Adobe & YouGov Reveal How COVID-19 Transformed UK Businesses

Eight months have passed since the UK began its first COVID-19 lock­down, clos­ing all but the most essen­tial of retail­ers and impos­ing lim­its to in-store oper­a­tions for those busi­ness that were able to keep their phys­i­cal loca­tions open.

Hav­ing now gone through a lock­down, re-open­ing and now a return to lock­down, com­pa­nies are well-posi­tioned to look back on their ini­tial response, under­stand the pandemic’s broad­er impact on their oper­a­tions and cus­tomer rela­tion­ships, and decide whether the changes they made will become permanent.

To that end, we worked with inde­pen­dent research com­pa­ny, YouGov, to sur­vey senior deci­sion-mak­ers across Great Britain about the changes their busi­ness­es made in response to COVID-19 and find out what they plan to do next. In addi­tion to these 1,000 deci­sion-mak­ers from a range of indus­tries, we also asked 2,000 con­sumers to reflect on how effec­tive­ly UK busi­ness­es adapt­ed to the chal­lenges of this year, and where they can improve.

The fol­low­ing take­aways shed light on how UK banks and retail­ers respond­ed to COVID-19 this year, from how their oper­a­tions and cus­tomer rela­tion­ships evolved to whether these changes will be per­ma­nent. The find­ings from our research with YouGov also pro­vide valu­able lessons for all UK busi­ness­es as they take stock of 2020 and plan their future strategies.

More than one in five finance and retail busi­ness­es enhanced their dig­i­tal offering

Both banks and retail­ers bol­stered their online pres­ence this year, with 21% of finan­cial ser­vices organ­i­sa­tions and 26% of retail com­pa­nies rolling out new dig­i­tal and ecom­merce ser­vices to pre­pare for increased demand.

In response to cus­tomers need­ing more ways to man­age their mon­ey online, banks sped up their trans­for­ma­tion plans and expand­ed their dig­i­tal offer­ing in a mat­ter of weeks. Mean­while, retail­ers from Pound­shop to Coun­try Range built up their web­sites to man­age increased traf­fic, in addi­tion to offer­ing a range of deliv­ery mod­els, like click-and-col­lect, to give cus­tomers more flex­i­bil­i­ty in how they pur­chase goods.

And while ecom­merce mar­ket­places like Ama­zon and eBay took the lion’s share of online sales ear­li­er this year, British con­sumers increas­ing­ly crave per­son­alised expe­ri­ences and clos­er rela­tion­ships with the com­pa­nies they buy from, giv­ing UK busi­ness­es an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cap­i­talise on the sen­ti­ment and dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from major platforms.

Banks and retail­ers ramped up per­son­al­i­sa­tion efforts to stand out and bet­ter sup­port their customers

15% of retail­ers and 23% of finan­cial ser­vices com­pa­nies improved their per­son­al­i­sa­tion capa­bil­i­ties in response to lockdown.

The tran­si­tion to a vir­tu­al life felt over­whelm­ing at times, espe­cial­ly for those who sud­den­ly found them­selves rely­ing on their screen to engage with the out­side world. Faced with the chal­lenge of stand­ing out in the most crowd­ed of fields, it was more impor­tant than ever for retail­ers to be able to speak direct­ly to people’s needs and inter­ests in the moment. Fif­teen per cent of UK retail­ers report­ed they are now bet­ter equipped than ever to per­son­alise their ser­vices using cus­tomer data.

For finan­cial ser­vices com­pa­nies, it became cru­cial to under­stand their cus­tomers’ indi­vid­ual needs and unique finan­cial sit­u­a­tions. The abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy peo­ple who required addi­tion­al sup­port in these uncer­tain times, par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble groups such as elder­ly peo­ple who need­ed assis­tance or phone time with an advi­sor to set up dig­i­tal ser­vices for the first time, helped banks to estab­lish them­selves as more than just a place to store cash and build gen­uine rela­tion­ships with their customers.

“It’s all about build­ing trust and being proac­tive,” says Lee Edwards, vice pres­i­dent for North­ern Europe, Mid­dle East, and Africa at Adobe. “We saw lead­ing banks reach out to vul­ner­a­ble cus­tomers with rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion at the oppor­tune moment, giv­ing them valu­able guid­ance based on their pro­file”. Some insti­tu­tions, like NatWest, had begun to draw on cus­tomer data to per­son­alise their online ser­vices before this year, allow­ing them to tai­lor their dig­i­tal expe­ri­ences to people’s needs from day-one of the pandemic.

Invest­ments pay off

More than one third (35%) of finan­cial insti­tu­tions and a quar­ter (26%) of retail­ers say their online com­mu­ni­ca­tion with cus­tomers improved dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, which may be due to a more per­son­alised approach. Most impor­tant­ly, their cus­tomers agreed. Two-thirds (66%) of UK con­sumers said retail­ers were able to keep up with changes in people’s use of tech­nol­o­gy this year, and 71% said the same for banks.

Cru­cial­ly, nei­ther banks nor retail busi­ness­es plans to stop here. Of those that have made changes to their prod­ucts and ser­vices dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, 71% of finan­cial insti­tu­tions and 74% of retail­ers say these enhance­ments will be permanent.

“In the ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic, we saw busi­ness­es achieve in weeks what would have pre­vi­ous­ly tak­en years,” con­tin­ued Edwards. “Many have seen their rela­tion­ships with cus­tomers improve as a result of being able to under­stand how they can best sup­port them through this peri­od of sig­nif­i­cant uncer­tain­ty. Look­ing ahead to 2021, we are enter­ing a new era in expe­ri­ence when the habits that formed in 2020 will spur even greater demand for dig­i­tal prod­ucts and ser­vices. Busi­ness­es that build on the dig­i­tal foun­da­tions they laid this year will be the ones who strength­en their ties with cus­tomers and flourish”.

*Foot­note: All fig­ures, unless oth­er­wise stat­ed, are from YouGov Plc. Total sam­ple size was 1079 senior deci­sion mak­ers and 2015 adults. Field­work was under­tak­en between 23rd Sep­tem­ber — 5th Octo­ber 2020. The sur­vey was car­ried out online. The fig­ures have been weight­ed and are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of British busi­ness size and all UK adults (aged 18+) for the B2B and con­sumer sur­vey respectively.