Categories
covid-19 Culture ReadWrite scheduling after covid-19 Small Business Structure Work

Employee Scheduling Trends that Deserve to Continue Even After the Pandemic

trends to continue after pandemic

It’s been a long time since you could assume that the majority of your team is at it from 9 to 5. The “global village� means that work doesn’t end when the sun sets or markets close in your time zone, and the rise of flexible working patterns made it even more complex to coordinate employee schedules.

The best employee scheduling strategies consider employee preferences as well as employer needs and consumer demands, but the enormous number of moving parts – operational needs, budget, regulations and compliance – can make it all very difficult to manage.

COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation in many industries. Employees who are high risk may be unable to work, or can only take shifts with little contact with the public or when only a skeleton staff is present. Workers grappling with unpredictable childcare needs and unreliable transport can cause even more last-minute changes than usual.

Scheduling conflicts can cause bad feeling in a company, but it doesn’t have to be that way. New advances in tech and better communication between employees and managers help enterprises get employee scheduling right, which improves employee experience and in turn pushes up employee retention and satisfaction.

The exigencies of COVID-19 pushed new trends in employee scheduling, which may be worth continuing even when the pandemic fades into memory. Here are a few scheduling trends from 2020 that are worthy of sticking around.

Scheduling is becoming more flexible

Scheduling that is more flexible is also more complex, but flexibility is crucial for a happy, motivated workforce under pandemic conditions. Employees with more flexible scheduling arrangements report higher wellbeing, more engagement, and more effectiveness at work than those stuck in inflexible scheduling.

For example, mothers working remotely with flexible, efficient schedules that match their availability are three times more likely to have positive wellbeing than those with inflexible, inefficient scheduling.

Although employees may be coping, everyone has their own challenges. “In driving new mindsets and behaviors (such as adapting to a new virtual-working model) at scale, it’s important to engage employees in a continual two-way dialogue that takes into consideration their specific needs, allows them to configure their own journeys,� says Jonathan Emmett, associate partner at McKinsey. Even people who love their jobs need accommodation for whatever else is going on in their lives.

Self-scheduling software invites employees to choose their own shifts, make last-minute changes, book vacation days, and check their schedules independently and remotely. This helps employees to feel more in control, which is especially important during such unstable and uncertain times, increasing employee engagement and satisfaction.

AI is bringing intelligence to scheduling

AI is stepping into many more HR use cases. Now managers can use AI tools to predict changes in consumer demand, and plan ahead to meet altering workforce needs.

For example, surging customer numbers in the winter holiday shopping season can require more retail assistants; a sunny day could tempt more diners to a cafe in the park, needing the addition of more waiters; rolling out a new product version might prompt you to increase customer service agents to answer user questions, etc.

With AI and machine learning, HR teams can analyze employee strengths and weaknesses to understand which employees work best together. With these insights, you can construct the strongest possible on-schedule teams for every situation and place the right person on duty at the right time.

Employees expect remote and mobile scheduling

Managing employee scheduling manually, even with an Excel spreadsheet, has long been a joke, but today, employees and HR managers simply can’t live without remote and mobile access to cloud-based scheduling tools that sync automatically to allow use anywhere.

The COVID-19-driven shift to WFH only underlined the importance of cloud-based systems for scheduling. We live our lives on our phones, from ordering dinner to taking out a mortgage, so it’s understandable to assume that scheduling software would include a mobile app.

“You want to make it easy for your staff to access their schedules from anywhere. This isn’t possible with desktop software,� writes tech expert Neil Patel in his scheduling tool drill-down. Beyond mobile-friendliness, he continues, “The best tools will also have shift swapping, employee self-service tools, HR features, labor cost management, leave management, attendance tracking, team messaging, overtime control, time clocks, etc.�

In today’s dynamic work environments, HR needs the ability to respond to scheduling changes on the fly, ensuring that they don’t cause your entire month-long schedule to fall apart, and requesting that someone else to step in without breaking your own rules or creating a sense of injustice among your workforce.

Employers are upping the ante in communication

Employee scheduling flows more smoothly with excellent communication that increases trust relationships, creating a virtuous circle where efficient scheduling itself raises trust.

Employee trust is high at the moment, with “my employer� as the most trusted institution and 73% of workers agreeing they trust businesses to protect them by adapting scheduling and sick-leave policies as necessary. But you can’t take this for granted.

Employers need to keep up and even improve employee communications. “Given the present state of low trust, business will have to fill a further void, that of credible information,� says Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman Holdings. “For CCOs, it is time for you to initiate regular briefings for employees by your chief scientist or medical officer, to provide trustworthy content that can be shared with employee families or community.�

Enterprises should continue communicating around scheduling, asking how employee needs may have changed (e.g. working parents may prefer a night shift now) and accommodating them as much as possible.

Encourage employees to share their concerns; create more channels for communication between employees and managers and among employees themselves; and open up the conversation around mental health and anxiety, to reinforce trust and improve your understanding of factors that may influence scheduling.

Not all scheduling changes prompted by COVID-19 should fade away

Employee scheduling has never been easy, and with more moving parts, increasing globalization, and the new stresses of COVID-19, it’s only gotten more complex. But necessity is the mother of invention, and so we’ve seen new tech and trends emerge of using AI for intelligent scheduling, supporting scheduling on the hoof, enabling flexible scheduling, and building communication into schedule planning.

Holding onto these new best practices after the crisis of coronavirus has passed can make companies stronger and more resilient in the long term.

Image Credit: depositphotos _19

The post Employee Scheduling Trends that Deserve to Continue Even After the Pandemic appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
collaboration tools covid-19 remote working SaaS startups Startups work remotely

How Remote Startups are Changing the Game for Everyone

startups

Based on our history, we can see that unprecedented events have the potential to cause permanent mass changes. Remember the 9/11 attack? That attack changed the face of airport security forever. Suddenly, new transit rules were enforced and sophisticated surveillance gear became commonplace. Here is how remote startups are changing the game for everyone.

Likewise, the pandemic has forced businesses to embrace remote working. Like it or not, we have been forced into the largest work-from-home experiment possible, without any prior warning.

Remote Startups are Changing the Game for Everyone
Image Credit: pixaby

 

To be fair, many businesses had distributed teams even before COVID-19 blindsided us. In fact, according to Founders Forum’s survey of 400+ startup owners, 94% of the respondents were already working from home before the pandemic.

Nonetheless, most respondents anticipated that they’d be back to their desks within a maximum of six months. But with the pandemic showing no signs of abating in the United States and elsewhere, they’ve been forced to rethink their business plans.

While many businesses have taken to remote working like fish to water, some are struggling to come to terms with the new normal. To help them make the transition, a new breed of “remote startups� has emerged.

