In some quarters, the Internet is considered the best and most effective way for businesses to engage their customers. That might not necessarily be the case. The utility of the Internet in business can extend beyond client engagement.

Over the past several months, driven by COVID-19, many businesses and Organisations have developed a greater appreciation for the benefits of the Internet, and would have spurred increasing calls for more entities to do business online. An Organisation’s business strategy will determine the value proposition that they deliver to their clients.

If most of your clients are offline, perhaps it does not make sense for you to be offering services online. There are many facilities, many tools that allow you to go online and develop a website and to be able to trade online quickly. But, if it’s not aligned with your business strategy, you will find there is going to be some dissonance there…

When you go online you become exposed immediately to the entire world. If you are not ready for that kind of business, that kind of change, it may not be aligned with your business strategy,

The pandemic has seriously challenged many a business strategy. However, entrepreneurs should take this time re-examine the core of the business, in order to make its structures more robust. Businesses need to serve their customers where they are might have some validity, however it does not show the full picture. Below, we outline four reasons why businesses still need to be online, even if most of their clients are offline.

1.  Many Businesses had become complacent

Off the bat, the first point that ought to be acknowledged is that many businesses, particularly in the Caribbean had become complacent. Whatever had been the initially conceptualised business model and strategy might not have been substantially revisited since the business launched. As a result, there was an expectation that the status quo would remain.

Additionally, and noting that over 80% of businesses being micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), their primary focus tends to be subsistence: to generate sufficient income to cover their expenses. Although they might like to grow, the resources and the wherewithal to do so – including the regular and rigorous strategy reviews – might not be there.

As a result, and when COVID-19 emerged, businesses worldwide had no choice but to try to adjust. Those who were proactive in their efforts are likely to have fared better than others. High-touch services, such as those the beauty and wellness industries, which rely on physically interacting with customers, such as beauty salons, barber shops and spas, would have been particularly challenged during the lockdowns that occurred. However, it could be argued that through the pandemic, all businesses have an opportunity to re-examine their business models, to broaden their offerings and diversify their revenue streams, and ultimately, to become more robust.

2.  Customer behaviour and needs do evolve

The focus of Mr Davis’ statements were the extent to which businesses can successfully engage their customers online. Although it may not be prudent for businesses to deliver their services online exclusively if their customers are offline, the odds are that some of their customers are online, and would be open to engaging the business through that medium.

To that end, it is important to highlight the fact that customers’ needs and behaviour have been an continue to evolve. Furthermore, in some instances, it could be argued that the reason why customers are not interacting with businesses, or making purchases, online, is due to the fact that those businesses are not offering online options.

However, and through this pandemic more and more people have been forced to leverage the Internet for everyday activities, thus freeing up their time for other things, and allowing them to be more productive. Moreover, businesses also need to be cognisant for the an emerging and soon to be dominant demographic in the consumer market: the Generation Z (Gen Z), those born between the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2010s, and the post-Gen Z generation, who are true digital natives, and expect the convenience and immediacy that the Internet offers.

3.  There is a difference between being digital and being online

Following from the previous point, and for the purposes of this conversation, there is a difference to being digital and being online. Being online suggests that the Internet is being leveraged, whilst being digital, encompasses the use of a broad range of tools, which may (or may not) include the Internet.

It can thus be argued that although it might not be prudent for businesses to deliver their services online exclusively if their customers are offline, they can still aim to be digital: that is, to leverage digital tools to improve efficiency, effectiveness and productivity. For example, even in agriculture and although the tending to the plants or animal husbandry might still be primarily physical, digital tools can be used for, among other things, managing stock and supplies, scheduling, tracking growth and yield, and for securing weather and market data, just to name a few. Leveraging digital tools can free up time and resources, which in turn can be used to focus on other aspects of the business, particularly those that support growth or expansion, or even increased profitability.

4.  The Internet can still be an useful tool regardless of how customers are engaged

Finally, it must be emphasised that the use of the Internet ought not be limited to marketing, customer engagement activities, and/or sales. It is an incredibly useful tool in supporting the operations of a business, for example, for emails, cloud-based storage, data processing solutions, and for accessing data/information from other sources that could be critical to the business.

Generally, we can think quite narrowly of how businesses can leverage the Internet, and the services to the business that can be facilitated via the Internet. However, if there is a key takeaway for most of us that has been highlighted by COVID-19, is the fact that too many of us had fallen into a rut, although the world around us has been evolving. More importantly, we refused to take the time to adjust and to change, until we were forced to confront it.