The world is ever-changing, new developments in business and technology are commonplace, but nothing has been more of a motivator for many businesses and individuals alike to adapt and rethink than COVID-19.

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With the pandemic now becoming less of a focus, many are using this time to reflect on what’s been changed over the course of the crisis, with one of the many prominent changes to business models being the use of, or evolution of omnichannel strategies. 

A study by World Pay found that customers utilising omnichannel spend up to 300% more than if they were focused on a singular medium, an amount that could have potentially compensated for the drastic loss of business and logistical issues during the height of the pandemic. With many businesses realising the challenge posed by not using multiple channels to promote and provide their products during the pandemic, what was once an afterthought for many has now become a necessity, potentially bringing new approaches and developments in the field with it.

In the most recent roundtable, hosted by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and haysmacintyre, early adopters, pandemic pivoters and omnichannel experts get together to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and their approach to an omnichannel strategy as a whole.

Learning experience

Getting things started, Rich Baker and Sarah Brading of Flat Earth Pizzas gives some insight into what they’ve already learned from their dive into a variety of channels during the pandemic, more recently breaking into the classic brick and mortar area.

“What we’ve noticed in the past two years is a massive change in customer behaviour overnight,” says Rich, explaining that the COVID crisis expedited what was originally “happening slowly”. Explaining the variety of channels explored by their business, Rich and Sarah mention retail, delivery and even selling their own ingredients as utilisation of a variety of channels outside of the location they’re currently in the process of finalising.

Discussing the difficult initial impact of the pandemic, Rich says “we suddenly found our market share had really dropped, we were very restricted to our radius.” “We suddenly found our customer base had gone down, our radius had gone down and our products had gone down because we could deliver on Deliveroo only, so we had to look at ways of expanding that,” says Rich.

Adding onto Rich’s point, Sarah explains some of the underlying factors behind consumer mentality changes, with no short contribution to this coming from the pandemic: “A massive change in consumer mentality has been the sustainability aspect,” she says, “people are more concerned about the environment after noticing what an impact COVID had.”

Sarah says that while Flat Earth Pizza’s has always been a sustainable company through and through, the push from COVID has been a “natural evolution” for the business and the pandemic encouraged them to introduce a variety of sustainable options in their packaging and products, as well as develop vegan pizzas for a wider audience during the beginning of the pandemic.

“The mentality to support local businesses really grew, really quickly,” finalises Rich, highlighting one of the few positives of the pandemic.

New developments

Rich and Sarah aren’t the only ones at the roundtable looking into a brick and mortar location, Aiden Ryan of Loaf MCR shares his own experience of migrating to a physical location during the particularly trying times for those investing in property.

Explaining his reasoning behind his decision to set up (physical) shop, Aiden says: “The reason I chose to set up a physical location is because of the consumer change.”

“Instagram was very much where my business was, a lot of people were ordering online and I didn’t want to do Deliveroo, because I’m doing cakes and they would literally get destroyed. It was very much a click and collect only service, which was limiting my reach.”

“It does feel like a very precarious thing to do,” Aiden says, commenting on the expected apprehension from many when breaking into retail and brick and mortar, “but like Rich said, people are now looking to support local a lot more, there’s a lot of pushing for me to get out there and interact with the community, which is amazing.”

Different perspectives

Breaking away from the perspectives of brick and mortar businesses, Amy Moring of Hunter and Gather gives some insight into what it looked like on the digital side of things. Typically offering her goods online, she explains the building of her business through the use of an online platform.

“From what was said about brick and mortar and how those businesses were being built, we did that but in the digital world,” begins Amy.

Amy admits that for her brand, the crisis was a little easier to deal with, “For us as a brand, we are ambient products,” she says, “we can ship them around the world very easy, we don’t have to have a click and collect kind of place.”

“We don’t have any physical retail we own ourselves, we utilise key flagship stores,” Amy elaborates, “but the core aim of what we do is always to bring it back if we can, to our DTC website.”

Elaborating on the effects of the pandemic, Amy explains that the model in place prior to the pandemic was a big help, “we were actually that model before,” she says, commenting that while many businesses were migrating to an omnichannel strategy and a variety of other platforms, Hunter and Gather had preemptively beaten them to the punch.