These startups have innovative remote work solutions that help pandemic-prep other companies. Their solutions cover a wide spectrum — from meeting schedulers to gamified learning applications. Their goal is simple: help their tribe make the paradigm shift towards a brighter, remote-friendly future. And, to make a few bucks in the process.

Remote Startups: Turning Adversity into Opportunity

Virus or no virus, our business ecosystem is ripe for remote work. It’s just that startups are better poised than enterprises to capitalize on the remote opportunity.

Startups are uniquely positioned in the business landscape. Their constraints (budget, staffing, opportunities, etc.) compel them to look for out-of-the-box solutions. A startup needs to be on the top of its game to beat the big players and remain relevant. If they don’t come to grips with new situations soon enough, they have a lot to lose.

Considering their flexible mindsets and dynamic states, startups can pivot more easily and adopt a remote culture. That’s one reason why you’ve likely seen an increase in the number of SaaS startups since the pandemic set in.

Newly-remote companies face more roadblocks than a startup will, which impacts both owners and workers.

1. Dip in Productivity

Mega brands like IBM and Google found that their productivity plummeted when they went all-remote. Yahoo, Aetna, and Best Buy reported similar trends. All of these businesses had to roll back their remote work policies and call employees back on-premises.

Upon closer inspection, I have identified a few factors that hamper productivity in remote settings:

  • Less face-to-face supervision: Trust is an issue between remote cadres. Often, managers worry that their out-of-sight teams are not sincere about their working hours. They may be tempted to micromanage their teams, which adversely impacts performance and morale.
  • Tons of distractions: In a Buffer survey of remote workers, 10% of respondents said they struggle to keep distractions at bay when working from home. They find it hard to focus on work in their “chilled outâ€� space. This is a friction point for most people who fail to create dedicated workspaces for themselves.
  • Out-of-sync teams: The communication gap between co-workers can throw the entire team off-track. Although there are many collaboration tools (like Slack and Trello) available, they do have a learning curve that can be hard for non-technical folks. While teams take time to get up to speed, productivity can take a beating.
  • Lag in information access: Remote employees spend more time and effort locating information pertinent to their tasks. This can delay time-sensitive projects and slow down the pipeline.

2. Unhealthy Employee Morale

Happy employees are more productive, satisfied, and loyal to their companies. Sadly, remote employees are more prone to pangs of loneliness and isolation, which can pull down their morale.

The funny thing is that 59% of remote managers are least concerned about their workers’ emotional well-being, which has a cascading effect on team morale.

  • Lack of team camaraderie: Remote workers often feel a sense of detachment from the rest of the team, according to a Harvard study. That’s because they have fewer opportunities to bond informally with their colleagues.

Daily huddles are mostly about work. They just don’t have the same de-stressing effect as random water cooler encounters with colleagues.

  • Lower visibility: Employees in hybrid teams feel left out and mistreated, according to the Harvard report cited earlier. Being out-of-site, they feel managerial positions are out of their reach. If the scope for professional growth is limited, employee churn is inevitable.

They also complain about managers favoring in-office staff, even if they are less competent. Location disparity is a breeding ground for such negative sentiments.

  • Difficulty to compartmentalize stuff: 22% of work-from-home employees struggle with unplugging, states the Buffer report. Don’t believe the hyper-real pictures of people sipping piña coladas on a beach next to a laptop.

Remote work is not one long vacation. In fact, extended hours due to lack of discipline can play havoc with their personal lives. This is especially true for people who fail to draw clear lines between work and home.

3. Technical Challenges

Teams in different locations rely heavily on tools and technology to make their working seamless and easy. They need to use software for team communication, project management, training, and reporting.

Employees, as well as managers, need to be trained to use these new technologies. This way, all of the above fears about employee productivity, engagement, and focus can be assuaged to a great degree.

However, 38% of remote workers claim to have received no special training from their managers to help them get acquainted with these tools, according to the Owl Labs research stated earlier.

Thrust into a dark space with no light to guide them, employees often stumble. They are unable to give their 100% to work.

There have been instances where companies have lost business due to poor client communication. Being technologically challenged, they were unable to revamp their communication strategies. Had they transitioned from pushing files to email workflows, the scenario would probably be very different.

Huge problems are huge opportunities in disguise.

Just like the SARS outbreak, which drove innovation and research in diagnostics and health, the current pandemic is also producing many heroes.

For remote startups, all of the above glitches have acted as catalysts of change. Let’s see how.

How Are Remote Startups Transforming Businesses? 4 Use Cases

Remote startups have a great ideology. They develop state-of-the-art solutions to help companies get used to remote working. By doing so, they help mitigate the aftermath of the pandemic and make the business world a better place.

Among the current crop of remote startups, these are my top four picks:

1. Eloops – Keeping Employees Engaged

In distributed teams, employee engagement is critical. The US-based remote startup, Eloops, keeps employees “in the loop� by means of surveys, gamified learning, and virtual check-ins.

Using the platform, you can build custom apps for your employees to download. The apps offer social and engagement tools, personalized inboxes, gamified onboarding sessions, and a lot more.

To build rapport with your out-of-office teams, you can create contests, quizzes, and challenges. You also get access to effective team-building ideas and tools. In short, Eloops lets you align your internal and external teams in a fun, breezy way.

2. Plann3r: Scheduling Meetings Smartly

Meetings are an integral part of remote work. Depending on your role, you might need to schedule and attend meetings with your teams, prospects, and clients.

Plann3r, a remote startup from Belgium, helps you create slick-looking meeting pages in minutes. In this meeting scheduler, you can sync your calendar, import agendas from other apps, and customize your meeting interface.

You can plan your availability and highlight your “busy� slots. In short, you can achieve reasonable time management and stay on schedule.

3. Proficonf: Staying Connected in Real-Time

There are many prerequisites for hassle-free remote management. Staying connected with partners, teams, and clients is one of them. Video conferencing facilitates synchronous communication where participants can share screens, exchange files, and chat on the side.

In this space, the Ukrainian remote startup, Proficonf is doing wonders. Through this video conferencing platform, you can experience HD-level video quality, without dropped calls or data breaches.

Since the application is web-based, it’s light-weight and can work in browsers. The auto-recording feature makes your meeting highlights available at all times. This can come in handy for repetitive training sessions and sales pitches.

The solution works on adaptive telecommunication technology. In simple terms, the video quality doesn’t dip for participants with poor internet connectivity and low bandwidth.

4. Aubot: Cutting-Edge Surveillance

While you’re working from home, who is keeping an eye on your office premises? Telepresence robots can.

Fitted with dual cameras and sensors, these nifty robots stalk your office and stream their footage to your phone, tablet, or PC. This way, you can ensure the safety and operability of your office space.

