In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, many businesses have gone to lengths to keep their doors open and the revenue coming in by finding ways to adapt.

 

Some have created new products to meet needs that either didn’t exist before the crisis, or weren’t as great; others are digitally transforming, finding ways to deliver products and services virtually, or else delivering them in physical form straight to a customer’s door.

There are a lot of inspirational examples out there of businesses working within the constraints of the crisis and finding ways to succeed – I rounded up six for a recent feature. But while I was researching, I noticed something: many of these companies, even ones who have put effort into reinventing their entire way of doing business, haven’t overhauled their website experience to reflect it.

Oh, they may have put up an interstitial that appears when customers visit their website for the first time, but the rest of the website will be unchanged, showcasing a product that’s no longer viable with copy that reads jarringly in an era of social distancing, lockdowns and shelter-in-place. Or they may have partitioned the new product or experience off in a separate area of the website but aren’t promoting it across the rest of the site, leaving customers who find the website organically or come back to it after some time away none the wiser about their new offering.

It’s the virtual equivalent of pasting a sign advertising new products in a shop window but then hiding them away inside – or perhaps scrawling “we are adapting to coronavirus” across the front without doing anything else to actually adapt.

Let’s take fashion retailer Quiz as an example. When I learned that Quiz had reopened its ecommerce business after a period of closure, I went to check out the website. There is far less call for fashion in a world where barely anyone is leaving the house, so how was the company adapting?

I was impressed to see a banner on the front of the website advertising attractive yet comfortable-looking outfits with the caption “Stay home, stay glam”. Great – Quiz was making the case for looking good even while you’re just around the house. After all, getting dressed up while working from home is said to help you get into the ‘work mindset’ and better create boundaries between work and leisure, and there are benefits to having different outfits to reflect your mood.

Quiz advertises its ‘day glam’ clothing range with the message “Stay home, stay glam”. (Source: Quiz)

But when I clicked through to the range advertised on the banner, Quiz’s ‘day glam’ selection, the copy at the top of the page was jarring to read, talking about ‘afternoon cocktails with the girls’, ‘dancing all night’ and ‘day drinks and dates’ – all things that just don’t exist in my current reality. The copy clearly hadn’t been updated for the world of COVID-19, and yet it was the second page I came to as I browsed the website – which suggested that no-one had sat down to actually test the journey from a consumer perspective, or thought about the landing page that the banner would lead onto.

Let’s take another example of a business that has more thoroughly overhauled its business model in response to the coronavirus crisis. Cheeky Food Events is an Australian business that offers cooking as a team-bonding activity to corporate clients or at events; needless to say, it has had to rethink its offering in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The company now sells remotely-delivered catering packages that distributed workforces can cook as a team bonding activity, complete with live-streamed instruction from a chef.

When visiting the Cheeky Food Events website, first-time visitors will encounter a pop-up telling them about the new offering with a form to enter their details for more information. However, aside from this, there is no mention whatsoever on the website about the new product offering or the fact that Cheeky Food Events is adapting to coronavirus.

While I know a complete website overhaul would be time-consuming and expensive, even just a mention on the homepage (or better still, a homepage redesign) leading to a dedicated landing page about the new offering would be better than nothing, and would give the company more space to promote a product it has presumably put a lot of effort into designing. As it is, visitors who accidentally click away from the pop-up, or who fail to enter their details initially but might want to know more later, aren’t given the opportunity to do so.

Or take Box Mind, a company providing fitness classes to workplaces, hotels, private clubs and similar venues. Again, the company has moved its product offering online and is now offering virtual fitness sessions – but aside from an initial interstitial pop-up with an activation code, the website makes no mention of this, with pictures and copy that date to before the crisis.

Go big, or go home

I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I am not a business owner who has had their entire business model thrown into disarray by a global pandemic, forcing me to adapt rapidly to survive – so you might fairly say it’s easy for me to criticise.

But if companies are going to invest the time and energy into rethinking the way that they do business during the pandemic – or if they’ve made the decision to keep selling, but might need to adapt their strategy slightly – why pass up opportunities to promote it, or risk having website visitors jarred out of the purchasing mindset by product imagery, testimonials and website copy from a bygone era?

I understand that businesses may be thinking that the coronavirus pandemic will be temporary, and therefore that it doesn’t make sense to make any overly-permanent changes to their web presence. The problem is that one, it presents a jarring contradiction to customers browsing and buying right now, who are providing – or could be providing – valuable revenue during a time when it is sorely needed. Two, the truth is that we don’t know how long the effects of this pandemic will last for – it could be much longer than we think.

And three, what is the point of taking some steps to adapt your business model or web presence to the coronavirus pandemic if those are undermined by the rest of the customer journey? While I won’t say “you might as well not have done anything”, it seems clear to me that a little extra thought and testing would make these adaptations so much more worthwhile and effective.

My message to businesses who are trying to adapt to survive in the coronavirus pandemic is this: don’t overlook the bigger picture. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and look at the changes from their perspective. Are they joined up, or disjointed? Is the customer journey leading them to pages that now seem outdated? Are you promoting your new product(s) in places where they might find them?

And finally: test, test, test.