My reasons for writing this now are simple but pressing. The last 20 months have changed the way every one of us does business. My view is that there’s no going back from that – and that we shouldn’t want to go back.
The behaviour changes and innovation explosion triggered by Covid restrictions have leap-frogged the business world easily five years into the future. Disruption, acceleration, data overload and sustainability are the topics on everyone’s lips.
Living in a pandemic has driven us all to find flexible ways to shop, work and entertain ourselves, as well as taking a deep new look at what is most important to each of us as individuals. Today, people are holding on to those new habits and values. At the same time, they are demanding the return of selective aspects of the old models and channels. The challenges and opportunities from these varying influences fluctuate all the time.
For business, this means the tempo of decision-making is the highest we’ve ever faced, and it is not going to lessen. We need to understand developing market conditions the moment they arise and pivot our plans far more frequently to address changing conditions.
Take disruption: bricks-and-clicks is now winning in the retail arena. Eighty-three percent of people have changed their shopping behaviour and market conditions continue to be in flux. Even where old behaviour seems to be re-emerging, it’s at differing levels from before and driven by different desires and triggers. Alongside this, external influences such as extreme weather events are increasingly changing people’s focus on how we live and the decisions they make.
Success depends on embracing digitisation and data-based decision making.
As for acceleration: the consumer world was already moving swiftly, but the pandemic compressed evolving trends that would have taken years to develop into months. The number of retailers adding ecommerce to their business model leapt by 64% the first half of 2020 alone, according to GfK Market Intelligence’s weekly European tracking data. Yes, people flocked back to savour the ‘in-store experience’ when shops first reopened, but the convenience and instant gratification of ‘buy now’ has embedded the habit of remote shopping.
It doesn’t take an analyst to see that continuing disruption added to acceleration of change is resulting in increased data overload for businesses. Making core decisions based on anything other than solid data is high-risk in the extreme – but how do you handle and make sense of the extreme amounts of data available from online platforms, search engines and apps, to name just a few? If you ignore key data sources, you could lose out to your competitors – but understanding them all at the pace required is a herculean task.
In my view, success depends on embracing digitisation and data-based decision making – and I am not alone in this. One of Forrester’s senior analysts, Richard Joyce, calculates that a 10% increase in data access will add $65m to a typical Fortune 100 company income.
The businesses that are winning today have made bold changes, not minor adjustments, to respond at pace to current behaviour. I personally have been inspired by the decisive actions of Intime, a department store chain in China. When traffic to its physical stores fell and consumers moved online, Intime switched its in-store sales assistants into live-streamers on social media – showcasing products throughout the day that could be purchased via a simple click. By reacting fast and decisively to the new market conditions, Intime kept its staff in work and continued selling.
As CEO at GfK, I am quite literally putting my money where my mouth is, in endorsing bold change and a higher tempo of decision-making supported by digitisation. We have radically reinvented GfK from a market research company to being a provider of a tailor-made, AI-powered intelligence platform (gfknewron) and consultancy. Our platform is a GPS route-finder for businesses – delivering seamless, at-your-fingertips support through timely direction on when to turn left or right, alerts on upcoming hazards and recommendations on more efficient routes.
My message, then, is this: the time is ripe for bold decisions and high-tempo implementation. I believe that the ‘shapers of tomorrow’ are those that have the conviction to make radical changes based on early signals developing within their markets and consumer behavior. The critical point is that the shape of these changes must be solidly rooted in trusted data and up-to-the-moment forecasts. We’re never going ‘back to normal’, so be bold, be brave and create your own disruption to shape tomorrow’s market.
Our ‘State of Consumer Technology and Durables Report’ delves into these trends, the opportunities that they open, and what smart brands are doing now to thrive in the future.