However, despite COVID-19 causing the UK economy to suffer from a 20.4% GDP decline in April this year, many businesses have used this as an opportunity to innovate. The lockdown propelled businesses forward, forcing them to expand in new ways and by using different channels, which has led to the digital accelerant of the decade. A report from Twilio stated that the pandemic has forced businesses to change and adapt their operations and communication channels essentially overnight to ensure that they can adapt to the “new normal”.
The report states that digital communication strategies were accelerated by 5.3 years for the UK. This is because business owners have been forced to adapt and innovate initiatives to replace previous ones that are no longer feasible due to the situation. Technology businesses have seen the fastest digital transformation closely followed by healthcare and retail. Construction and energy businesses also saw the greatest acceleration in communication by 8.1 and 7.2 years respectively.
This progression in digital transformation and innovation has been aided by cloud scale, speed and agility. These technologies have completely transformed the business landscape into one where virtually every business can operate digitally in some form. Digital communication technology has not only allowed employers to communicate with their remote and flexible working employees, but also helped to provide a seamless customer experience. Online digital platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Skype, have allowed employees to remain productive and safe, while ensuring that they’re able to regularly communicate with their employers and colleagues and helping to maintain their wellbeing. This has allowed businesses to function “as normal” during a time where employees are scattered across the country and otherwise might not be able to produce the same quality of products and services.
Digital services are helping businesses to reach their customers during a period where it isn’t always physically possible. Through eCommerce websites and social media channels, many businesses have maintained and even grown their online presence, ensuring they can still sell and supply their products while keeping in touch with their customers. Some small businesses have even begun to develop new products and services, including takeaway services, virtual consultations, click and collect options as well as deliveries in response to the crisis.
In fact, according to new research from Small Business Britain and BT Skills for Tomorrow, two thirds (64%) of UK small businesses believe that the outbreak has increased support and awareness of their sector. The crisis has reinforced the fact that these businesses are at the heart of the British economy and local communities.
The digital transformation in UK businesses has seen over half pursuing online activities to engage with customers, 45% selling more online and 25% reporting an increase in contactless payments. This success has resulted in 46% expecting their use of digital services and products to increase in the future. Not only this, but over half (55%) see the changes as positive and 19% expect an increase in their revenue.
However, the threat of a second wave of the virus has led to a majority (70%) of businesses being concerned about a return to lockdown in 2020. Although this has caused some uncertainty about their future, a third (35%) now feel more prepared for this, possibly due to their ability to adapt and settle into the use of digital innovations and the knowledge of the success it can bring.