology and AI to boost the customer experience. It reopened its online store in mid-April after introducing new safety and social-distancing measures in its warehouse.

Behaviour is transforming

Covid-19 is forcing consumers online. A US study from Adobe Analytics showed that ecommerce grew 25% from March 13th-15th compared to the baseline period of March 1st–11th, driven primarily by online grocery shopping.

It is a global trend. In China, online car sales went up in the first weeks of the crisis, despite overall car sales declining. 

As former CMOCO at Unilever, Keith Weed, told Campaign:

"15 years’ worth of people have come online in the last 15 days. Post-this [pandemic], the amount of online shopping will go down, but the amount of people who have now had an online experience will never go back.”

Keith Weed

CMOs are in the driving seat, and they must think about how they engage with this shift, and how they act on it. And fast.

Covid-19 is not just speeding the adoption of ecommerce, but creating a long-term behavioural change in the way people shop, consume media, and live. 

According to McKinsey, early indications from China, for example, are that new customers and markets — specifically people aged 36 and over, and residents of smaller, less-prosperous cities — have begun to shop online in greater numbers. In Europe in early April, 13% of consumers said that they were planning to browse etailers for the first time. In Italy, ecommerce transactions have risen 81% since the end of February. 

Beyond shopping, US exercise company Peloton saw app-class attendance rise 40% during the last week in March, while video conferencing platform Zoom has seen the maximum number of daily meeting participants rise from approximately 10 million at the end of December 2019, to over 200 million in March 2020. Change is in the air.


Consumers expect more than fulfilment

But not only do today’s brands need to be set up for digital, they need to meet consumers’ increasing expectations in the Amazon age. This includes a consistent experience regardless of channel, personalised content and recommendations, and an engaging and entertaining presence on relevant social channels, effectively humanising the brand. After all, consumers crave brands with true purpose and meaning — now more than ever.

Brands must work hard in the digital space to not only deliver on the basics, but to exceed expectations. As a recent Hubspot blog post reported, “Although satisfied customers are good for your company, delighted customers are more likely to become loyal customers and brand advocates.”

Tap into talent and technology

According to Forrester, brands that lead in retail customer experience also grow much faster than laggards. To invest in customer experience in the digital age, and to meet the continuing flood of online shoppers, brands must invest in both technology and expertise. As Weed said:

"The biggest impact this [pandemic] is going to have is [it will lead consumers] to expect brands to have a bigger ecommerce platform.”

Keith Weed

Moreover, ‘delight’ comes from delivering frictionless digital experiences that serve great content in an app or website that is quick, intuitive and easy to use. From a personal perspective, this is one of the drivers that’s resulted in me moving away from British Gas to Bulb Energy — a decision, although influenced by Bulb’s renewable commitment, made super easy due to an extremely frustrating customer experience using British Gas apps.

Some of our clients have brought forward digital and content marketing plans to meet consumer demands now, as well as to prepare for a ‘new normal’. Others have called on the expertise of our digital agency to work with them to develop platforms that will meet this marked shift in behaviour, ensuring they are ready to serve their existing audience and continue to grow their customer base in future.

In my view, there isn’t likely to be a moment in time where lockdown ends. The reality will probably be a phased return to a new normal, and many of our clients are currently identifying digital tactics that will reduce face-to-face contact. 

Times might be uncertain, but as history attests — life goes on. Are you ready for the new normal?

Create a digital customer experience that delights

If you’re looking to enhance your digital offering to keep pace with today’s extraordinary speed of change, and to better connect with your customers as behaviours evolve, talk to us. We use data and strategic insights to guide our work, creating content, building platforms and optimising targeted media – we have the know-how to ensure your brand continues to deliver.

Get in touch with Roger Barr, our Chief Digital Officer, to kick-start the conversation.

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