I know. One remote startup that’s been taking giant strides in this domain is Aubot. Their main product, Teleport, is a telepresence robot that lets you monitor your office from any part of the world.

The robot can adjust its height and change angles to bring objects into focus. From the comfort of your home, you can control the robot using a web-controlled interface.

Such solutions take the stress out of office supervision so you can focus on more productive chores.

Where Are Remote Startups Headed?

It’s obvious that remote startups have a great present. But what about their future prospects? Is there any scope for their survival when things return to some kind of normal?

Remote work is here to stay and so are remote startups. While the future is a blank page right now, I’m confident that remote work will become the norm.

Favorable stats about remote work from the Owl Labs survey:

  • 71% of people actively seek out employers who let them work remotely.
  • 51% of on-site workers are keen to work from home. 24% will take a pay cut if they are allowed to keep flexible schedules.
  • On average, workers with remote experience draw $100K more than those who have never held a remote job.

All of these facts are a reflection of the popularity of remote culture and its viability in the future. From the employer’s perspective, remote teams offer many advantages, including:

  • Larger talent pool. Hirers can take advantage of top talent even if they are not in close proximity. Businesses that are open to expanding their team by removing geographical barriers have a better chance of finding people with the right skill sets.In fact, the above survey found that fully-distributed teams hire 33% faster than their local counterparts.
  • Stronger diversity of thought. When you look outside your bubble, you can access people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. They bring varied perspectives that enrich your team.A McKinsey study found that diverse teams are 30% smarter than homogenous teams. And they are able to achieve their business goals more efficiently.
  • Easier scaling. It’s easier to scale operations in remote set-ups. If you use software to help you scale up, it’s just a matter of expanding your database and letting the algorithms recalibrate the logistics. You don’t have to buy new furniture or office space to accommodate new members.
  • Lower operational costs. For small businesses and startups, every penny counts. When you do away with brick-and-mortar offices, you save on rentals, equipment, and consumables.Most businesses don’t foot their remote workers’ internet bills or co-working space rents. Though the cost savings should not be your primary reason to go remote, it’s certainly a big perk.
  • Better retention rates. Remote employees tend to be more satisfied with their jobs. With proper time management, they are able to strike a work-life balance. Plus, commute-free jobs mean no stress of travel, which leaves them with more free time.Nestled in their homes, they don’t bear the brunt of office politics (mostly). Overall, they are a happier lot, which is why they stay longer in their jobs.

    For employers, this means lesser attrition and greater stability. Moreover, they don’t have to go through the hassle and expenditure of hiring and retaining staff again and again.

Wrapping Up

Since remote work has so many obvious advantages, it’s very likely that it will replace traditional offices altogether. And as more companies go remote, the demand for remote-friendly products will keep growing. Now you know why I said that the future of remote startups looks very bright.

What are your thoughts about remote work and startups? Share them in the comments below.

Top Image Credit: thisisengineering; pexels

The post How Remote Startups are Changing the Game for Everyone appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
AI AI in Retail AR/VR Artifical intelligence Augmented Reality Augmented reality in retail covid-19 Impact of COVID-19 Sales virtual dressing room virtual fitting room

Virtual Dressing Room to Increase Sales During COVID-19

virtual dressing room

COVID-19 has changed the way people worldwide behave daily, and nowhere is this felt more keenly than in bricks-and-mortar retail. For decades, retailers have been trying various customer engagement strategies to bring people in and let them browse samples and linger to their heart’s content. But the pandemic has made nearly all those experiences risky and undesirable. Personal safety wins out of the desire to try on clothing, jewelry, makeup, and other wearable products.

Increasingly, with COVID-19, retail businesses are turning to virtual dressing rooms as an alternative for their customers.

A virtual dressing room allows a user to upload a video of themselves and then renders an Augmented Reality image of the person modeling their perspective items.

Certain sectors of the retail industry have already been embracing Augmented Reality dressing rooms, most notably the cosmetics and jewelry industries. But many more retail sectors are adopting virtual dressing rooms, and the pandemic has accelerated the process greatly.

Artificial Intelligence in Virtual Dressing Rooms

Like many digital business applications, virtual dressing rooms are driven by recent advances in technology, from AR and VR to Artificial Intelligence. In fact, technology is advancing so quickly that one of the barriers to adoption is simply that many people don’t realize how good virtual dressing rooms can be if they’ve never tried one before.

But more and more consumers are trying them and generally like their experiences. As a result, the virtual dressing room market looks to have staying power even after COVID-19 becomes less of a clear-and-present threat. By 2027, the virtual dressing market is projected to be a $10 billion industry.

Virtual Dressing Rooms Becoming Mainstream

For several years, certain retailers have toyed with virtual dressing room solutions and related apps, although frequently, these have been limited in scope and with mixed results. However, the combination of technology-driven increases in quality and the pandemic driving customers away from physical store locations has led to a significant uptick in virtual dressing room adoption.

Global retail giants like Macy’s and Adidas have led the way in virtual dressing room implementation, with many smaller retailers following suit.

Amazon is also involved in virtual dressing room development, as its online retail model continues to gobble up market share.

For many retailers, embracing virtual dressing rooms is a necessity right now. They’ve blocked off their physical dressing rooms and forbade customers to handle merchandise like they once did out of fears that these behaviors will spread COVID-19. And many customers simply aren’t coming out to stores regardless.

In today’s retail landscape, the virtual dressing room represents an opportunity to recapture some of the lost business that’s crushing most retailers’ profit margins.

How Virtual Dressing Rooms Work

From a technical standpoint, the two broad technologies pivotal to the virtual dressing room are Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence. These are huge domains that stretch far beyond the scope of a virtual dressing room solution, and it’s useful to understand just how these technologies apply here.

The virtual dressing room process begins with video capture of the person who will be trying on the virtual item. Often, the recording device is a mobile smartphone. A smartphone is an ideal vehicle because it contains both the camera to capture video and a screen to display the AR image of the person/body part with the wearable item modeled.

The video is parsed by human pose estimation algorithms that identify a range of key points or locators on the human body, which allow the application to understand the contours, size, and spatial location of the person. Often, AI deep learning routines are used to make these determinations. The accuracy of these AI-driven processes can be far superior to a human programmed process, allowing for far greater fidelity in virtual dressing room development.

Once the body’s dimension and location are fixed, the application then appends the item of clothing or accessory to the image on the screen, allowing the user to model that item virtually in a 3-D, photorealistic display.

Pros and Cons of Virtual Dressing Rooms

Like any business or technological innovation, virtual dressing rooms have their advantages and disadvantages when compared to the traditional model.

It’s important to grasp that virtual dressing room technology continues to develop and evolve, and as the process continues the industry will change. Former drawbacks may be mitigated, and advantages may heighten as supporting technology improves.

