Home Articles How businesses can learn from the challenges presented during COVID-19

How businesses can learn from the challenges presented during COVID-19


During our nation’s shutdown, I’ve witnessed a few retailers surviving, others thriving, while the majority have experienced a significant downturn or have seen their revenue cease altogether.

Since my recent appointment to Chief Commercial Officer at CouriersPlease (CP), I have been part of the overall structural change – merging the sales and marketing team in what has shown to be a fairly challenging climate for many businesses. However, it’s what we can learn from these tumultuous times that will stand us in good stead for moving forward.

Some retailers have done well during the shutdowns and restrictions simply because their products – such as technology and grocery items – are in demand in our ‘shutdown’ environment. These include Coles, Woolworths and other supermarkets, as well as JB Hi-fi and Officeworks.

Others have quickly adapted to new consumer purchase behaviours by altering their product offering – an example is a portion of the cafe and restaurant sector now selling grocery shelf items.

Some retailers were able to develop their eCommerce capabilities to drive online purchases quickly. Kmart is an example of a retailer who has changed to a predominantly online-only model.

Kmart’s decision to close some stores to the public and turn them into ‘dark stores’ – temporarily acting as distribution centres – was a smart play. They had been experiencing huge spikes in sales instore, with various product categories completely sold out – so, for health reasons, they decided to focus on their eCommerce strategy. As a result, many of our CP franchisees now collect online orders from Kmart’s bricks-and-mortar stores, for delivery to customers.

In addition, Kmart has implemented online queues in an attempt to flatten high website traffic, which sees shoppers taken to a ‘waiting room’ and given an estimated wait time, before directed to shop online. They have been forward-thinking to limit the number of visitors on their website at any given time, as a way to minimise interruptions during peak periods and provide a better shopping experience.

The restrictions and shutdowns have forced businesses to think about their eCommerce strategy and consider the shift in consumer demand. Retailers need to think about their online presence and create an omnichannel experience that caters to all types of customers.

CP is helping retailers offer customers a seamless eCommerce experience and has experienced a surge in new retailer enquiries since March. Our new returns solution, Boomerang, is helping businesses who may not have had an eCommerce strategy and are playing catch up in this space, to ensure their customers can feel comfortable purchasing online.

Boomerang is a hassle-free option for customers purchasing online to have their unsuitable goods collected from their front door for return, without leaving home. It’s been an excellent opportunity for me to be able to oversee changes such as these at CP to see how technology can play a role in improving specific commercial areas.

It’s a tough time for businesses all over

Many businesses are facing unprecedented challenges – whether this is due to a decline in sales or a huge spike in its eCommerce demand which cannot be processed fast enough. However, once things resume to a level of normality, businesses can learn from this period by reviewing issues and challenges they encountered to find gaps in their business models and resolve them to come out stronger.

It is at times of crises that businesses realise which areas of the company may be lacking and need addressing, and the importance of being prepared and having a plan in place. Contingency planning is real, but it can’t just be created then left and revisited when a crisis arises.

It needs to be worked on continually and trialled so management can determine whether it is as practical and sound as it needs to be. You need to look at one or two levels below the overall issue and consider what the domino effect could be. This will force businesses to prepare as best they can, rather than having a superficial plan in place that isn’t as robust as it needs to be.

I think there are two big lessons from the current situation that every business can apply now and in the future: work quickly and have regular and transparent communications with your staff and customers. The key to survival is speed and agility. Those who are the fastest – that is, those who throw out the old rules, embrace change and respond to the new situation at hand – are in a better position.

For instance, CP knew the overseas location of its customer service team would be an issue as the pandemic began to grow. We worked quickly to build up an onshore team to handle customer enquiries. If we didn’t move as soon as we did, we knew we would have significant issues on our hands with many of our customers’ questions and concerns going unanswered.

Important considerations when businesses are looking at innovation

When considering implementing new technologies or innovations, my recommendation is to think about the solution in reverse. What does the customer or your staff want and need? Businesses could start here, then break the issue down further and analyse what processes or products they currently have that aren’t working as efficiently as they could be.

If businesses start the other way around – creating something that looks and sounds exciting but isn’t something the market needs – there’s the danger in developing something that is effectively redundant.

CP applied this process before implementing its new cross-belt/ re-weigh sortation system.

We pinpointed that efficiency was an issue for parcel handlers as items were handled manually. We needed something that would allow increased volumes to be processed faster. Since the implementation of the sortation system, what might once have taken staff eight hours in manual handling now takes just one hour. As we are processing parcels faster, this, in turn, has allowed our customers to receive their items more quickly and minimise the chances of delays.

When businesses begin to look at innovations and changes that need to occur, it should start by being honest about their failings and identifying any gaps. Any products developed should be introduced to address these gaps to ensure they are future-proofed. To survive – and even thrive – businesses need to anticipate what’s next and how they can continue to drive efficiency, productivity and performance.

Paul Roper is the Chief Commercial Officer at leading parcel delivery service, CouriersPlease (CP). Before his appointment in 2020, Paul was the Victorian State Manager at CP for three years and has over 25 years’ experience in logistics and transportation across major global organisations, including DHL Express, TOLL and TNT Express. Paul specialises in sales management, global business development, and designing efficient supply chain models that deliver customer value and shareholder returns.

Paul Roper from CouriersPlease