The rise of the digital age is unstoppable and many people have gone online to express their opinions on the global pandemic. New social media apps are popping up like mushrooms, providing everyone with an opportunity to voice their views through images, audio and/or text.
A few weeks ago, a client visited us in Druten. He still had a fax number on his website until quite recently. Actually, it was not so long ago that young people preferred MSN Messenger. And who now sends text messages?
In 2004, when I was travelling with a friend in Asia, we had to find an internet café with Skype, a headset and a camera to make calls. At that time, mobile phones were still the size of a refrigerator and it was expensive to call home from Cambodia or Australia. I do not think that Wi-Fi even existed then.
Skype has also become obsolete and WhatsApp, Facebook, Insta, Snapchat, Zoom and Teams are now seen as indispensable. Funnily enough, when I first started working at ICA, which was not that long ago, a colleague of mine said he would send me a ‘Tikkie’. I gave him a strange look. But he soon realised I had lived abroad for 12 years and therefore had never heard of that popular online payment app.
The tile trade is still very traditional, but digitalisation is coming. Other firms in the retail and wholesale sectors have already taken the step towards digitalisation and this is helping to keep their heads above water during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are now many vacant stores on every major shopping street in the Netherlands. But this does not tell the whole story. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the growth of online purchases was unprecedented in 2020. The shift from offline to online sales has both advantages and disadvantages. However, those businesses that solely or mainly operate offline have felt the impact more than most. We cannot ignore what is happening, especially as online sales are helping us to get through this challenging period.
ICA is currently working on a wonderful concept that offers some great digital features as well as offline support. The digital aspect consists of our new dealer portal, a digital showroom and a very user-friendly drawing tool. The offline support includes skilfully compiled ambient mood walls that are characterful and inspiring. Combined with the knowledge and expertise of our staff, it means that we can now do something fantastic for a number of select retail customers.
Although initial reactions are highly promising, it is unwise to bet on only one horse. As a company, you must always ensure there are several pillars (sales markets). In turn, these pillars must have strong foundations which are formed by linking the knowledge, skills, nerve and analytical abilities of the management team with people on the work floor. If the Acropolis in Athens had been built with just a few pillars, it would no longer be standing.
No one can predict the future, of course, but being flexible is vital. In business, this should never be underestimated. Today, flexibility stems from having an effective online presence.