But even as some problems may fade in relevance, others may develop. The following pros and cons represent a snapshot of the short — and medium-term projections for the virtual dressing room landscape.

Benefits of Virtual Dressing Rooms

The most obvious benefit to a virtual dressing room is giving the customer the ability to sample and model products remotely. But for this to be worthwhile, the AR rendering has to be realistic enough to be useful. If a user doesn’t feel comfortable with the image they’re seeing, a virtual dressing room is a failure.

Fortunately, the science of capturing the human body and rendering it in a virtual environment is one that engineers and developers are devoting massive amounts of time and resources to. While virtual dressing rooms aren’t the most important or lucrative application of these processes, we reap the rewards of that development and innovation.

The real game-changer is the implementation of artificial intelligence in the video capture and rendering process. Deep learning algorithms can estimate and display the user’s full body, face, head, hands, feet, or any other specific body area with rapidly increasing clarity and accuracy.

This is taking us toward the point where the average shopper regards a virtual dressing room as roughly equivalent in quality to the physical experience. Once we’ve achieved that benchmark, the traditional dressing room is nearly entirely obsolete.

Potential Drawbacks to Virtual Dressing Rooms

Many of the current drawbacks to virtual dressing rooms are temporary issues likely to be addressed in the coming years.

People are excellent judges of the human form, especially their own. If a virtual dressing room image has minor imperfections, this can detract from the immersive experience and leave a customer uncertain about whether they can trust what they’ve seen.

In some cases, virtual dressing room solutions are close but to quite up to the highest standard, meaning that customers would prefer traditional ones if given a choice.

During this pandemic, virtual dressing rooms receive a bump simply by being the only realistic option for people looking to minimize their COVID-19 risk. However, at some point in the next year or so, countries will begin to get the pandemic under control via the release of vaccines.

At this point, the question is whether virtual dressing rooms will offer a seamless and accurate experience, one good enough to keep people using them when life can return more to normal. This is where the industry will be continuing to focus.

One final potential drawback worth mentioning is that virtual dressing rooms can pose a data security issue. The process captures users’ face and body data and background images from wherever the user is filming.

It would be possible for a developer to engineer a virtual dressing room solution that pulls biometrical data and geolocation data from its users. That data could then be used to create profiles of those users, allowing third parties to use this info in a variety of ways.

This particular concern is a universal one in our increasingly digital world, far from unique to virtual dressing rooms. But the video data captured here is particularly intimate, and users may have special concerns.

In 2020, the advent of COVID-19 has reshaped the retail landscape in a seismic way. Consumers avoid stores and businesses find the physical process of trying on and sampling wearable items riskier. In this environment, virtual dressing rooms are being adopted more and more.

But the virtual dressing room concept is more than just a quick-fix workaround for the pandemic. Hand-in-hand with the rise of online retail, virtual dressing rooms have the potential to supplant the traditional dressing room. As AI technology matures, a larger group of consumers will likely find themselves using virtual dressing rooms even afterlife returns more to normal.

The post Virtual Dressing Room to Increase Sales During COVID-19 appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
ads during pandemic AI Analysis covid-19 data delivery orders Healthcare ReadWrite real-time behavior robotics telehealth

How These 9 Startups are Thriving in the Covid-19 Economy

startups in covid-19

The year 2020 will forever be known as “devastating to all businesses,” but the year has been especially brutal to industries such as hospitality, travel, retail, and restaurants. However, companies in other sectors, such as health and technology, have taken off. Here is how nine startups are thriving in the Covid-19 economy.

These 9 startup companies found ways to grow their business by making needed adjustments and serving the community during the pandemic.

1. Nurx

Nurx is a disruptor in the telehealth industry. It connects patients with providers virtually for consultations and prescriptions for a variety of health services, including birth control, PrEP, HPV tests and migraine treatment.

The company offers patients consulting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via text. After paying the initial consultation fee, patients can message providers for a full year. Because patients don’t have to schedule in-person doctor visits to get care, Nurx is both a more convenient and safer option during the pandemic.

With telemedicine surging in 2020, and an additional $22.5 million in new financing, the company is positioned for long-term stability and growth. While telehealth is increasing overall, its niche serving women’s intimate health issues gives Nurx a competitive advantage.

The company has the opportunity to continue expanding the services it provides and to grow beyond the 29 states in which it is currently licensed.

2. Databricks

Databricks uses open source coding for data engineering, collaborative data analysis, and machine learning. Its platform offers clients:

  • Options tailored to their individual needs
  • Reduced supply chain operation costs
  • Web content creation based on visitor activity

The company has raised $400 million in new funding and expanded its customer dashboard capabilities by buying Redash. LinkedIn ranks Databricks as the No. 5 U.S. startup company for 2020.

Databricks’ most significant strength is its ability to make complex data analysis easier to conduct. The information gained from these analyses helps its customers save money and offer better service to their customers.

3. Verkada

Verkada provides enterprise building security with both hardware and cloud-based software. Its controls allow users to access its command platform from any browser with an internet connection. Integrated cameras and environmental sensors enable clients to detect changes happening across their locations and take data-driven action.

As the pandemic spread, Verkada adapted its system to highlight when and where crowds were beginning to form. This allows clients to disperse large groups and maintain social distancing. The company also created a heat map of high-traffic areas so clients could mark those for deeper and more frequent cleaning.

Verkada raised $80 million and doubled its workforce this year. The company’s advantage is its ability to see new opportunities and pivot to meet customer needs in new ways.

4. Nuro

Nuro’s goal is to use robotics and artificial intelligence to take over delivery orders.

The company launched the first self-driving delivery car in 2016. It initially partnered with Kroger in Phoenix to deliver groceries to such customers as:

  • Parents with young children
  • The elderly
  • Individuals who don’t drive

During the pandemic, Nuro has also used its driverless fleet to deliver medical supplies to Covid-19 patients in California.

On November 9, 2020, it announced a Series C funding round of $500 million. Nuro’s greatest strength is its bold ambition to bring robotics technology to Americans’ everyday lives, during the pandemic and beyond.

5. Movandi

Movandi is achieving success with innovative technologies that make 5G more widely available. Its 5G repeaters are designed to improve 5G coverage in public spaces and buildings in ways that expand the signal around corners.

Movandi’s achievements have resulted in the following awards this year:

  • AspenCore World Electronics Achievement Awards Startup of the Year 2020
  • CNBC Disruptor 50 for 2020
  • Orange County Business Journal Innovator of the Year 2020

Covid-19 has shown that the need for robust broadband is greater than ever. By finding new ways to overcome earlier technologies’ line-of-sight challenges, Movandi is making a signal contribution (pun intended).

