Digital leapfrogging: is your online business about to get jumped?

Derek O'Carroll
5 min readJun 7, 2021

The retail landscape demands bold decision-making to keep pace with the rapid digital transformation that is taking place before our very eyes.

Covid-19 accelerated digital adoption as consumers were forced to buy online. Late adopters are coming to market for retail and a larger number of customers are engaging with different products and services for the first time. With a third of global consumers shopping more online now, and a quarter saying they will do in the future, the online shopping habit will prove hard to break for these new buyers. However, with more potential for wallet capture, this also creates an opportunity where businesses with disruptive models and large marketplaces could all thrive.

Already, new direct-to-consumer brands are looking to position themselves to take advantage of the growth in online shopping. Stores created through Shopify Plus increased by 62 per cent between March and April 2020, and that surge in adoption highlights the speed and ease with which new brands are able to get online to meet new demand.

This crisis has seen smaller players ramping up radical innovation and digital transformation to adapt to the crisis caused by the pandemic, while others, including major bricks and mortar stores, have lacked the technology infrastructure to be able to pivot online smoothly, if at all, and have faltered as a result. These businesses are struggling to respond to a once-in-a-generation test of business continuity planning and supply chain flexibility. Have no doubt, Covid-19 is the retail equivalent of a meteor impact: an existential event that changes the composition of the industry and, sadly, as we’ve witnessed, the eradication of jobs and businesses altogether.

Many retailers who made it through the last few year have been so busy reacting to the challenges that they haven’t had time to consider, plan or prepare for what the future looks like post-pandemic.

That’s a dangerous position to be in. To survive and thrive post Covid-19, retailers need to reassess their digital infrastructure and plan for changes to their operating models right now.

Companies that are resistant or slow to change face real threats from the emergence of a new group of DTC brands, boosted by technology, that are able to deliver a complete end-to-end experience to consumers.

The laggards need to address their operations urgently, or risk being digitally leapfrogged and left behind by the pack of hungry DTC brands that are racing to become the leading nations of ecommerce in the post-Covid era.

Post-Covid Prep: Think Pre-and Post-Purchase

As we are seeing through the rapid upswing in stores created through Shopify Plus, most brands are aware of and understand the urgency in creating sleek ecommerce sites in the race to attract direct sales. However, few seek to address the operational complexities that lie beyond the buy button, and that’s a mistake that often proves costly. Without solid mechanics in place at an operational level, for example, to handle inventory, shipping, and logistics across multiple channels and locations, or for more real-time customer-facing support, any business is quickly going to run into problems.

When talking about the importance of operations to successful ecommerce models, Eve Mattress Co-Founder Kuba Wieczorek puts it best: “That whole back end is so mega important that if you don’t get it right you’re screwed.”

Post-Covid-19, online businesses are operating in an arena of greater competition and heightened demand. Some categories we work with are seeing 600–800% YOY increases in direct online sales, with similar highs in demand post-lockdown. Even when the virus recedes, new online behaviours will likely extend the ‘spike’ to all types of retail, so retailers need to be asking themselves if their current set up supports the increases in traffic of the new normal. Unfortunately, most retailers lack the agile digital retail infrastructure to successfully manage inventory, same-next day delivery, shipping and returns at a level that meets the modern consumer expectations set by ecommerce leaders like Amazon.

Post Covid Reality: Show More Digital Ambition

In my view, retailers will need to show more digital ambition in order to be able to deliver excellent buying experiences and stand out from the pack in the post-pandemic landscape. More consideration should be given to

investment into highly efficient and flexible ecosystems that are able to support speed and convenience, can handle bursts of growth as well as the diverse needs of blended cross-channel experiences, such as increasing adoption of buy online, pick up in store services, which have increased 65% since the crisis, according to a recent study.

It’s important to remember that post-purchase experiences, from delivery to returns, have a direct impact on loyalty. To double down on this, our Rise of the Review Culture study highlighted that a whopping 61% of consumers have experienced issues buying from brands online within the past 12 months alone, with the majority of these problems related to post-purchase experiences, such as delivery and returns, inventory management and customer communications. In fact, the same study revealed that 77% of all poor experiences are directly related to issues after the buy button and two thirds of shoppers say that if their experience is poor, they’re unlikely to shop with the same brand again.

When looking at this data it’s clear why collectively, each scenario after the buy button should be recognized as equally important as those on the front end. This also presents an opportunity for ecommerce brands to emerge as a new leading nation of ecommerce — and do the leapfrogging themselves — if they’re able and willing to implement a true consumer-focussed strategy which requires them to become directly responsible for every single scenario in the buying journey, including pre- and post-purchase experiences.

That responsibility begins with an honest audit of the complete customer experience, identifying improvements and bottlenecks at all ends of the buying experience, and then recruiting the right partners that can help ensure the entire retail operation is fit to meet the modern challenges of retail, post-pandemic, and agile enough to compete, differentiate and thrive into the future.



Derek O'Carroll

Derek O'Carroll is CEO of Brightpearl, a world leading Digital Operations Platform for retailers looking to automate their workflows and scale