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Disruption and Transformation in the Pandemic (part 3) – Digital Transformation Trends in E-Commerce, Retail, and Marketing

Part three of a four part series discussing disruption and transformation during the pandemic. Part three looks at digital transformation trends in the inter-related sectors of E-commerce, Retail, and Marketing.

No industry sector completely escaped disruption from the pandemic, although some have fared a lot better than others. In general, businesses with physical premises have had to transform for our ‘new normal’, shifting to ‘everything online’.

But even businesses which operated primarily online pre-pandemic haven’t escaped unscathed, suffering from supply chain and fulfilment issues, and from suddenly having to compete with a host of new competitors in their digital space.

The Move to E-commerce

The pandemic changed consumer life overnight, meaning retailers had to rethink how they traded and to speed up digital transformation. As part of this accelerated shift to digital, retailers had to quickly build up their e-commerce strategies to meet the needs of customers at home due to lockdown.

This meant the creation or upgrading of websites and online payment processes with little time or budget – and this is where Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions came into their own, helping business owners and retailers (particularly at the small end of the scale) with everything from website design and creation to automated order confirmations and invoicing.

Automation of systems and processes where possible has become a key concern, particularly when working with distributed teams. E-commerce businesses are experiencing a surge in competition as previously premise-only competitors move online, and providing a seamless end-to-end service is crucial to retain custom and loyalty.

Those unused to e-commerce have also had to implement online payment systems. For operations to run smoothly, the payment and billing system needs to be robust and scalable. Again, SaaS cloud-based solutions like PayPal, Stripe, and PaySafe have been instrumental in keeping things moving.

Disruption in Marketing

Marketing strategies have had to be improved both in response to the surge in competition, and the change in consumer habits. As well as a huge shift towards Social Media marketing with more and more consumers spending extended periods online, the way companies market has had to change, with customers no longer having the ability to physically see and try products.

This has boosted video marketing, which is taking centre stage in on-site marketing for e-commerce. There’s also been an increase in the use of Augmented Reality (AR), which can give customers the next-best experience to seeing a product in person.   Although this technology has been in existence for some time, the pandemic has pushed it into the mainstream.

In addition, because consumers are spending more time in their homes, the use of AI powered voice-assisted devices like Google Assistant and Alexa has increased hugely. They’re also being used more often for home shopping – something that e-commerce businesses are having to consider in their marketing strategies when deciding which platforms to market and sell on.

West Vs. East E-commerce Models

China’s e-commerce market is like no other and, pre-pandemic, China accounted for over 50% of the world’s online sales. The sector is a complex and heavily populated one, but is dominated by three main companies who together control over 80% of the market – Alibaba, JD.com, and Pinduoduo.

Online shopping is primarily done in-app, and on mobile devices by Chinese consumers, and the idea of ‘social proof’ is key when it comes to customers making purchasing decisions. A high level of customer service is expected, with conversations with humans as opposed to chatbots.

Similar e-commerce trends have been filtering West for some time, and represent another area that the pandemic has accelerated. The number of Western customers shopping on mobile devices (and in-app) is on the rise, and the market is increasingly being dominated by e-commerce giants. For many businesses it’s almost an attitude of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ as small businesses begin to see conglomerates like Amazon as a platform for growth rather than a competitor.

Western social networks are also becoming more ‘shoppable’ – another trend originating in China. In addition, the live commerce trend has taken off in the West over the last year, with Amazon offering live-streaming and video to sellers on the platform, and live-shopping being rolled out across Instagram and Facebook, two of the most prominent social networks for e-commerce.

Also, the Chinese concept of the ‘super app’, in which individual apps play host to a wide variety of other services and features all within one app, is making its way to the West. The Facebook Company already has core properties primed to become super apps (as well as Facebook itself) – WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram.

More and more businesses have been creating their own apps in response to the global increase in mobile shopping (again SaaS solutions like Appy Pie which require no prior coding knowledge have been a lifeline for small businesses) and it looks like this further shift to collaborate with the rising trend of super apps may come soon.

Join me in part four where we look at how digital disruption is affecting some of the key sectors we work with at Monro Consulting.

If you’d like to have a chat about your transformational project, even if you just need a ‘sounding board’ for your ideas or want to find out the options open to you,  then please do get in touch.