6. FullStory

FullStory is a provider of analytical software that enables its clients to improve their websites. The company employs heat maps and other tracking tools to discover where visitors go on a website. Its software also helps pinpoint where retail sites lose customers in the sales funnel.

FullStory’s software is so effective that one client gained $5.63 million in benefits (increased conversion rates, improved error resolution, etc.) over three years. The result was a 411% return on investment.

LinkedIn ranked FullStory one of the top startups of 2020. The company quadrupled its workforce between 2017-19 and has raised $67 million in funding since its inception.

Allowing its clients to detect pandemic-driven consumer behavior changes helps them respond rapidly and effectively to these shifts. The quality of FullStory’s service to its clients provides a benchmark to copy.

7. Attentive

Attentive is a marketing and advertising company that uses real-time behavioral data to target customers and convert sales. Over 2,000 businesses currently use Attentive’s messaging platform to drive sales.

The company recently raised $230 million in Series D investments and has grown to over 400 full-time employees.

Attentive’s most significant strength is its consistent performance over time and deep client base. The company succeeds because its messaging platform helps its clients reach their own customers so effectively.

8. Modern Health

Modern Health is a digital benefits platform that provides mental health support for its clients’ employees. The company uses virtual visits and text messages to connect employees to certified coaches and licensed therapists.

During the pandemic, the company began offering free mental health resources, including live sessions with its network therapists, to the public at large. Its goal was to help the community as a whole get through this challenging year.

Like other top-performing startups in telehealth, Modern Health’s competitive advantage lies in finding its niche: in this case, mental health. It has raised over $42 million in venture funding and has been named to LinkedIn’s list of top startups for 2020.

9. FIG

FIG was founded as an alternative to traditional agency marketing. Its goal is to be the storytellers of the information age.

Among its honors, FIG has been:

  • Named to the Inc. 5000 in 2019 and 2020
  • Listed on Ad Age’s A-list of standout agencies for 2018, 2019, and 2020
  • Designated one of LinkedIn’s top 50 startups for 2020

The company has achieved a three-year revenue growth of 150%. FIG is an inspired leadership story of how connecting with people on an emotional level can drive success.

In 2020, many startups floundered due to the ultimate “beyond their controlâ€� circumstances — The Global Coronavirus Epidemic.

The startups listed here are thriving despite the pandemic and ensuing recession.

These companies are succeeding by finding niche specialties, excelling through customer and community service, and adjusting their offerings to help the community during trying times.

Image Credit: ketut subiyanto; pexels

The post How These 9 Startups are Thriving in the Covid-19 Economy appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
coronavirus covid-19 digital platform digital transformation ReadWrite Tech Work

What COVID-19 Taught Us About Digital Transformation

digital transformation

COVID-19 is one of the most devastating crises in at least two past decades that has had ruinous business operations. It’s safe to say that COVID-19 has hit the economy harder than the 2008 financial crisis. COVID has also turned 2020 into a tragic year for the majority of businesses, except those that embraced digital initiatives.  Here is what COVID-19 taught us about digital transformation.

Digital operations on an online platform.

When a business is literally transformed digitally and can accomplish all operations on online platforms, regardless of the size and scope, a health crisis like coronavirus has nothing to do with it. In the same way, its destructive effects are minimized, but it may also even cause significant growth. 

Being digitally transformed during a crisis means having a framework to run business stuff without lowering the bar if employees can’t be physically present at the office. This includes flawless communication between employees, accomplishing tasks, managing customers and their engagement, meeting the market requirements and managing projects.

Since every crisis that hits business environments has some lessons to take, the coronavirus brought some good lessons about the importance of digital transformation for businesses when an unprecedented crisis is coming close.  

Let’s see what COVID-19 can teach us about digital transformation.

1. Digital Transformation Is About People, Not the Technology

When it comes to digital transformation, most people think it’s going to be about technologies and tools. It is true, in a sense, but COVID-19 proved that people must take precedence over technology. Transforming people to use digital tools in a chaotic situation is often underrated, and most organizations prioritize adopting digital tools rather than training people. Bear in mind: the people drive digital transformation forward. 

The first step toward implementing a digital transformation strategy is to change people’s mindsets and change their outlook on technology. They need to understand how their routine work will vary by tech-driven tools and how they can make the most of it for being productive and do more in less time. The managers need to draw up the bigger picture for employees and tell them how to rely on digital initiatives during a crisis. 

The second step is to hone the skills and invest in talents. Developing skills and employees’ abilities will help organizations aim for more data-centric initiatives, maximize digital transformation effectiveness, and minimize the possibility of error. 

2. Non-digital Businesses Are Extremely Vulnerable Against a Threat

At the outset of coronavirus, traditional businesses were confused about operating without a physical location or managing their market and customers. At the same time, they are locked in the home. The old-fashioned business model is not applicable when most people rely on their smartphones more than ever, and it just widens the digital gap. 

Newspapers, food and beverage, and in-store shopping are among the industries that have suffered most from COVID-19 impacts, and their business model makes them extremely vulnerable against future threats.  On the other hand, tech-driven businesses can turn every crisis into an opportunity for growth, and while reducing costs, they also increase the revenue. 

Coronavirus is not the first health crisis against human beings and will certainly not be the last. Even in the post-pandemic era, it’s hard for most people to get back to their pre-pandemic behaviors. The lifespan and revenue in post-pandemic times depend on whether it has adopted digital technologies or it wants to continue with old methods. 

3. Businesses Need to Accelerate Digital Transformation Initiatives

The COVID-19 highlighted the fact that the future of business is digital, and at times of uncertainty, only digital initiatives can drive the business forward. While some organizations are still lacking at implementing or accelerating their digital transformation due to the crisis, others are using the current chaotic situation to change the business model and empower departments with digital initiatives.

Recovering from coronavirus impacts requires businesses to accelerate adopting digitalization and look at digital touchpoints to meet customers’ demands. 

There has never been a better time than now to start proactively with tech-driven innovations. According to McKinsey & Company, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, 92 percent of surveyed organizations thought they needed to digitize their business model. 

CEOs need to move the digital transformation from the piloting stage to trial use and then actively use it in business operations. Such a transformation must happen at the core of the business and organizational culture. 

There is no denying that deploying a digital strategy at a large-scale will be a complicated process, requires too much effort to put into it, and won’t happen overnight. But for those looking for sustainable growth and seeking to keep business alive in future storms, there is no plan B. Long-term investment in digital transformation will definitely play out if done correctly.  

4. Significant Potentials for Adopting Digital Transformation Remained Untapped

Amazon’s revenue skyrocketed in the coronavirus pandemic, and demands for digital content helped Netflix to add more than 10 million paid subscribers thanks to the lockdown. Likewise, online services experienced huge growth in demands and customers. 

