Australia’s most recent coronavirus outbreak has made it painstakingly clear to retailers that there has never been a greater need to adopt more nimble business models to capitalise on the e-commerce boom.

According to a recent report by Australia Post, online shopping grew 30 per cent last financial year amid a slew of restrictions and lockdowns stemming from the coronavirus crisis, and the current Delta outbreak is only accelerating the shift online when it comes to shopping. For the first time in Australian e-commerce history, participation passed the nine million household mark in the 2021 financial year, Australia Post found.

The recent explosion of ecommerce presents an opportunity for those retailers who are willing to transform quickly, but for those who can’t adapt, many simply won’t survive the pandemic.

You need only look at the seismic changes happening at major traditional retailers to see that focusing on customer experience and responding with agility and innovation is the way forward. Woolworths Group recorded $3.5 billion of ecommerce sales in financial year 2021, up almost 75 percent year-on-year, and intends to invest further in its online operations.

Digital first and omnichannel retailers have proved the big winners. Already culturally and structurally set up for disruption they have found new ways to supercharge profits during uncertainty. ASOS is one such company that has seen a 21% YoY increase in sales and an extra 1.2 million customers buy through their platforms globally.  

Global fashion retailers is one thing, but as lockdowns continue to plague large parts of the country over the past 18 months, retailers of home-centric products are faced with a unique opportunity coupled with a well-trodden challenge. 

Stuck-at-home Aussies are redirecting large amounts of discretionary incomes spending on their homes, with overseas travel off the table. But for many traditional appliance retailers, the tough part is encouraging customers who would ordinarily need to look at and discuss a big ticket item before they purchase it, making the increasingly online shopping environment a tough one to navigate.

So what can traditional retailers do to adapt to an increasingly online shopping environment? While the obvious answer may be to pump money and resources into online marketing and augmented reality-style shopping experiences, the most effective, long term solution may be simpler than you think, and it starts with having a culture that fosters new ideas and innovation. 

Senior leaders must empower junior colleagues to make decisions rapidly.

Reimagining your company as a nimble start up might seem like a daunting task, but a lot of it stems from the senior leadership team. Creating a culture where people feel comfortable to come forward with ideas on how to implement sales videos on your company’s website or virtual sales assistants could make all the difference in future-proofing your business. 

Creating feedback loops and getting the message out there to your employees that any idea could be a great one, will encourage your people to come forward with fresh ideas. With the right leadership and forethought this system can lead to purposeful innovation at all levels of the business – not just at the top.

Reducing siloed workplaces where teams only work within the confines of their ‘area’ or ‘department’ is another wall blocking innovation. A great way to break down these silos is to pull out individuals from different teams to work on projects together. Eventually, you’ll create a system where individuals bring their expertise to multifaceted projects rather than churning through the same work within a specific department.

Leaders should be authentic and share the good, the bad and why there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in order to get the most out of their employees. Setting goals as a team will help to promote shared purpose.

We know that even shoppers who buy in store, have often researched online beforehand, so keeping your online experience could prove crucial in staying ahead of the competition as states emerge from the lockdown later this year and as retailers prepare for Christmas. 

But throwing money at the problem isn’t going to be a long-term fix. The pace of change post-pandemic will force retailers to continually reassess their strategies, so putting in place nimble operating models will serve your business well long into the future. By adopting agile practices alongside the generation of real-time consumer insights, retailers can more quickly recalibrate their business model and offerings to meet consumer expectations.

Rob Gaunt is a co-founder and director at EPiC Agile.