Racing to digitise innovation practices in FMCG

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Racing to digitise innovation practices in FMCG

One outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic is that FMCG companies were forced to redefine their go-to-market strategies. That involved creating a multi-channel digital ecosystem that reached consumers who were no longer shopping in-store. 

With lockdowns, social distancing measures and home isolation still causing consumers worldwide to lean on online shopping two years later FMCG companies remain at the forefront of digitising consumers engagement and making sales as seamless as possible. 

Riding on this pandemic-fuelled growth of online consumerism, smart and strategic FMCG companies are now exploring their direct-to-consumer (D2C) operations further and expanding their social commerce yet again.  

Take the example of retail giant Carrefour. During the pandemic, its sales exploded and today they are 400 percent higher than what they were in 2019.

According to CEO Hani Weiss, “The pandemic pushed us to accelerate our digital transformation. We are implementing in the coming 18 months things we originally said we wanted to achieve in five years”. 

The company converted some physical stores to fulfilment centres. When data showed that more capacity was needed, logistics managers quickly arranged to have a 54,000-square-foot online fulfilment centre tent erected and operational in five weeks.

Weiss says the company expanded delivery services through initiatives such as ‘Click and Collect’, redesigned its app to enhance its functionality and launched contactless, mobile payment options in-store, allowing customers to scan items and pay with their smartphones. Weiss again: “No matter how our customers want to shop, we can be there for them. We developed this agility through the pandemic, and I want to keep it as we go forward.” 

Coupled with the mainstream consumer trends the pandemic has imposed, today there is also higher internet and mobile penetration, an accelerated shift in consumption patterns, particularly of rural buyers. There is also a rise in the significance of the three ‘Vs’ – videos, vernacular content, and views when it comes to products, supply chains and sales. These factors are also prompting companies to invest in digital initiatives. The goal is to connect better with customers whether they are buying online from a capital city living in lockdown or buying from a remote Australian property. Either way, they are taking advantage of the fact that there’s never been more choice for online shoppers than there is today.

FMCG companies continue to adapt their ability to rapidly digitise the value chain, form alliances for manufacturing, distribution, marketing and product development as well as use data analytics to understand consumers and shoppers better. All of these elements must work together to maintain and ideally improve the customer experience. This will be the big differentiator in the industry and a means for Board Directors to continually make a difference to their organisational leadership. 

So, what are the lessons other retailers and consumer goods businesses can apply as they enhance their own digitisation for the next wave of consumer demand?

Visibility and transparency are paramount
  
Resilient FMCG companies have discovered that managing innovation requires a high degree of visibility, transparency and information-sharing across business units. The right knowledge, insight and data access can mean the difference between a product that sells and a costly drain on revenue.

A lack of transparency of the product portfolio keeps leadership from seeing where there are gaps in investment, resourcing and strategic direction. Without visibility executives and Board Directors can’t compare brands, business units and types of investments to ensure they align with the company’s innovation strategy.

The need for cohesion

Disconnected processes and disjointed data create organisational chaos for both innovation teams and the leaders making tough prioritisation calls on products. 
This confusion filters to the Board. Indeed it is one of the recent discussion points in the boardroom as Directors challenge, question and show curiosity in understanding the processes used on all digital transformation activities and the cloud-based and other technology upgrades that we are being asked to approve.

Speed

Successful new product innovation requires FMCG companies to generate, test and validate new product ideas more rapidly than before. This requires a process focused on rapid consumer insights, consumer immersion and experimentation which need to ladder into the business’s strategic vision and direction so it can be challenged at Board level. There are a multitude of systems available and in my last column, we discuss the need for cloud-based solution oversight by Boards.

Customers still come first

The premise here is being a “front-led” organisation to ensure that there is effective governance and oversight of customers’ expectations. This includes ensuring the most relevant solution is challenged at the highest level and not just enabled because it’s the newest, shiniest object. 

We “have to be doing it to keep up” – is the type of rhetoric that is sometimes lobbed at Boards in the hope of pressing them into approval. In this era, we want to know what impact any system is going to have on the business - in dollar value, in terms of efficiencies and cost-savings, in terms of culture and in terms of the business’s future readiness.

There is more to come

While FMCG companies have already innovated significantly in the past two years, there are still exciting times ahead. Emerging technologies will bring plenty more developments to the FMCG sector, reflecting the continuing shift in consumers’ tastes and behaviours coupled with the digital revolution continuing. FMCG companies might soon start relying even more on cutting-edge technologies such as blockchain, AI, digital assistants and robotics, aiming to enhance operations and improve customer experience and satisfaction.

Visibility, organisational cohesion, speed and adaptability combined with an enduring commitment and agile thinking by the executive team and the Board, to pick the right solutions and systems for the business, will be what elevates the leaders in the FMCG industry in this next phase.

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