Despite all the damage, one good aspect of COVID-19 was that it made businesses rethink their potentials to adopt digital transformation. Before the pandemic, some executives believed their organization has no capacity to grow through digital. They can’t rely on digital channels to either meet the market requirements or manage in-office tasks remotely. 

Digital transformation can open up new horizons toward the businesses and make them aware of untapped potential to rise above their current position. Every organization, in any industry with any size, has some untapped potential for using digital initiatives. They just need to overcome the fears of change and see the bigger picture. 

Designing a roadmap, training employees, changing business models and culture, hiring new talents, and using third-party partners are steps needed to be taken by executives to implement a successful digital strategy within the organization. 

Image Credit: cottonbro; pexels

The post What COVID-19 Taught Us About Digital Transformation appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
covid-19 Health Lifestyle personal safety safety wearables Tech

Sick of Quarantine? 8 Simple Steps to Go Out Safely

quarantine safely

Pandemic-related quarantine isn’t just annoying; it’s also a mental health problem. Global studies show that both adults and teens are negatively affected by staying indoors for long periods of time. And that’s not good for individuals, families, or communities.

Sure, you could wait until the emergence of a vaccine to reduce the risk of acquiring Covid-19 before leaving home. However, that could mean more months cooped up. Instead, rely on some technologically sound preventive measures and products to enable you to go out safely. 

Our team tried a few dozen popular ones. Here’s what we recommend:

1. Breathe in sanitized air wherever you go.

Do you worry about the possibility of inhaling contaminated air, especially in highly trafficked places like airports and train stations? A light-based sanitation tool called uvSABA delivers disinfected air right to your nose.

The uvSABA unit uses UVC light, which has been proven to change the genetic properties of viruses similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It can also be carried around discreetly and used in conjunction with face masks and shields.

2. Wear jewelry that reminds you to stop touching your face.

One of the fastest ways to transfer pathogens to your nose or mouth is by touching your face. Yet it can be tough to stop the habit. That’s where a piece of unique jewelry could come in handy. 

The water-resistant Slightly Robot bracelet vibrates gently when you engage in unwanted behaviors, thanks to an internal accelerometer. It’s a fashionable, friendly reminder to keep your hands below your chin unless you’re securing a face mask.

3. Avoid hand-to-surface contact in germy places.

You’ve probably wondered whether you should be wearing some kind of protection on your hands. After all, opening doors and grabbing products off shelves can expose you to Covid-19 through surface contact. But walking around with gloves on might be uncomfortable.

One interesting, and potentially fashionable solution — is the ghluv. Like a toeless sock that goes around your wrist, the ghluv makes the world safe to the touch. Anytime you need a barrier between your hand and a surface, pull your ghluv around your fingers. It’s a surprisingly simple solution to carrying extra protective gear. Plus, it’s unlikely to get lost because it sits on your body.

4. Get an antimicrobial keychain tool.

The next time you’re forced to touch a keypad, forget about using your fingers. Instead, pull out an antimicrobial keychain tool. 

Many of these innovations have popped up since the beginning of coronavirus. Some of these key-shaped devices can even help you open certain doors.

Use your keychain not just for storing your house and car keys, but also to protect you from virus exposure. You’ll still want to have hand sanitizer as a backup, of course. But knowing that you’re touching fewer grimy places should give you peace of mind.

5. Cover your torso and head completely. 

Maybe you have a compromised immune system. If so, you may hesitate to go outside at all, even for walks in the park. Instead, consider the BioVYZR.

The BioVYZR forms a seal around your upper body and head. Pressured, filtered air is pushed into the headspace, and the air you exhale is forced out. A built-in, see-through visor gives you clear front and peripheral vision. Though a bit space-age in looks, the BioVYZR could be your ticket out of the house.

6. Download contactless payment apps.

Originally, contactless payment apps were touted as time-savers. Now, they may be literal lifesavers.

If you own a smartphone, you have all the hardware you need to make contactless payments. Still, you may have to open an account with a new financial provider to enjoy this service. 

Alternatively, get a contactless credit card. It’ll give you the same benefit and you won’t have to whip out your phone.

7. Bring bacteria-fighting bags to the store.

Perhaps you already bring your own bags with you when you go shopping. To protect yourself further, consider purchasing a reusable bag treated with proven antibacterial technology.

Be sure to research these bags before you buy them: Depending on the coating used, some are more effective than others.

Want another reason to reach for different bags? Antimicrobial versions can protect you against common problems associated with fabric ones, like salmonella and e-coli development.

8. Practice the six-foot rule.

A final, and decidedly low-tech but highly effective, way to protect yourself when you’re heading out during the pandemic is to practice the six-foot rule. Give anyone in your vicinity at least six feet of space to minimize viral transference. 

Many people don’t realize what six feet looks like. Give yourself an idea by taking a measuring implement — like a measuring tape — measuring it out. 

Already in the parking lot? Use your sedan as a guide. Cars are generally around six to seven feet wide. So make sure you have about a car width between you and non-family members while shopping or dining.

You don’t have to stay home all the time as the world recovers from Covid-19. You don’t even have to limit yourself to solo walks in empty parks. Enjoy life a little and de-stress—just make sure you’re taking your health seriously by practicing prevention.

Image credit: Anna Shvets; Pexels

The post Sick of Quarantine? 8 Simple Steps to Go Out Safely appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
Connected Devices covid-19 Health personal safety Work

How This Personal Safety Startup is Protecting Teams from COVID-19

Humans don’t do well without specifics. A call to “practice social distancing” leaves too much to the imagination, while instructions to stay at least six feet away from strangers provides a more straightforward, more actionable message. Here is how a personal safety startup is protecting teams from COVID-19.

As teams return to work, companies must wrestle with the realities of shared office spaces and the continued threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employees will continue to feel anxious and unsafe until a trusted vaccine hits the market. Until that time, businesses can either allow employees to work from home or take measures to keep their office environments as safe as possible.

Companies that can facilitate remote work should continue to do so where possible. Others, though, do not have that luxury. Those businesses need a solution to keep their employees safe, and a company called POM just came out with the answer.

How does POM’s pandemic solution work?

POM began as a company on a mission to make it easier for people to get faster access to first responders. After a college student lost his life in a situation where he could not get emergency services, POM’s founders wanted to create a simple product that could save others from similar situations.

The company’s flagship product works as a simple, portable button that connects to a backend security platform. Three taps of the button transfer the user’s location data and profile to a dispatcher who can summon emergency help. One long press can activate a number of custom features, from sending an automated text to initiating a fake phone call to the user’s phone.

How to help a virus? How to help a pandemic?

You can’t call the fire department on a virus, though. As the pandemic grew more serious, POM recognized the opportunity to help in a different way. By leveraging its existing hardware and adding new features, POM found a way to help businesses and other organizations substantially reduce the threat of the virus within their workforces.