“We were also getting some incredible return on ad spending,” says Amy, commenting that she thought that kind of return was normal due to it being the early days of the business, “I wish I had gotten a massive loan, chucked loads of money at it and really driven that traffic,” she reflects.

Pivotal moments

James Kindred of Big Drop Brewing Co finds himself somewhere in the middle of the perspectives given, sharing his own story as to the terrifying experience of a major pivot from his usual channels of supply and how that affected his business.

“We were very into purpose bars, restaurants and supermarkets,” James says, explaining his business model prior to the pandemic, “then COVID hit.” “We had a big plan in 2020 that we were going to have a big push into pubs, be on draft and be on the front bar,” says James, “but all of that changed within a week of March 2020, when we saw all of the retailers, all of the wholesalers and all the pubs and bars shutting down, limiting access to retail points.”

Luckily, James was equipped for the challenge at hand, “In a former life I was a web developer and graphic designer,” he said, which surely eased the huge pivot he and his business had to make into online sales.

“We pivoted very quickly into e-commerce and last year and the year before it made up 30% of our annual revenue,” James highlights, “it was a sudden growth opportunity for us.”

The success wasn’t without work, however, as James put in many hours coming up with weird and wonderful ways to promote his now omnichannel business, “we started doing crazy stuff,” he says, “I did an online pub quiz on YouTube for about 10 weeks and we got about a hundred thousand people a week joining live.”

“The e-commerce side we see as a big part of the business,” finishes James, adding onto his interesting additions to the marketing side of things, he says “it’s about finding new ways that people can engage with the business, loyalty is a big deal to us and things like Clavio are a fantastic way of automating engagement without you having to do a lot of work around it, the data is very powerful.”

Philip Everett-Lyons of Hattiers Rum says he and his business suffered a very similar experience, with a strong reliance on trade: “80% of our trade was on-premise,” says Phillip, “cocktail bars, hotel chains and restaurants, then in March 2020, we rapidly pivoted to focus on primary retail, then further into omnichannel.”

“After our knee-jerk of investing everywhere quickly, we soon found out that the data led us to focus on the channels which were performing the best and providing us with customer loyalty,” continues Philip, “my personal view is that Covid had forced Omnichannel focus, which has made our business stronger by effectively hedging our position and exposure.”

Ellie Webb of Caleño knows all too well the trials and tribulations of a huge pivot, relaying to the recounted experiences by James and Philip, she gives her own point of view: “we were primarily gunning on trade as well pre-COVID.”

“Fortunately, we had a website beforehand but we hadn’t done much with it,” continues Ellie, explained that initially she was taught a lot through pivoting to e-commerce: “One of the biggest learning experiences for me was that when we initially pivoted, I thought online business would be flying, but what brought me back down to work was that it fluctuates quite a bit.”

“We put money behind it, we put social media behind it and it does generate results,” recounts Ellie, “but those results are only to a certain extent.” Ellie finishes by describing retail as “an incredibly steady channel,” for her business compared to what she pivoted into, with less of a tendency to fluctuate.

“One thing I’ve come to realise is there should be no overreliance on any one channel.” She finalises.

Considering the consumer

Summarising his impressions from the conversation, along with a few points of his own, Jagir Mankodi of Superfoodio says, “One thing we’ve found is that you should always listen to your customers,” he says, “customer is king.”

“If you listen to your customer they will tell you what they want from you and where you’re adding value to their lives.”

Giving some insight into an alternative, less hard of channel, Jagir mentions the “gifting channel”: “We started collaborating with like-minded, or mission-oriented brands in the non-competing space,” he says. 

Highlighting a collaboration with NEMI Teas, Jagir praises the often overlooked gifting channel, mentioning the collaborated gifting proposition between Superfoodio and NEMI Teas saw “a huge spike in traffic” due to the cross-platform connection between the two brands bringing an audience to one another.

Reflecting on the bounty of information and perspectives presented by the roundtable, Isabelle Shepherd, director at haysmacintyre says: “Omnichannel trading is one of the new buzzwords in the food and beverage industry. Since the impact of Covid-19, exploring new revenue channels has become key to a business’ growth and success. It was great to hear some really innovative ideas from those attending the roundtable, as well as learn from the challenges they have faced when opening up new trading channels.”