A Pandemic Inspired Tsunami of Channel Switching

In our local downtown retail chocolate shop, “The Chocolate Bar” transitioned into a chocolate factory with home delivery seemingly overnight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We have also seen other stores quickly reacting.  Costco now limits the number of shoppers inside their stores, while dramatically ramping up online ordering with home deliveries.  Whole Foods is now providing three ways of shopping locally: in-store shopping, online ordering with drive through pick-up and online ordering with home delivery.  All of these new and expanded options represent fast transitions to new or additional sales channels.

Fast transitions, or what military strategists often refer to as “fast transients,” are the ability to quickly transition from one position to another.  Today we are seeing examples of fast transitioning across many different areas including retail stores, restaurants and businesses as they attempt to meet their customers where they are.  In a recent interview my colleague, Rich Sherman, Senior Fellow, Supply Chain Centre of Excellence at Tata Consultancy Services called this, “Channel Switching.”

Even in the best of times we never ordered $150 worth of chocolate in a month – until now that is.  In the past, when we were not downtown, we didn’t buy chocolate.  This month, however, while isolated in our homes it occurred to us that being downtown was not a prerequisite to having chocolate from The Chocolate Bar.  Our lives, our behaviors and our waistlines are likely going to be impacted forever by this channel switching epiphany.

Adding or switching channels for a business is not easy.  It requires new strategies, new ways of marketing, and new ecommerce platforms.  It often requires new ecosystems, workflows, business processes, staffing and business models.  Companies that are already far along on this journey now have an event that will accelerate their channel transformation.

LinkedIn now publishes a list of the companies that are hiring large numbers of workers.  A quick look at the list this week reveals that many of the companies hiring today are responding to channel switching.  As online orders increase so does the need for logistics and delivery people.

Channel switching also provides new opportunities to spark delight in customers.  This morning my wife went online with Whole Foods and ordered groceries. Less than 90 minutes later our groceries arrived.  We were delighted.  With this level of speed and convenience we are likely going to permanently reduce our in-store shopping.

In addition to delivering boxes of chocolates, The Chocolate Bar, also demonstrated an intimate knowledge of their customers – another important quality of successful companies. Today, consumers are nervous and fearful of how to handle food and packaging safely.  Recognizing this concern, The Chocolate Bar placed a decorative sticker on their box of chocolates that explained all the safety steps taken while making and boxing the chocolates.  We were impressed and assured that our chocolate habit would not likely be the source of our demise in the short term.

The digital transformation journey was already underway.  The pandemic, a sudden and shocking event, is acting as an accelerant to existing trends.  It is nudging or even shoving many of us in the direction of exploring and adopting new sales channels for buying our goods and services.  Forward thinking businesses will be intimately in touch with the rapidly changing behaviors and preferences of their channel switching customers.

Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict serves as a futurist in the Future of Business group at Tata Consultancy Services. He is an optimistic futurist, and passionate advocate for using technology for social good. He writes and speaks globally on emerging and disruptive technologies, business strategies and marketing trends. He loves building teams, innovating, designing new strategies and winning. He is curious and loves communicating complex concepts and evangelizing best practices. He hosts a variety of online tv channels where he has interviewed hundreds of executives and thought leaders on industry trends and emerging technologies. He loves writing, is a social media expert, SAP Mentor alum, current SAP Influencer program member and global speaker on the deeper strategies of business and technology transformation.

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