The POM Tracer, POM’s newly developed social distancing, and contact tracing technology, uses the foundational components of POM’s primary line of products with a few important additions. The devices, which are about the size of a large coin, clip easily to ID badges or fit into pockets or bags.

POM has modified its product with an IoT angle, allowing devices to recognize when carriers get within six feet of one another and alert users to increase distance for their safety. Even more, the technology is based on proximity so users don’t need to worry about being tracked by a GPS.

What if I test positive?

When a person within a business tests positive, POM Tracers help businesses minimize exposure risk, with contact tracing. The devices can easily track both Level 1 contact, where a person is within six feet of a person who tested positive, and Level 2 contact, the next layer of people who were in close contact with the first group who may have been exposed.

Do I have to have the app on my computer or phone?

These devices do not require users to download apps to function. HR owns the entirety of the system, allowing an organization to collect accurate and informative data without infringing on the privacy and labor rights of users.

As long as the pandemic lasts, POM’s solution will remain an effective and efficient way for people managing in-office teams to maintain the highest possible standards of safety.

Projecting the future of contact tracing and personal safety

Solutions like the POM Tracer, which does not need a companion app to operate, may eventually become standard-issue at all organizations with coworking teams. Apps alone are unreliable, and even when more than 80% of users actually download them (which is rare), many labor laws and unions prevent employers from requiring employees to download software to their personal devices.

What’s the philosophy on data collection?

POM’s device-based philosophy of data collection and analysis is the future. Without the need to rely on smartphones, companies can get the data they need without overstepping their boundaries. When users pass through a gateway, a bluetooth device begins transmitting proximity information.

Going through the gateway protects each of the companies from the consequences of collecting and keeping personal data — a practice that can carry hefty penalties when done poorly. IoT sensors placed in doorways and other common spaces help ensure accuracy.

Where is the data stored?

Keeping this data in house allows businesses to run immediate risk reports to identify and contain threats before they spread.

CDC guidelines quantify “close contact” as being within six feet of a person for more than 15 minutes, but more cautious businesses can customize their parameters to be even safer.

The POM tracer system also ensures confidential and anonymous communication.

Having the POM tracer system at work, the employees never need to know which of their coworkers could have been infected.

HR gathers the appropriate data, traces opportunities for exposure, and privately communicates the next steps to affected parties. No one feels singled out, and the business protects itself from potential liability. Even the other employees and coworkers in your employ don’t ever have any information on each other.

When is the vaccine coming?

Perhaps a vaccine for COVID-19 will arrive ahead of schedule and allow businesses to return to the office quickly — with more confidence. Even if that does happen, however, the distribution of such a vaccine will take months in even the best circumstances.

Organizations continue to face a long and uncertain timeline for social distancing and enhanced cleaning practices. And who knows what the wave of the future will be?

What are the costs?

The POM Tracer provides a simple and cost-effective solution to a highly sensitive and nebulous problem that will not disappear on its own.

Businesses with coworking teams should follow the cautions provided (or insisted upon by local and national governments).

However, it’s essential to business to move forward. We have a better and safer road where organization can implement the POM tracer and begin with smarter tracking. Implementation now will avoid more serious problems in the months to come.

The post How This Personal Safety Startup is Protecting Teams from COVID-19 appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
Connected Devices covid-19 Data and Security edge computing Lifestyle

Smart Technology at The Edge: Five Reasons this Transformation is Here to Stay

smart tech at the edge

The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up much of the technology change that was already underway. People have found themselves working and learning at home, which is usually at “the edge” of computing networks operated by their employers and schools.

While at home, many employees are also substantially increasing their consumption of entertainment content. The changes in working conditions and the transformation that comes with it will continue, complemented by innovations in AI, processing, and connectivity, empowering new capabilities and services at such edges.

What is an edge network?

In a sentence, what might qualify as “edges” of networks will continue to evolve into collections of devices that work faster and more often locally versus relying on cloud connectivity. Staying away from some of the connectivity will also make devices safer, more reliable, and more energy-efficient.

The transformation has immense implications for the world, some of which we’ve already witnessed.

Here are five reasons smart technology at the edge is here to stay.

First, technology at the edge gives us participation.

Technology has proven itself to be an indispensable tool for getting people together at times and in ways that may once have seemed impossible.

Work teams and families no longer have to physically share the same room to exchange their thoughts and feelings. Even more profoundly, people who were once locked out of the job market because they couldn’t physically show up for a 9-to-5 job can use tech to work where and when it’s best for them.

Having the ability to access all variations of people and their skills has and will bring many new people into the workforce, such as those who spend a large amount of time caring for children or the elderly, or for those who a commute to work, is not an option.

Second, it enhances productivity.

Stay-at-home orders have meant that people have discovered just how much time they spent commuting to work, which is time they can now utilize being more productive.

The time saved that was once lost to being “in transit” can be put to productive use thanks to edge technologies, which replicate many of the functions (access to data and one another, for instance) that was once exclusively available only at work sites.

It also can deliver greater productivity without a commensurate increase in harmful emissions, not to mention the emotional wear-and-tear that comes with sitting in traffic.

Third, edge computing is more protective of our privacy.

Privacy is better protected since more data collected on our devices is processed and used locally, too, the risk of hackers accessing personal data is reduced.

Additionally, if data is distributed in this way — in homes and offices versus collected on giant shared servers or other platforms – it is a less attractive target for criminals.

The effort required to hack a single home will likely outweigh the benefit of whatever might be uncovered. Further, there are significant security protocols (both hardware and software) that make these events very unlikely.

Fourth, it provides us with safe personal spaces.

It has been amazing how many people have found refuge in driving their cars during the pandemic (as “safe spaces” to be while experiencing the outside world).

The idea of that physical movement, from Point A to Point B, as useful personal or professional time, means a greater need for automation and security.

People are looking at these spaces and “moments” as a personal safe time, and also using these spaces and moments productively creates greater urgency for offloading active driving tasks to smart technologies such as ADAS.

The purposes for our use of vehicles may well be changing, as should our expectations for them. We should be able to expect that our time in our vehicles is as safe, both from viruses and traffic incidents, just as our time at home is both personal and protected.

Finally, the edge creates more possibilities.

Putting computing intelligence and faster processing at the point where data are sensed and collected provides benefits. That suggests a variety of new uses, such as smarter security and environmental controls or, in vehicles, more tools to make driving safer.

Doing so more securely makes it possible to consider novel applications for user data, especially in the areas of Machine Learning and lifestyle services.

Imagine digital home assistants that really and truly understood the needs and expectations of their users. The possibilities are endless.

Conclusion

As the pandemic has focused all aspects of our lives into our homes, the edge has broken down barriers that previously segmented or limited what we could experience in our homes.

