Consumer Markets: 2021 and beyond

“Covid not only forced change, but rapid change”, said one client late last year. “It’s impacted consumer behaviour and engagement, operations, and supply chain.” But that was then, and this is now. So, what can we expect from 2021 and beyond?

The importance of insight: A key takeaway from 2020 has been that industry insights are more important than ever. Businesses need to understand how they are performing as close to ‘real time’ as possible. This will allow them to take well informed decisions quickly and decisively, whilst satisfying the growing customer expectations of an ever-faster response.

Agile innovation: Another lasting outcome is a shift in the way that businesses innovate to adapt against the backdrop of an ever-shifting landscape. Mandatory shutdowns and overnight changes in protocol meant businesses were forced to scramble to serve customers’ needs (and remain profitable). Process innovations were now a pre-requisite rather than a ‘nice to have’, and additional service options such as ‘Click & Collect’ and curb side pickups became standard in a matter of weeks. Interestingly, such innovations had been part of broader transformation programmes due to complete over the course of several years. Once Covid hit, they were introduced rapidly.  Whilst essential within the context of the pandemic, it does beg the question whether these planned transformation programmes could have been implemented more swiftly under normal market conditions? Similarly, will the rapidity of these changes create issues down the line as businesses begin to emerge from the pandemic and return some form of ‘normality’?

Leadership Behaviours and expectations: We have also observed shifts in leadership behaviours and expectations. Leaders are recognising the benefits of empathy and agility, versus the ‘traditional’ hard-nosed business leader approach.

Functional demand: From a functional perspective we have seen the people, digital, finance, and supply chain/logistics functions in high demand throughout the crisis. We expect this trend to continue.

So, what next for the sector?

We’ve been here before: The pandemic is far from over and, despite vaccine developments, more lockdowns have been instituted. There is a long way to go before we can go back to whatever we previously considered to be normal, however, as we enter a third UK lockdown businesses know we have been here before – they have the skills and learnings from previous lockdowns, enabling them to take a more proactive, as opposed to reactive, approach. One thing is for sure, those businesses that survived (or even thrived) in 2020 should be well positioned to navigate the choppy waters of 2021 and beyond.

The ‘Next Normal’: Anecdotally, it seems many of the new ways of working and innovations will continue for the short/medium term. Looking ahead, it is not whether things will ever get back to ‘Normal’, nor adapt to the ‘New Normal’, but how we can adapt to the ‘Next Normal’.

2021 will very much be a year of transition. It will be interesting to see how companies leverage their 2020 ‘learnings’. Can they take existing foundations and forge a new way of working to suit a changed business landscape? Can they show the ongoing agility needed to meet consumer needs and the way the customer now chooses to engage and consume?  Yes, there were winners and losers last year, but as the ‘New Normal’ emerges do not be surprised if 2021 turns out to be equally Darwinian for business.

If you would like to discuss this article in more detail, learn more about the Norman Broadbent Group, or perhaps discuss your people or organisational, please do not hesitate to contact James Peskett via james.peskett@normanbroadbent.com