How COVID-19 will change distribution

In a world where people need to stand 2 metres apart, where restaurants are (at the time of writing) still shuttered, and supply chains have been disrupted, how can we get our products and services to customers? That was the key issue we wanted to discuss at the third of our ‘Lunch and Learn’ webinars on ‘How COVID-19 is disrupting marketing and sales.’

We decided to explore the tricky issue of distribution in a world that’s trying to gradually reopen its doors whilst managing a global pandemic. If you’re new to the series, our ‘Lunch and Learn’ webinars aims to bring together learners, alumni and other JGA stakeholders, so we can learn how the world of business is changing amidst the disruption wrought by Coronavirus.

Andrea Cunningham, a chartered marketer with experience across many industries and Deborah Armitage, change management consultant, were our fantastic speakers this week and they gave us an insight into lots of fascinating trends. We learned that:

· The pandemic is accelerating existing trends. Deborah described how we’re moving from a ‘high touch’ to a ‘low touch’ economy, from an economy based on manual processes to one where there is less social interaction and contact. This will impact different sectors in different ways. Arts organisations such as theatres cannot currently open in their current form and will need to adapt (for example, take the streaming performances from the National Theatre) but this is hard to monetise. Are people willing to pay for alternatives, eg digital rather than physical textbooks?

  • Organisations will need to change distribution to fit with customer’s evolving needs. Andrea talked about how universities need to consider the experience they offer students (eg virtual Freshers Week). Personal trainers for example are offering sessions on Facebook and classes on YouTube, but they’ll need to make what they offer work for a new format.
  • Supply chains will be impacted. Deborah talked about how supply chains (eg to China or other countries) may get shortened, but it is hard to pull back if, for example, you’re a fashion retailer with factories abroad. This is a significant challenge. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a resurgence of local activity eg milkmen branching out into delivering more goods. We may also see much more use of automation, AI and robotics in supply chains, and perhaps growth of delivery by drone or driverless cars. Who fancies a pizza delivered by drone?
  • Innovation is possible on a budget. Andrea encouraged organisations to look at all the digital touchpoints out there so they can see what works best for their business, provided this is done in line with customers’ needs. It’s all about finding interesting ways to engage customers and get products and services to them.

Distribution in a socially distant world is challenging, but not impossible, and we learned plenty about how to do it better. Catch up with the webinar here.