Now we can do things faster, more conveniently, more securely, and therefore more often than ever before. Experiencing smart technology at the edge has only begun to show us the possibilities of a world that anticipates and automates our needs.

Image Credit: fauxels; Pexels

The post Smart Technology at The Edge: Five Reasons this Transformation is Here to Stay appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
Apps covid-19 Health Play Sports

Javelin Sports Makes Returning to Sports Games COVID-19 Friendly

Javelin Sports Makes Returning to Sports Games COVID-19 Friendly

Javelin Sports announces the launch of its new Health Checklist feature on their mobile app. In the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic, sports clubs and teams are struggling to safely return to sport. For that reason, Javelin Sports has integrated three new features into its sports management app: health screening, waiver signing, and contact tracing. These features protect sports organizations by reducing their liability and ensuring that coaches and athletes are healthy as well as aware of potential outbreaks before they occur. 

Javelin Sports’ in-app health screening process is a series of checks that enables coaches to track the health of their players. The app also features contact tracing by tracking all individuals that attend an event. Lastly, their mandatory waiver signing allows sports organizations to avoid risk and reduce liability. These three areas allow Javelin Sports to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in an organization and help clubs if an outbreak does occur.

Launched on June 11, 2020, Javelin Sports’ new Health Checklist feature has aided hundreds of sports organizations as they return to sport. “The thing we’ve found that is most important in reducing the chance of an outbreak occurring is that organizations demonstrate from the top level that they are managing the risk of transmission. This, in turn, helps foster a culture of players holding each other accountable,� says Justin Ford, CEO at Javelin Sports.

Image credit: Pexels

The post Javelin Sports Makes Returning to Sports Games COVID-19 Friendly appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
covid-19 Culture Customer Service e-commerce Lifestyle retail Sales tips

The New Customer Buying Experience in a Post-COVID-19 World

customer buying post covid

COVID-19 has accelerated the move to digital, and forced buyers’ hands to fully embrace and adopt e-commerce.

Research from Adobe’s latest Digital Economy Index shows that online shopping during COVID-19 has exceeded 2019 holiday season levels and online spend for April and May is $52 billion more than what retailers typically see during those months.

E-commerce has just aged three years in the span of three months.

The substantial increase in e-commerce transactions has put unprecedented strains and pressures on retail operations and systems. And things aren’t going to go back to “the way they were� either.  In fact, most Americans are still skittish about visiting stores and malls, according to a First Insights survey.

Retailers

For retailers, this means strategy overhauls of how they sell both online and, in their brick and mortar locations. We’re already seeing merchants, both big and small, think out of the box as they digitize their customer interactions and become more experiential.

There are companies that are ahead of the game, going all in on digital even before the pandemic. Below, we take a look at some of their shrewd ideas and how these may become industry standards post COVID-19.

Rethinking Brick and Mortar

Given current conditions, we will likely see many brands rethinking the purpose of their brick and mortar locations. There are already first movers in this space, where their storefront is more about telling the brand story, while the actual transactions take place online.

COVID-19 has taught people that in most cases, buying online can be better, faster, easier, more convenient, and safer. Retailers must make their in-store location worth the trip.

Tesla

Back in 2019 Tesla made the controversial decision to stop selling its vehicles in showrooms, moving all sales to an online-only model. Their showrooms are experience centers, not sales centers.

If you want to buy a Tesla in a showroom, you can, but it’s a DIY process. You have to pull out your mobile phone, pull up the Tesla website, and order the car. There’s no pushy sales staff who take your order for you.

Instead, the staff are brand ambassadors, there to help you fall in love with the company and its cars.

Focus on direct-to-consumer’s

On a recent earnings call, Jonathan Sinclair, CFO of Canada Goose, explained that the company would be pivoting to focus more on its direct-to-consumer (D2C) business, both through e-commerce and its own branded experience centers.

In its flagship Toronto store, there are no products for sale. Instead, consumers get a multi-sensory experience to “feel� why the company’s parkas are worth the hefty price-tag, which is often upwards of $1,000 for a coat.

Canada Goose also intends to reduce its reliance on wholesale and retail distribution channels going forward.

Online-Only Sales Model

In some cases, expect companies to close their physical stores altogether and continue business solely online.

Bose, which in January announced that it would be shutting all of its stores in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia, definitely saw the writing on the wall even before COVID-19 hit the United States.

The retailer decided that it would continue its business online only, and when you think about it, no one really needs to try on noise canceling headphones or test speakers in a store.

Today, consumers trust online reviews and content more than they do a sales pitch from an associate. It was time for a radical new idea from Bose.

Microsoft

In a surprise move, Microsoft also just announced they will permanently close all of the 83 their retail stores and shift to a 100% digital retail model.

The firm is not planning to furlough any of their associates, instead inviting them to take new roles helping customers on their website through video and chat experiences.

Zara

Looking at some of the recent earnings calls from big retailers, they have seen a seismic shift in their business model. E-commerce has been the survival pill during the pandemic.

For example, online sales were up 50 percent year over year in Q2 for Zara, and in April alone, its e-commerce sales were up 95 percent. In response, Zara has now updated its online sales growth forecast.

In 2019, just 14 percent of its revenue came from digital. By 2022, Zara expects e-commerce to account for 25 percent of all the revenues.

A Focus on Building Community

It’s no longer just about the sales support you get while you’re buying the product, or the service and help you get once you own it. It’s about the end-to-end customer experience.

After more than three months of the pandemic, many companies are realizing continued success will be just as much about how people perceive and engage with the brand. The experience starts from that first engagement, continues through to purchase—and beyond.

We’ll see a lot more brand-affinity building from retailers, such as community initiatives that customers feel aligned to, and that may give them a voice.

Many examples of online communities

There’s no better example of this than what Calvin McDonald, the CEO of Lululemon, talked about in June during the company’s 2020 future earnings call.

During the early days of the pandemic, Lululemon launched an online community where customers could congregate to share their stories, experiences, and continue to do yoga together in a virtual manner.

Lululemon also built a new chat program, its digital educator service. Using FaceTime and Zoom, customers can book appointments with “store associates� for a virtual video chat about yoga wear that’s right for them.

Lululemon has essentially taken what was happening in the physical store and digitalized it.

It’s Not What’s Coming, It’s What’s Here in Buying

The future of digital in retail is actually here now.

As it’s said, “necessity is the mother of all invention,� and this is what we’ve seen because of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, we will see negative repercussions some businesses have faced in light of the pandemic.

We will also see some really inspirational stories around resilience over the next couple of months, and how thinking outside of the box and digital-first, can future-proof a brand.

Image Credit: Adobe Stock

The post The New Customer Buying Experience in a Post-COVID-19 World appeared first on ReadWrite.